The Younger Teacher in Academy Schools: A perspective from QSG Directors of HR
In a previous blog, we discussed changes in professional culture at large in England and how these are shaping the expectations and experiences of younger teachers in schools. In this blog we report on how nine Directors of HR working in MATs across the Queen Street Group (QSG) relate these questions to the drive for improved teacher recruitment and retention, and for a satisfied and dynamic teacher workforce.
In Preparing for the Next Generation of Teaching we reviewed evidence about the workplace aspirations of ‘Generation Y’ and ‘Generation Z’ professionals (those born during 1981-1996 and 1996-2010, respectively). Among the concerns of these younger workers we noted:
- their preference for ‘real-time’ professional feedback and support (rather than year-end appraisal)
- the concern of Generation Y professionals for life/work balance
- some signs that Generation Z professionals prioritise work security more highly (following their parents’ experience of the financial crash of 2007-08)
With these points in mind, we raised questions about the extent to which human resource practices in MAT academies, and in other schools, recognise and accommodate the workplace aspirations of today’s younger professionals.
In particular, we noted that when attracting and retaining the best younger talent, MAT employers need to shape HR policies that take account of five outlooks among professionals under the age of 40: their sense of professional purpose and motivation; the infusion of technologies in professional work; new modes of career guidance and reinforcement; the social dynamics of work; and how younger professionals’ use of time relates to their longer-term goals.
In preparing this blog we asked nine directors of HR in MATs across QSG for their assessment of the implications of these outlooks among younger professionals for securing and retaining a satisfied and dynamic workforce in schools.
Today’s professional climate and its implications for teacher recruitment
The work motivations of younger professionals
Our nine HR directors reported that purpose and motivation in work is the biggest consideration for young professionals who enter teaching in today’s environment. This overall priority is accompanied by the desire of potential recruits for clarity over the likely use of their time in the workplace and an alignment of work responsibilities and tasks to the individual teacher’s longer-term personal goals.
When relating these headlines to building a career in education, our directors also commented that:
- school teaching remains a popular career choice
- although teaching remains a vocation, retention of the highly capable younger teacher may become increasingly linked to the effectiveness of the professional development they receive
- there is an apparent disconnect between a high-quality technological environment not being particularly important when marketing to would-be teachers, even though adept use of technology is now a fundamental expectation of the role
“Professional development seems key for younger people. Reinforcing their prior sense of purpose and motivation will assist their retention in teaching and in a particular MAT.”
“We find individuals are attracted by the potential for career progression. Expectations of these younger generations include flexibility, choice and time. I don’t believe schools are seen as technologically ahead, or that schools promote professional development very well.”
“The importance of work/life balance is crucial in preventing early burnout.”
Is teaching an up-to-date profession?
Our Directors of HR expressed a good deal of unease on this point, with all but one identifying a tension between the traditional aspects of schools as professional workplaces and the broader career expectations of professionals currently aged 23 to 40. For three of the directors the disconnect is already serious, while five others consider it increasingly significant.
This general unease was expressed in the following specific ways:
- in current marketing of careers in teaching there is little or nothing about work ‘flexibility’, including working from home where this is preferable and appropriate
- the new reality will probably prove to be that of fewer lifelong teachers; however, this likelihood has yet to be planned for in any way
- there is an increasing urgency for MATs to model flexible working options, such as job shares and co-headships
- it is a fact that many working practices in schools are highly ‘traditional’ and some are outdated
“Young people often enter a profession with the expectation that it may not be life-long. Individuals may not wish to teach for ever but see it as a stepping stone to something else.”
“Historical perceptions of teaching as a career with long working hours are changing for the better… However, there seems to be a lack of understanding as to how much work teachers need to undertake outside classroom time.”
“School education cannot move in step fully with other employment sectors when it comes to new ways of working, due to the nature of its ‘front line’ activities… The expectation to be able to work from home is something we will not be able to offer to the same extent as other sectors.”
Attracting and retaining good quality teachers
The current recruitment situation
In the HR Directors’ view, pay and customary hours of work across the year remain the most important aspects in attracting capable professionals to enter and remain in teaching.
Other important elements are:
- the potential for a more flexible working week / term / year, linked to the employee’s confidence that such working patterns will remain stable
- this seems more important than job security, pension benefits or physical/spatial conditions of work
- perceptions of teaching as an excessive workload profession may be changing as the challenges and intrinsic value of teachers’ work become more generally understood and appreciated
- this perception has been boosted by widespread evidence of teacher professionalism and dedication during the pandemic
“People work as teachers for vocational reasons and are motivated by the work they do rather than simply the pay. Nevertheless, opportunities to grow and develop are important for the attraction and retention of younger teachers… Job security is also now a heightened priority for some as a result of the pandemic.”
“The experience of families faced with home-schooling has increased the status of the profession. There is an increased realisation that teachers do more than secure pupils’ knowledge.”
Can MATs enhance teacher recruitment and retention?
The aspiration of most of the QSG Directors of HR is to achieve substantial engagement by the Trust Board in their MAT’s ‘People Strategy’, or its equivalent. However, the formation of this kind of strategy was still ‘work in progress’ in four of the nine MATs we contacted.
The directors were generally optimistic that MATs can exercise a positive influence over the working conditions of teachers. Reasons for this optimism include a belief that:
- MAT managers are closer to wider workplace dynamics across schools than local authority staff or the headteachers of stand-alone schools
- CPD can be provided strategically across schools within a MAT
- The wider MAT sector can and should use local innovation and best practice to help shape the mechanisms which generate national public policy on teacher workforce and development (mechanisms which include the influence on Westminster of local authorities and national trade unions).
The challenge of attracting talent
The HR Directors’ view is that there are now two keys to recruiting and retaining good quality teachers:
- attracting individuals who wish to develop further their specific curriculum and classroom expertise (something important for the employer to recognise formally)
- providing each teacher with clear role and time boundaries to working life (something of important long-term significance for teacher retention).
Also seemingly important to prospective and new teachers alike is provision of clear-cut opportunities for promotion and the ability to make personal plans within the existing annual pattern of school terms and holidays.
Less visible, but significant from an HR perspective, is the reality of school staff who find the boundary between teaching and social work is blurring, with pastoral care of children by teachers becoming increasingly pervasive. Where this pattern occurs, it needs to be recognised and monitored by the employer in relation both to the career development of individual teachers and overall workforce planning.
“We tend to ‘group’ teachers as a single body. In practice there is a diversity of personal and professional aspiration and, consequently, varying outlooks that heavily influence practice, value sets, teaching methods, resilience toward pupil behaviour, leadership styles, etc.”.
“As a rule, high calibre professionals are more likely to be attracted by the opportunity for and quality of CPD, career development, and the facilities and resources with which to do a good job.”
What might the future hold?
Teachers’ work in comparison to other professions
Despite the nuanced views just reported, all of these QSG Directors of HR see it as important that schools match employer practices in other sectors as a point of necessary self-interest in the competition for recruitment.
Moreover, they see this as a complex task. For example, it may not be possible or desirable either to adopt the much flatter corporate/organisational structures found in other professions or to emulate particular types of flexible working (including remote access and flexitime).
Instead, the response of schools when promoting more worker-friendly employment practices among teachers will need to:
- acknowledge that in some important ways schools work within a ‘real-time’ environment equivalent to medical and police professionals, limiting the workplace flexibilities seen in other professions
- recognise that teaching cultures are generally quite fixed compared to other professions that were, until recently, more hidebound.
In such a context, it will be necessary to keep under continual review whether the ‘sway of teaching’ outweighs the attractions of work in other professions, thus limiting the talent pool in schools.
“It is imperative that we think about how we can be more flexible in order to attract and retain teachers, including through the better use of technology in our teaching.”
“We need to address how we can be more flexible, for otherwise we will find ourselves struggling to recruit.”
“We also need to tailor support for career changers, so that the cultural shock of this transition is lessened”
Immediate changes that would improve the situation
Finally, the nine QSG Directors of HR were asked about immediate practical actions to enhance the people strategies of MATs. Such steps included:
- engendering a professional workforce committed to evolutionary cultural change
- increased subtly in the linking of pay progression to performance
- securing in some MATs a slightly higher complement of teaching staff in each school, so that teachers can carry out their professional role within their working hours (e.g. achieving an average 60% timetable)
- continual review of the optimum balance between flexibility and increased part-time working, while removing (some/all?) Directed Time requirements
- balancing the expected working norms of all teachers within a MAT, while also offering more personalised CPD
“A number of teachers / support staff are already leaving the profession to work in sectors which offer a hybrid working approach… I would suggest more flexible working practices and a move away from accustomed term dates and timings for the school day”.
“Can we introduce the option for teachers to work wherever they choose during non-contact time? We should stop making policies for the few who don’t follow expectations and encourage more flexible arrangements among the great majority who do.”
“We find teachers want a secure and stable career that has steady progression… Nevertheless, it is difficult to generalise. Individual choice and age bring with them variability: some will welcome a good pension while others with young families will welcome flexible working.”
Queen Street Group (QSG)
The 23 Trusts in membership of QSG educate 278,000 pupils enrolled across 482 schools.
This blog is put out by the Group as a whole for discussion and should not be seen as a reflection of specific policies adopted by any of the member Trusts.