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Preparing for the next generation of teaching: Defining the employee experience in the academy of the future

Written by HR Leaders within the Queen Street Group

Preparing for the next generation of teaching: Defining the employee experience in the academy of the future

The world of work has changed dramatically in the past 20 years, yet work in schools remains largely unchanged in its basic rhythms and structures. So, is teaching being left behind – and what will this mean as academies seek to recruit new generations of the most talented graduates?

Salaries and sufficient resources to meet work challenges will always be a large part of a satisfying ‘employee experience’ for teachers.  But now is the time to consider how much of a positive influence employers can have on the perceptions of teaching as a career.  Most importantly, work should be done now to consider the known needs and perceived expectations of a younger workforce.

A good starting point is to ask if we need to redesign the employee experience for the next generation of teachers? And if so, how would this support us promoting teaching as a dynamic, progressive career choice to the most talented graduates?

Before we explore these areas below is a summary of the generations we focus on within this paper:

  • Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1965 (currently age 56 to 75)
  • Generation X were born between 1966 and 1980 (currently age 41 to 55)
  • Generation Y (also known as millennials) were born between 1981 and 1996 (currently age 25 to 40)
  • Generation Z were born between 1996 and 2010 (currently age 11 to 25)

Generation Y and Generation Z

People sticking notes to whiteboard

In 2020 1/3rd and 2/3rds of the England workforce are under the age of 34 and 49 respectively (source: ONS labour market statistics by age). This growing generation of workers preferences and attitudes to work and career now have to be a significant consideration for organisations that employ teachers. In turn, this can help us to re-imagine the employee experience of teachers working in the school or academy of the future.

What are Generation Y and Generation Z recruits looking for in their working life?

Preparing for the next generation of teaching: Defining the employee experience in the academy of the future

Generation Y and those in Generation Z are individual demographics in their own right and both groups show subtle variation in what they are looking

for from the world of work. What is clear is that their expectations are significantly different from those who preceded them in Generation X or as Baby Boomers. Employers should consider the following five key areas in order to attract and retain the best of the new talent.

Exposure to technology

This is a key characteristic shared by both groups. Generation Y have never known a world which did not have the internet, and technology has advanced considerably since it was created. Generation Ys have grown up with the development of technology, moving from dial up internet to wireless internet and the advancement of mobile phone.   Generation Z have grown up with smartphones and Wi-Fi and are beginning to witness new technology such as virtual reality and the development of artificial intelligence. Generation Y are highly ‘tech savvy’ but there are differences between the two generations. Generation Ys tend to prefer to communicate via email or text, whereas with the introduction of Facetime and Snapchat in recent years, Generation Z prefer to communicate face to face.

Rhythms of career guidance and reinforcement

Generation Ys expect speedy recognition and reinforcement in their lives but for different reasons within the two groups. They are invested in their personal and professional development and therefore look for feedback to propel them towards success. Nearly seven in 10 Generation Y employees believe annual performance review is a flawed process; instead, they want real-time feedback. Generation Z has become accustomed to instant reaction and used to having access to information on demand. This group is used to succinct sound bites, expects feedback in the same manner and has the ability to multi-task and switch between roles. It is also characterised by short attention spans, although persevering through to the award of a degree diminishes this claim in respect of graduates.

Ways of working

Generation Ys and Generation Z differ in their attitude to independent working and teamwork. Generation Ys are seen as collaborative and able to thrive when working as a team, while members of Generation Z appear keener to be judged independently and on their own merits. Generation Z are also characterised as competitive and as generally preferring to work alone although, given their youth, such judgements may be premature.

Use of time and longer-term goals

Generation Ys appear to strive for career advancement and many are motivated by a long-term career path. Overall, they are more willing than predecessor generations to change job after a short tenure if a new role seems to offer more opportunities for advancement. In addition, they seek a work-life balance and flexibility within the workplace. Pre-Covid, 70 per cent of professionals were working remotely at least once per week, thanks to modern telecommunications. Generation Ys also seek working hours which are less rigid than a typical nine to five routine. In contrast, Generation Z expect to stay with an employer for even less time than Generation Ys. They are characterised as entrepreneurial, with many wanting to start their own businesses and/or be their own boss. This is thought to make Generation Z highly motivated and willing to work hard to achieve their dreams.

Purpose and motivation

Generation Ys and Generation Z appear to differ in their attitudes towards the value of work. Generation Ys are described as a generation that wants to make change and is motivated by purpose rather than a pay cheque. Generation Z is seen very differently. As a group whose parents were hit by the financial crash of 2007-08, these young people appear more focused on security and earnings in ways which may affect their choices of career. For example, among those who secure high grades in school-level education there seems to have been a growth in choosing debt free, work-based routes into careers via apprenticeships (even as the overall proportion of those choosing higher education at 18+ has continued to grow).

Influencing culture in education

Preparing for the next generation of teaching: Defining the employee experience in the academy of the future

How much influence can employers have in creating positive professional cultures in education?

Any consideration of the teacher’s experience in the school or academy of the future has to address the extent to which there is a growing disconnect between traditional aspects of schools as professional workplaces and the career expectations of Generation Ys (whether or not these are realistic).

Salaries and working conditions are a key element, but here we are considering what other factors make for a positive ‘employee experience’ among school-based professionals. Our challenge, then, is to determine whether the ‘people policies’ of specific teacher employers (multi-academy trusts, local authorities, and so on) can influence perceptions of teaching, generally and specifically.

Two aspects of this question seem particularly important:

  • should organisations that employ teachers attempt actively to accommodate inter-generational differences in expectation when it comes to professional ‘employment’ and ‘career’?
  • would such action generate positive perceptions about teaching as a career, both among those already employed in schools and those contemplating entering teaching?

We have already seen that professionals of different ages may have varied expectations of employment.  Since our focus is the culture of the teaching workplace, we also need to assess the specific influences within the education sector that may be at play.

For example, there could be aspects of the job that already put people off a career in teaching. These may be perceived or real and will have been influenced by the teaching cultures they observed or imbibed when they were themselves a pupil. Indeed, this is probably one of the reasons why cultures of teaching often evolve slowly.

However, there may also be contemporary problems and frustrations experienced by teachers in their careers that are just as influential.  HR specialists in head office teams across the Queen Street Group’s member Trusts have extensive experience within education and in other sectors of the labour market – and so have a clear picture of the aspects of professional working in schools which are particularly challenging.

Preparing for the next generation of teaching: Defining the employee experience in the academy of the future

Role and time boundaries

Teachers are often expected to be available 24/7 to their pupils’ parents. An NASUWT survey of 1,500 teachers in April 2019 found that almost three quarters have their personal email addresses made available to parents, while one in seven are expected to communicate with parents electronically in their ‘own time’, every day. The need for teachers to have a life outside work has begun to be recognised centrally. In 2019, the then Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, said school practices need to “shift away from an email culture”, both to unclog workload and allow teachers time away from work concerns.

Teachers as quasi-parents

In the same way as teachers are expected to be available to parents, teachers are also expected to act as a form of alternative parent.  In her Ofsted Chief Inspector’s report for 2017/2018, Amanda Spielman asserted that school professionals are being expected to pick up roles that should fall to the family. Seventy per cent of staff surveyed by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in 2016 reported an increase in children arriving in Reception classes unable to use a toilet, compared with 2011. Schools are also expected to tackle other societal issues such as knife crime, obesity and equality.

Borderlands with social work

In international surveys, about a quarter of UK respondents consider social work as the most comparable profession to teaching.  The impetus to safeguard children (formalised through Keeping Children Safe in Education) has definitely bought these two professions more closely together. Teachers – and all other school staff – are expected to report all safeguarding concerns, as well as understand when such concerns require reporting. Thus, many teachers are now involved in multiple referrals to social services, with each case resulting in several joint meetings.  Is this aspect of work now integral to teacher professional and career identity? If so, is this a welcome or confusing blurring of the boundary with social work?

Teaching vs the workforce

Preparing for the next generation of teaching: Defining the employee experience in the academy of the future

The mechanics of career advancement in education

These are now highly distinctive in comparison with the professional workforce as a whole. All teachers are awarded a salary from the teachers’ pay scale, based upon their performance and experience. For promotions, such as to Head of Department or Subject Lead, teachers are awarded Teaching and Learning Responsibility payments (TLRs) rather than being placed on a separate salary scale. It could be argued that this is unintentionally punitive. When a teacher is awarded a TLR, it is unclear as to whether their teaching workload is reduced to offset their new duties. What would be considered outside education as multiple job roles, are often rolled into one person’s duties within schools.

Evolution or professional drift?

Taken together, these examples of ambiguity in the structuring of teachers’ careers can be seen (on a good day) as the necessary evolution of the work of a profession or (on a bad day) as evidence of drift in the professional identity of teachers, serving to confuse or demoralise existing practitioners and put off those who might seek to join the profession.

The question is the extent to which any new employment practices – at the level of a stand-alone trust school, multi-academy trust or a local authority – can turn change and development within the profession and the recruitment landscape at large to the advantage of all who support and celebrate the role of teachers in society.

As things stand, the most prominent barometer is persistent survey results, such as those recently released by Leeds Beckett University, suggesting widespread teacher unease and dissatisfaction. In this poll of teachers’ career plans, only 43 per cent of 275 teachers questioned had definite plans to stay in the profession long term, with 29 per cent considering leaving and a further 28 per cent reserving judgement.

Trends since 2000

Preparing for the next generation of teaching: Defining the employee experience in the academy of the future

How might overall trends in the future of work affect professional experience in schools?

The world of professional work as a whole is changing more rapidly than it is in schools.  As such, the question arises as to whether teaching is necessarily different and thus needs to resist comparison with professional work in other labour market sectors; or whether it is out of step with a changing society in ways which render it increasingly ineffective.

Here are some of the broader changes in the world of professional work which might open up this question.

Structures of management

An early and important workplace trend this century has seen the collapse of the corporate/organisational ladder. Before the millennium, loyal employees would climb through management positions one promotion at a time.  In contrast, many companies now operate a ‘lattice’ leadership approach. This has led to their removing several layers of management in favour of a more grid-like structure where ideas flow in all directions across the organisation, rather than in a linear fashion. Cathy Benko, vice chairman of Deloitte and co-author of ‘The Corporate Lattice’ argues the lattice model provides more opportunity and more possibilities to be successful. Career paths are far more fluid with many employees now following a zigzag rather than straight path.

Flexible working

Employees in many parts of the labour market have a lot more flexibility than 30 years ago as to when and where they execute their work. Even before Covid-19, many professionals were working remotely at least some of the time in order to increase productivity, while decreasing labour costs for employers. Employee benefits such as flexi-time allow employees more control in sequencing their contracted hours to suit individual circumstances and personal commitments such as hobbies, childcare drop-offs and pick-ups or home-based caring responsibilities. The past 20 years has seen new legislation which allows qualifying employees to request flexible working and request changes to their employment terms and conditions for a work-life balance.

Part-time working

There has been an upward trend in part-time employment since the early 1980s.  Between 1984 and 2018, men increasingly opted for part-time working conditions and the annual average growth of women working part-time between 1984 and 2018 (1.1 per cent) was lower than that of men over the same period 3.0%  (Source: ONS).  Possible influencers include the introduction of tax-free childcare schemes and other legislative changes that facilitate mothers to work full time and/or fathers to be more involved in childcare.

Loyalty to employers

In the corporate sector, employees are less loyal to companies than in the past. The average employee changes employer once every five years, requiring the employment practice as a whole to become much more employee driven. This trend is probably related to the way in which online information empowers employees to compile comparative data on salaries, employee benefits, success stories and company reviews.

Future scenariosPreparing for the next generation of teaching: Defining the employee experience in the academy of the future


The motivators of work seem to be changing compared with previous decades. Employees are beginning to be more interested in the incentives organisations can offer rather than the salary alone. These may be incentives such as benefits in kind which are free from tax deductions, access to development programmes or support with further education. There is also an increased focus of wellbeing in the workplace and many prospective job seekers are active in researching what flexibility different employers can offer.


Across the labour market employees are interested in developing their skills and often seek to achieve this by changing employer in order to remain an attractive employee. Seventy-four per cent of employees say they are ready to learn new skills or retrain to remain employable in the future.  With employment becoming more fluid, the future may see employees not only having multiple job roles in their lifetime, but also multiple careers.

Technology as part of the work process

Technology will only continue to make advances and different technologies will continue to make work more effective. With the help of artificial intelligence software and devices, employees can begin to develop personal toolkits of virtual doppelgangers. It would seem only a matter of time before virtual reality makes its mark on the workplace. Meanwhile, futurologists consider teaching to be one of the professions least amenable to being taken over by robots.

Fluid careers and the gig economy

As career paths become far more fluid, positions in an organisation may respond similarly. Many employees now search for variety in their job role or juggle a number of part-time job roles by participating in a ‘gig’ economy. Research suggests 75 per cent of Generation Z employees would be interested in having multiple roles in one employment.  The gig economy will continue to expand with more professionals signing on as contractors and freelancers, and moving from one ‘gig’ to the next.

The employee experience

Preparing for the next generation of teaching: Defining the employee experience in the academy of the future

What does all this mean for teaching as a profession?

In light of the evidence presented, the key question seems to be:

  • Is teaching an intrinsically different work process from that of most other professions, making it necessary to resist many of the wider workforce developments we have surveyed; or
  • Is it out of step with a changing society in ways that render it increasingly ineffective – as a recruiting ground for talented graduates (and career changers) and in terms of enabling children and young people to envision how their education today will prepare them for adult life as the active citizens of tomorrow?

In our next blog we will set out to address this question directly as part of our work within the Queen Street Group in developing an Employee Experience Framework.  We see this Framework as a tool which can help define professional and career cultures of teaching fit for the Academy of the future.

In the meantime, if you have answers of your own to the central question posed above (or, indeed, would suggest this question is re-cast) please comment below.

Queen Street Group (QSG)

This think piece is for discussion, put out by the Group as a whole and should not be seen as a reflection of specific policies adopted by any of the named member Trusts.

The QSG member Trusts educate 256,000 pupils across 471 schools. The 23 members are:

Academies Enterprise Trust;  Astrea Academy Trust;  Avanti Schools Trust;  Big Education;  BMAT; Brooke Weston Trust;  Cabot Learning Federation;  Community Academies Trust;  Creative Education Trust;  Dixons City Academy Trust;  Education South West;  The First Federation Trust;  Future Academies Trust;  Lead Academy Trust;  Leigh Academies Trust;  Oasis Community Learning;  Ormiston Academies Trust;  South Farnham Educational Trust;  Star Academies;  Summit Learning Trust;  Unity Schools Partnership;  Ventrus Limited;  The White Horse Federation.