Teacher recruitment and retention is changing post-Covid and schools will have to focus on communication and culture in order to hold onto the best teachers, an expert panel has heard.
The panel hosted by Global School Alliance and School Management Plus heard from leading international and UK educators who talked about their own experiences of recruiting and retaining teachers in recent years.
Safeguarding expert Nina Hartley also outlined the key considerations for international schools looking to ensure their recruitment processes are watertight.
The event began with an overview of UK trends from Paul Dwyer, headteacher of Redmaids’ High School for Girls in Bristol, who spoke about the “immeasurable pressure” on teachers since Covid, that had led some to make “sudden changes of career”.
Staff were also now more likely to take time out for personal reasons, he said, which meant schools had to understand the importance of handling staff welfare issues well and develop the right culture around this.
Key for headteachers, he said, was to create a staff-focused culture in the school, which would then have positive effects on how they educated and looked after children.
In terms of more teachers asking for flexibility in their jobs, he said it was time for schools to look at where they could and couldn’t realistically offer this.
He said: “Schools need to decide what their red lines are and offer flexibility outside of that.
“If we say it’s ok to leave the site during PPA time, what can we put in place for student safety if you want to let staff sign out?
“These small things will go far for staff, as it doesn’t have that feeling of arbitrariness.”
It was also important to consider which meetings could be emails, and how to balance the convenience off digital messaging with the opportunities offered by in-person discussions.
Offering career development was also vital to retaining and recruiting good teachers he said.
“All of us need something we can improve and build upon. Are you providing the time and space for every teacher to get better every year?”
“If staff aren’t being seen, heard or recognised, are they going to be motivated?”
Kirrili Williams, director of creative arts at Harrow International School Beijing, has conducted research into international school teacher retention, looking at the “push and pull factors” for teachers to go abroad to teach and also what motivates them to stay.
Her key point was that schools need to understand that the retention strategy of a school must start early.
She said that teachers were making decisions on whether to stay for a new contract only a short way into their first one, before they had had time to properly settle into the new country.
She said: “The retention process actually starts at the start of the recruitment process… already schools are on the back foot in encouraging good people to stay.”
Managing expectations was important too, she said: “Many teachers in new countries find that their expectations of school culture don’t actually match the reality, often this is in terms of how international they feel the school is or how many practices of the home country or the guest culture have been adopted. Teachers expectations of what the day to day like looks like are an important factor to consider.”
She said schools needed to be upfront from the very beginning about aspects of school that might be an unpleasant surprise – such as longer working days in China – but this was also an opportunity to highlight benefits such as smaller class sizes or a smaller teaching load.
Helping staff connect meaningfully with the wider community was also important to, she said.
“The challenge is for the schools to provide staff members with opportunities to embed themselves in the wider community on an equal footing with local people rather than creating situations that bring about a snowball effect where the colleagues increasingly socialise only with each other.
“Language support for expat teachers is an obvious support to retention.”
Difficult communication with managers was highlighted by many leavers as a reason for leaving, she said.
“Communication culture should be an integral part of the school’s retention strategy. Decisions need to be made as to how this culture is going to be addressed right from the beginning of the recruitment cycle.”
The event also heard from safeguarding expert Nina Hartley, who is an adviser to Rugby School Thailand.
She outlined the important considerations for international schools ensuring that their systems remained watertight and stressed what could be learnt from previous serious incidents.