Has a solution to retention been found?

8 June 2018

Author: Nikki Jones, Director of Shireland Research School

As someone who is actively involved in Initial Teacher Training I was really interested in the recent Education Endowment Foundation report looking at RETAIN: a one-year professional development programme for early career teachers teaching in Key Stage 1.

Had a solution to retention been found?!

Many schools are facing a two-sided problem – how to attract potential teachers into the profession, and then how to keep the best ones. The proportion of working-age teachers leaving the profession each year has risen steadily between 2010 and 2015, from 9% to 11% for primary teachers and from 11% to 13% for secondary teachers. This, combined with the proportion of teachers in the workforce in their 50s having decreased markedly between 2010 and 2015, means that as a result, we have one of the developed world’s youngest teaching workforces, with around a third of teachers leaving within five years.

The RETAIN programme had two aims: enhance these teachers’ knowledge and use of evidence-informed practice and retain these teachers within the profession. Combined with the introduction of the CPD Standards in 2017 and the emphasis that ‘professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise’ many schools are facing the dilemma of how to do this.

So did RETAIN work?  Well it looks promising. The CPD aspect appears to have increased self-efficacy, confidence and research-use. Although a control group was not used, those teachers involved attributed their changes in practice and confidence to RETAIN.  We could argue that this would have happened anyway, and that at this early stage we have yet to see whether the approach has truly ‘retained’ staff. However, as RETAIN has included some aspects that we believe make a difference: peer collaboration, teacher ownership of their learning and experimentation in own practice are we actually just seeing a model of good practice? Like the trend for deconstructed meals, a shepherd’s pie with each ingredient separately placed on the plate, do we actually need to consider the how of our CPD as much as the what?

Here at Shireland we have been experimenting. As you would expect from a Research School we have taken a step back and questioned our practice. We wanted to move away from small-scale individual research (controversial I know!) as we were finding that actually we had too many staff trialling ideas, and the crossover of pupils involved was making it difficult to know what was working and why.

So we have moved instead to ‘research groups’ where each has a focus area that links to our School Improvement Plan. Staff are allocated to a group to ensure a spread of subject area and experience, as well as interest, and there are six one- hour meetings throughout the year with a day of inset time also allocated. So what are the areas? To be honest, nothing that is of great surprise. For example: maximising boys achievement, looking at the needs of pupils with English as an additional language (EAL).

However, each group is led by a group leader who has expressed a particular interest or has expertise in that particular area. Senior leaders are NOT allowed to lead a group! We even have a group being led by an NQT who has a wealth of experience from their previous career so this is very much about staff having a voice. Having had training and support themselves to identify, analyse and interpret relevant evidence, these leaders then lead groups to unpick the evidence, look at it in the context of the school and discuss what might work, and why. Each group has been sharing their research and discussion virtually throughout the year so everyone can contribute, and all the groups will be formally sharing their outcomes and recommendations at the end of the year.

What many reading this may struggle with is that people haven’t actually ‘done’ anything! In school we are almost hard wired to ‘do’. Instead each group’s report will be reviewed by the senior leadership team (SLT) to look at the commonalities and differences, and decide what we test, and with whom, next year. This will then go back to the groups who are then going to be doing the testing of the agreed ideas…

Radical – but let’s look at the shepherd’s pie ingredient list earlier:

Peer collaboration. The groups are mixed and staff tell us they have welcomed the opportunities to talk to other subject areas and challenge their presumptions about what may work, and why.  Staff have become more open to sharing outside their area and with half-termly meetings contact is regular.

Teacher ownership of their learning. SLT have not led groups (a very deliberate decision) and it has been up to the groups to decide on what evidence was used, and the outcomes of discussion.  Group leaders were trained to prompt regarding the quality of evidence, and to challenge thinking.

Experimentation in own practice. We haven’t done this, yet… However, overwhelmingly staff have said how they have welcomed the opportunity for ‘proper professional’ discussion without an action point and deadline! Even more importantly groups are saying that they want to test a recommendation and have had the opportunity to consider more carefully the detail.

So am I speaking from a privileged perspective? Yes, Shireland Collegiate Academy is an outstanding school with a P8 last year of +0.5. But what that doesn’t tell you is that we serve a community where 92% of our pupils are from an ethnic minority, 56% have EAL, 58% are pupil premium and 23% have Special Educational Needs. And the cost? Some meeting time taken from departments across the year, and one of our inset days. We are privileged that the expertise to train and support leaders was within school, but actually as a whole school approach this is not a huge commitment of either time or money.

And impact I hear you ask? Well, just as RETAIN couldn’t really measure impact within a year, it is too early for us to be able to report impact. We will be continuing with the approach, giving it more time to produce improvements for our teachers and children. Using the EEF DIY Evaluation Guide as a structure, teachers will be testing a range of the recommendations during next year.  So by summer 2019 we really do expect to be able to describe the impact on both pupils and staff, and be in an informed position to scale approaches within school.


References
Worth, J., DeLazzari, G. and Hillary, J.(Oct 2017) ‘Teacher Retention and Turnover Research’: Interim Report, NFER Research Report

Morse, A: Controller and Auditor General (Sept 2017) ‘Retaining and developing the teaching workforce’, National Audit Office Report HC 307

Ashby, P., Hobson, A. J., Tracey, L., Malderez, A., Tomlinson, P. D., Roper, T., Chambers, G. N. and Healy, J. (2008) ‘Beginning Teachers’ Experiences of Initial Teacher Preparation, Induction and Early Professional Development: a review of literature’, DCSF Research Report RW076, London: DCSF

Day, C. and Gu, Q. (2010) The new lives of teachers, London: Routledge.

Coldwell, M. (2017) ‘Exploring the influence of professional development on teacher careers: A path model approach’, Teaching and teacher education, 61, pp. 189–198.

Posted on 8 June 2018
Posted in: Blog

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