| Staff Room

What can be done to retain teachers happily in the profession post-Covid? 

 – Katie Waldegrave 

Over the past two months, Lucy and I have run a ‘Think In’ session with both Cohort 17 and 18. The idea of a Think In is simply a conversation – loosely based on a newsroom editorial format – to which people bring ideas and explore particular themes. 

This month’s event with Cohort 2018 was broadly looking at the question of ‘What can be done to retain teachers happily in the profession post-Covid?’, but the conversation itself was wide-ranging.  

Headlines 

  • There was a universal agreement about the growing attainment gap – both within schools and between schools. Now Teachers also fear the gap between private and state provision is growing more acute than ever.
  • Now Teachers believe that the teaching profession needs to develop a truly world class bank of peer reviewed teaching resources. Not only would this support remote learning, but it would make the whole profession more efficient and reduce workload in the future. 
  • People have found some unexpected positives to teaching online. While everyone longs to get back to the classroom, some elements of their online teaching/feedback will be useful to take back into the real world.
  • More widely, Now Teachers feel the teaching profession needs a sea-change in terms of trust and communication between colleagues. There have been some good examples of this during the crisis, but the sector could learn a great deal from other industries if it is to end the retention crisis.

Digital Opportunity 

  • Everyone agreed that if there were a centralised bank of peer reviewed resources available online, the sector would not have been in quite such a difficult position as it now finds itself. Now Teachers have, from the beginning, found it astonishing that there is quite so much ‘re-invention’ of the wheel in teaching, Covidhas confirmed the importance of this insight. 
  • Everyone agreed that the problem of access to the internet and devices is acute. There was a measure of disagreement over whether this made live teaching worth doing or not, but there were interesting insights from colleagues now teaching in private schools which emphasised how the gap between the two sectors is currently wider than ever.
  • There was frustration about the fact that some schools were thwarting attempts to live-teach because of safe-guarding. 
  • Now Teachers were all keen to continue to add their voices to all those calling on the government to level the playing field with access to digital learning. 
  • There was an acknowledgement that schools and teachers have not been well enough equipped or trained in various technologies to allow them to weather the storm as might have been hoped. 
  • And finally, the revolutionary idea of textbooks was raised. We do in fact have some pretty good resources which don’t need any tech at all… but these are not well-used either.

School Leadership 

  • Now Teachers feel that schools have a great deal to learn from other sectors in terms of retaining/supporting/developing staff. Specifically, the civil service was cited as a place which previously had poor management training/culture. Having invested heavily in over the past 20 years to great success, colleagues felt there are lessons which could be learned.  
  • Some Now Teachers had been pleasantly surprised by the degree to which school leaders in a crisis had focussed on the ‘important’ – namely checking how people are coping. 
  • Interestingly the crisis has encouraged more Now Teachers to aspire for leadership positions. 
  • For many, the main issue comes down to trust among colleagues. There simply is not enough.
  • A linked theme was around communication. The retention of staff into the future will depend on improved communication. Those that have done well in recent months – and there were some – had won admiration from Now Teachers. 

Teaching and students 

  • There was universal anxiety about students, particularly the most vulnerable, and concern about the students who are simply not engaging with any work. People spoke movingly about how they see the attainment gap widening. 
  • For some, the experience of Covidhas revealed more starkly than before the extent to which schools and teachers serve as ‘social care’; the critical importance of this comes above the exams etc on which so much time is focussed.
  • Now Teachers were beginning to think about the ways in which students could be helped to catch up and how they could help.
  • There were also some things which Now Teachers want to hold on to. Some particular groups of students seemed to be benefitting – not a majority, but some. People also commented on how they’ve been giving feedback differently and how much they’d learned from this.

Education Policy 

  • On the whole, while understanding the complexities, Now Teachers felt the government should be being bolder in opening schools faster to more students. 
  • There was some fear that the government is focussing too much attention on the immediate plan of reopening schools with not enough thinking about how those schools will continue to do online learning for some time to come.
  • There was also concern about the media portrayal of teaching. For all its imperfections, the profession has been turned on its head, and leaders have been put in impossibly difficult situations. Through all this teachers and schools have kept going and it is important that this is recognised and not denigrated. 

You can read about our other Think In with Cohort 17 around the challenges of online teaching in the Now Teach Staffroom.

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