Free article: Counting the cost: Recruitment and retention

Published: Tuesday, 19 April 2022 18:52

Many schools are finding it more difficult than ever to recruit and retain the high quality of staff they need. Sue Cowley outlines the importance of a successful strategy and provides advice for attracting and keeping the best teachers.

Summary points

• Workplace characteristics can be more highly valued than financial rewards.

• Word your adverts carefully to include the benefits for those applying as well as what you are looking for.

• Local recruitment strategies can work well as relocation is usually not an option.

Research consistently demonstrates that good outcomes for children are linked to being taught by high-quality staff. No matter how impressive all other aspects of your school are, it can only ever be as good as the teachers and staff who work within it. This means that both recruitment and retention are central to an effectively managed school.

In terms of retention, a recent report from the Office of Manpower Economics found that pay and rewards were important for holding onto staff. However, it was workplace characteristics – such as workload, school culture and teaching environment – which were often more highly valued by teachers than the financial rewards of their role.

When it comes to recruiting new staff, schools in areas of disadvantage typically experience more difficulty than those in affluent areas. A report from the Sutton Trust highlighted that 85% of teachers in disadvantaged schools felt that the quality of education their school offered was affected by recruitment issues.

Valuing human resources

Your staff are your most important resource. Taking care of staff is good for their wellbeing and their day-to-day teaching, and is also likely to lead to better retention over time. Staff who feel valued and well treated by their workplace are also more likely to be open with you about their future plans. For instance, letting you know well ahead of time that they are thinking of applying for a promotion at another school, thus giving you additional time to recruit a suitable replacement.

Offering staff incentives and perks can be an effective strategy for both recruitment and retention. For instance, you might offer staff time off to attend important events, or access to services such as free gym membership. A few years ago, I met a primary school headteacher who offered her staff a free ironing service and regular head massages to improve their wellbeing.

An effective approach to staff appraisal and performance management should work as an ‘early warning system’ of staff who are unhappy in their role and considering a move. For instance, by asking staff to measure job satisfaction during appraisals, and tracking this over time, you can spot any downward trends.

DfE recruitment and retention strategy

The DfE published a Teacher recruitment and retention strategy in 2019, which identified four key barriers to recruiting and retaining good staff. These were:

• excessive workload

• lack of career support

• limited career opportunities

• a complicated teacher training application process.

As Damian Hinds MP said in his introduction to the report, ‘there are no great schools without great teachers’. However, as the report acknowledged, teacher retention has fallen over recent years, with high numbers leaving the profession early on in their careers.

The report highlighted the worrying statistic that:

‘Over 20% of new teachers leave the profession within their first 2 years of teaching, and 33% leave within their first 5 years.’

Recent research has shown that the number of new entrants to teacher training courses is currently in decline. This means that all schools, and especially those in deprived areas, may be fishing in a small pool of potential applicants.

Best-value approaches to marketing and advertising

With a limited number of staff looking for new roles, schools need to get the best value out of any advertising and marketing. Anecdotally, headteachers report receiving zero applications for some posts. To target the right applicants, adverts in trade publications such as the TES and Schools Week work well, because they are aimed directly at the profession. However, these obviously come at a cost.

For support staff roles, generalist online jobs sites such as ‘Indeed’ can work better for attracting a range of applicants. The DfE has also recently developed a free ‘Teaching Vacancies’ website for schools, and this has had over 2 million views since September 2021. You might consider ‘training up’ your own staff by using apprenticeship schemes or a SCITT programme, as this tends to encourage staff loyalty to a school.

Marketing the school/role

Your website is the place where applicants will get a feel for what your school is like. Ensure that the latest vacancies are listed and that the website gives a feel for what your school is like as an organisation. Adding video helps prospective candidates learn more about you at a time when it may be tricky to organise in-person visits.

Think about how the wording of your advert emphasises the benefits the school can offer the candidate, as well as what you want them to offer your school. Use your social media channels to boost your chances of finding suitable applicants. 

Interestingly, the Recruitment gap report noted that only 10% of staff would consider moving a long way for a ‘dream job’, with those who were willing to move being younger teachers. Experienced staff tend to be attached to a specific location and are less likely to relocate for a new job. All this means that local recruitment strategies are key to finding the right person to join your staff team.

Thinking locally, you can advertise in the local press and ask parents to share details of the job on local Facebook or WhatsApp groups. Some local authorities have a jobs service on their website, on which schools can advertise, usually for a minimal fee.

Best practice in recruitment

Attracting the right candidate can be tricky for schools in remote locations, such as coastal areas, and also for those in an Ofsted category. Consider how likely your job advert is to appeal to a range of candidates. Highlight any work you have done to reduce teacher workload, and talk about opportunities for career progression within the school.

Remember that, because recruiting high-quality staff has a strong impact on children’s outcomes, schools can use pupil premium funds to support them in doing this. Offers of flexible working can be a powerful incentive, particularly for staff looking for part-time roles. While 40% of women in the UK workforce work part time, only 28% of female teachers do so. Find ways to increase the options for flexible working, in order to improve both recruitment and retention.

Long-term planning

One of the keys to effective recruitment is to view it as an ongoing aim, rather than as something which only happens when a teacher hands in their notice. By building relationships within your local community, you can tap into a potential group of applicants who already know about and understand your school.

For instance, some schools run workshops for parents where they break down the barriers for diverse groups, who might not otherwise consider a career in teaching. This in turn can encourage them to consider training for a role in education.

Further information


Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Sue Cowley is a teacher, author, teacher trainer and presenter, who has taught in all phases of education. She has been Chair of Committee of her local early years setting for ten years. Find out more about Sue’s work at

Last modified on Thursday, 23 June 2022 14:46

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