Ease recruitment crisis by offering teachers more career flexibility, report recommends

Schools need to actively engage with people who might wish to return to teaching following a period out of the classroom, says union

Schools should give teachers more flexibility to come in and out of the classroom during their careers, a new report argues.

A series of essays, from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the Policy Exchange thinktank, suggests that more flexible working practices – including career breaks and secondments – could encourage more people to stay in teaching.

The joint paper, which has been published to mark the start of the annual ASCL conference today, sets out new ideas to boost recruitment and retention across the country – and it focuses on women, who make up 73 per cent of teachers, dropping out of the profession.

It argues that schools are missing out on the skills of thousands of working mothers who are not returning to teaching after childbirth. The report shows that between 2008 and 2012 an estimated 6,000 women aged between 30 and 39 left the profession each year.

Data from the National Foundation for Educational Research shows that of the teachers who leave in order to look after family, only around half return to the classroom.

At the same time, out of all the teachers who leave state school each year, around half stay in education in some form, the report says.

In its contribution to the report, ASCL is clear that whilst government takes responsibility for the overall supply of teachers, schools must take primary responsibility for the recruitment and retention of their staff.

It suggests that schools should maximise the opportunities for their staff to work flexibly by actively engaging with those who might wish to return to teaching following a period out of the classroom.

‘Talk positively about the profession’

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of ASCL, said: “The severity of these shortages is widely recognised, and the challenge now is to find solutions. More needs to be done to incentivise and promote teaching as a career, but it does not end there. We must all do more to create a positive discourse about the profession and about education in general.”

Jonathan Simons, head of education at Policy Exchange, said: “Schools and the government both need to recognise the need for flexibility, and that flexible working means more than just working part-time. In particular, we know that younger graduates tend to want portfolio careers which enable them to come in and out of professions – and teaching is no different.

“Our education system needs to embrace a new way of working. If it doesn’t, schools are going to continue to struggle to attract and retain the best talent.”

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the teachers’ union the NUT, said: “Teachers – men and women – are leaving the profession due to stress, workload and punitive accountability measures. Many speak heartbreakingly of the impossibility of managing time and responsibilities for their own families and of being a teacher.”

He added: “Teachers on career breaks – mainly women – are likely to be hit hardest of all as they try to re-enter teaching. We need to see real and significant changes to teachers’ working lives, both in terms of pay and conditions as well as reducing the punishing accountability system that is overburdening the profession and blighting children and young people’s education.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We now have our best ever generation of teachers and remain committed to raising the status of teaching, investing hundreds of millions in recruitment and working with ASCL and the profession to make it an attractive career choice. But we are clear that too many female teachers are leaving the profession and not returning, and we want to change that

“The ASCL and Policy Exchange report is right to highlight the issue of flexibility for those who wish to return to teaching. The latest figures show that the number of former teachers returning to the classroom is rising year on year, which is encouraging.

“But we know that a lack of flexible options creates a barrier, in particular for women who take a career break, and we will soon be announcing further work to support flexible working for female teachers and to encourage women to return to the classroom.”

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