The ‘Great Resignation’ and how trusts can position themselves to mitigate it

There is no greater influence on a trust’s or its schools’ success than the quality of teaching, led by motivated and talented teachers and staff. As a fundamental premise, trusts must ensure that they are able to recruit and retain the very best teachers, staff and leaders in order to secure sustained improvement and high quality educational experiences. Yet, this is becoming more challenging. There are significant economic, social and demographic factors at play.

The pandemic initially provided some respite for an education system struggling to make itself relevant or attractive to new graduates in the twenty first century. The sector already had a poor reputation for issues such as workload and wellbeing, and pay has increasingly found itself lagging behind. However, as we all emerge from COVID, people have re-evaluated their lives and their expectations of work, and they feel empowered to do so. According to the Office for National Statistics, there are now more job vacancies than unemployed people in the UK for the first time since records began.

“As a fundamental premise, trusts must ensure that they are able to recruit and retain the very best teachers (as well as non-teaching staff and leaders) in order to secure sustained improvement and high quality educational experiences”

This week has given us a stark reminder that in education we need to have an excellent strategy for being an employer of choice and act fast. New research published by PWC on Tuesday (24th May) found that, across the economy, almost one in five UK workers say they are likely to change jobs in the next 12 months as they seek better pay and job satisfaction. Now, though, let’s contrast that with education. According to our partners Edurio, also launching new research on staff retention this week, 42% of staff in schools are at risk of resigning. That is a stark figure when contrasted with the (in itself concerning) national data, and a risk that every CEO, board and Education Secretary must be sitting up and taking notice of – and having a plan to mitigate.

In a world where expectations have changed dramatically, we cannot wait for national solutions. Trusts and schools must respond, ensuring they can compete as employers of choice, not simply with other institutions in the sector, but organisations across sectors. So, where do we begin?

The sector must begin with the fundamentals of workload and wellbeing. The Teacher Wellbeing Index 2020 (Education Support) found that “the overall wellbeing score (WEMWBS score) for education professionals in the UK remains significantly lower than the score for the general population, and is consistent with 2019 levels” and the main issue driving this was teacher workload. Edurio’s own research found this week that although staff reported feeling more positive about their workload and leadership dynamics during the pandemic disruption period, workload now stands out strongly as mirroring the patterns of risk of resignation. In short, trusts and schools have got to get workload right in order to have a chance of being an employer of choice and avoiding the risk of the great resignation.

The positive here is that trusts and the trust model can provide a basis upon which workload can be mitigated. Our recent article by Gemma Gwilliam, shows how United Learning are using staff collaboration and technology to ensure that planning, the development of resources and marking is shared across the group, rather than requiring teachers in all schools to reinvent the wheel: https://forumstrategy.org/reducing-workload-through-collaboration-and-digital-platforms-across-academy-trusts/ This depends on trusts creating a culture, the networks, and the carefully developed protocols for teaching staff at all levels to collaborate properly in those areas where workload is becoming unnecessarily high – maximising the capacity, support and wisdom of the group to not only reduce individual pressures, but ensure higher standards.

“Again, it is crucial that trusts move with the times here if they are to be well-placed to meet the growing expectations of an evolving workforce.”

The PWC report found that flexibility and in particular hybrid working was seen as important to retention. Interestingly Edurio’s report also finds that those in full-time roles are more likely to be at risk of resigning than those in part-time employment. Again, it is crucial that trusts move with the times here if they are to be well-placed to meet the growing expectations of an evolving workforce. The recent Forum Strategy article with Emma Turner reflected on how some trusts and schools are approaching this crucial issue in order to not only mitigate the risk of losing experienced staff, but attracting a new generation of great teachers and staff: https://forumstrategy.org/flexible-futures/ In it, Emma writes: “It is becoming clear that great talent expects more flexibility than ever before (and may be willing to switch jobs for it), and academy trusts and schools are not immune to this. Having greater flexibility built into working hours, patterns and locations is likely to become increasingly important for academy trusts in the current, highly competitive, job market.”

It is important to note that, according to this year’s research from Edurio, the Ofsted grading of your school has little correlation with the risk of resignations; and neither does the size of a school. Yet, in addition to workload and flexibility – it is the things that leaders can address day to day, culturally, that have the biggest bearing.  Those things that give rise to better workload and flexibility ( support, relationships and professional support from line manages), all rank top as positive experiences that ensure staff stay. So too does leadership dynamics and the sense that staff are listened to, heard, and that their views, concerns and opinions feed into the direction of the trust and school. Indeed, another Forum thinkpiece on being an employer of choice sets out how trust can create the culture and systems for listening to staff, and how this puts trusts in a stronger position for retaining high quality teachers and support staff: The key to being an employer of choice? Know your staff well | Forum Strategy

“In addition to workload and flexibility – it is the things that leaders can address day to day, culturally, that have the biggest bearing” 

So, the education sector has another warning and the risks are high. We need great teachers, leaders and other staff to ensure our schools and our pupils thrive. Yet, there is a shift happening. It is notable that amongst the 42% who are considering resigning from their trust/school, less than half are planning to leave the profession. That tells us two things, the sector is already providing viable and attractive options for those who are disenfranchised and that the passion still remains amongst so many of those teachers to keep making a difference.

Whatever the case, developing the strategy and implementing the conditions for the being an employer of choice – as a trust and for its individual schools – has never been more important. By investing the time, resource and importantly, the strategy in getting this right, the positive outcomes for staff, pupils and communities are limitless.

 Please note that Edurio are part of a paid partnership with Forum Strategy. Alongside being a commercial partner, we also choose our partners based on their credibility and values.

Further reading: #BeingTheCEO – What does it mean to be an employer of choice in 2021 and beyond? | Forum Strategy

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