Collaboration is key to better teacher retention

Much has been written about the move towards collaboration within the education system, some of it positive, some negative. As schools and academies, particularly within Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs), have looked to forge closer working relationships, it’s fair to say that there have been success and failures, and many lessons learnt along the way.

I firmly believe that the rationale for closer working relationships and sharing best practice between schools remains a sound one.  The pressures on schools and MATs to deliver outstanding classroom experiences and drive up performance continues to increase, despite a consistently challenging budgetary environment. Head teachers and MAT CEOs are being asked to produce more, often for less. It means we need new approaches to tackle today’s education landscape and, in my opinion, more collaborative, joined-up thinking and working, along with the economies of scale that MATs should deliver, can only help in that regard.

Of course, I am coming at the whole ‘collaboration agenda’ from an HR or workforce perspective. I can see for myself the positive impact that collaboration can have on the ability of schools and academies to find and retain the high-quality teaching talent they need to drive performance. When we’re facing such a profound talent crisis, collaboration can be used as a key differentiator and the basis for more strategic and sustainable workforce planning.

We’ve recently spoken to several CEOs and HRDs in Multi-Academy Trusts who are putting collaboration at the heart of their recruitment and retention strategies. They’re communicating to potential and existing staff that they can build a varied and rewarding career within their organisation, with opportunities to experience different schools and different roles, progress quickly and get exposure to leadership positions earlier in their careers. They’re re-framing the way that teachers can build their careers, and showing them that they can fulfil all of their ambitions across a family of schools, whilst remaining with the same employer.

For instance, Chris Tweedale, CEO of Aldridge Education, said that when it comes to staff retention and professional development opportunities, collaboration and internal mobility is key. “What we hope is that by having clusters of schools, you don’t have to look beyond us for your next promotion, and hopefully for the promotion after that.”

Recent research we carried out showed that a third (34%) of leaders in school and Multi-Academy Trusts believe that retention of high quality staff has become more challenging in the last two years, and 68% say they are as worried about retaining teachers as they are about recruiting them. With retention of high quality teaching staff such a huge challenge and concern for senior leaders, this message around internal mobility is vital.

What’s more, where schools and academies are struggling to find the skills they need, closer collaboration and communication can help to fix issues, quickly and efficiently. By looking at a teacher workforce across an entire Multi-Academy Trust or cluster, schools and academies can share resource and deploy staff where they are needed most. Being able to share resource is a major benefit for those MAT leaders that have the visibility and data on their workforce to make informed decisions.

Of course, collaboration and the sharing of best practice have been on the agenda for a number of years but very few schools and MATs would claim to have really started to reap the rewards, particularly when it comes to teacher recruitment and retention. Indeed, a report published last week by Ambition School Leadership cited collaboration as a major ‘breakpoint’ for small and medium-sized MATs that are looking to expand. Progress has been held up by a lack of data and workforce visibility, and the inability to strategically plan. What’s more, collaboration takes time, something senior leaders simply don’t have when they are so focused on improving and maintaining teaching and learning standards, and providing enriching education experiences for their pupils.

Interestingly, teachers themselves recognise that collaboration can bring significant benefits, with 55% saying it can result in better education outcomes for pupils (55%) and 62% believing it offers teachers more career development opportunities. And when considering what makes a good potential employer, teachers want many of the advantages that MATs and true collaboration can deliver, such as more flexibility, potential to experience leadership positions, and the opportunity to move between schools more easily.

Whilst of course the move towards collaboration has hit one or two (high profile) icebergs along the way (it was always going to), I truly believe that a more collaborative approach to workforce management, both within Multi-Academy Trusts and between schools, can play a big part in tackling the skills crisis, and in re-vitalising the careers of many teachers, who currently feel disillusioned and may be considering their futures in the profession. I’ve seen and heard from enough head teachers and MAT CEOs to know that it really can make a difference.

For information on Affinity Workforce’s solutions for schools and Multi-Academy Trusts, click here.