Workload is the burning issue for recruitment and retention

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14 March 2017 by Alison Ryan
As most of you will be aware from your own experience, there is a growing crisis in teacher recruitment and retention.

This is visible in bigger classes, teachers without expertise in the subject they’re teaching, support staff forced to deliver lessons rather than providing cover, unbearable workloads, and an over-reliance on the use of supply teachers. Recruitment continues to be a cause for concern as initial teacher education enrolment to subjects such as maths, physics and business studies fails to meet targets year after year.

A confusing plethora of training routes, high tuition fees, and uncompetitive graduate salaries prove an initial hurdle too high for many. The government’s proposed solutions of increasing school-led training and introducing a teacher apprenticeship route look unlikely to provide the missing incentive and will undoubtedly add workload to a workforce which is already close to collapse.

Workload is the burning issue for both recruitment and retention: lack of time with friends and family, the feeling of drowning under data demands that have no positive impact on pupil learning, and the sheer exhaustion of working long hours with no end in sight, is driving even the most motivated out of the profession.

UK teachers rank second from the bottom in OECD league tables of teacher longevity in the classroom. Only 48% of teachers have more than 10 years in the profession, and it is workload, along with lack of access to professional development and not feeling appreciated in one’s role, that are the culprits in so many leaving.

Of course, it becomes a vicious circle as departures mean higher workloads for those remaining and a vacuum in the pastoral, subject specialist and middle leadership support that more experienced colleagues can provide. At the same time, support staff are increasingly expected to deliver lessons rather than supervise, and to work longer hours to fill in the gaps left by teacher shortages.

In many schools, we see a data-driven toxic culture of excessive accountability, which, for both pupil achievement and teacher outcomes, looks at the price of everything while knowing the value of nothing. We see leaders and teachers being judged, and performance managed, in a way which fails to see or communicate their value as developing professionals and which does not invest in their learning and in their careers.

And while the voices of the profession through its unions have been joined by the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and, most recently, the Education Select Committee, the response from Government has been lacklustre and late.

Increasing bursaries in some areas, based on little evidence of their effectiveness in increasing either recruitment or retention rates, dropping the workload ball by publishing the results of their March 2016 survey almost a year later, and making proposals around teacher apprenticeships, show a response which is evidence-lite, short-termist and about the cost rather than the value of the profession.

Having an impact on government policy is key, whether it’s about having an impact on the currently punitive accountability system, holding them to account around their workload promises or providing evidence on the impact of cuts to school funding, all of which are affecting the motivation of many to join or stay in teaching.

In this arena, the big voice matters; talking on behalf of almost half a million professionals as part of a new National Education Union would undoubtedly give us greater clout with ministers and officials, making a real difference in what we can achieve.

And we already achieve a lot. To cite just a few examples, ATL currently provides the very best CPD opportunities locally and nationally, reaches into workplaces with our It's about time campaign aimed at reducing workload, and organises TeachMeets which brings professionals together to discuss and share ideas and issues. 

We’ve seen these activities make a real difference to members, as they try out ideas from their CPD, set up working groups, and change policies on marking and planning. We’ve worked with NUT and others on assessment and funding, and held joint events to bring our members together to talk about tackling workload and reinvigorating teacher professionalism.

Working together has illustrated the benefits that an amalgamation between ATL and the NUT, currently the subject of a members' ballot, could bring.

A union that represents most education staff at every level would provide opportunities for meaningful collaboration around sustained learning approaches, for creating new data and marking strategies to help reduce workload, for reshaping performance management conversations, and for sharing district resources to bring more events and campaigns to the local level.

If we could do all this as part of a new, far bigger National Education Union, how much more could we achieve, how much more of an impact could we have?

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