Imagine you are the mayor of a deprived coastal town. The schools in the area are struggling to recruit. What would you do?
This is not an entirely hypothetical situation. The Sutton Trust report released today, based on our survey data from 3,000 teachers, shows that schools in disadvantaged communities face the greatest difficulties when recruiting new teachers. Even more concerning, secondary teachers working in the most deprived schools are less likely to be enthused by their job, less likely to believe they will be a teacher until retirement and, all things being equal, are 70% more likely to leave their job than a secondary teacher at a neighbouring school serving the most affluent communities.
Hence, not only is it more difficult to attract teachers into schools in deprived areas, it is also more difficult to keep them.
Why might this be? When asked, teachers overwhelmingly agree that teaching in disadvantaged communities tends to be harder work and requires more skill. Plus, while it’s not always a socially acceptable thing to admit, when surveyed we found that 69% of teachers agreed the classes they most enjoy teaching have slightly higher attaining students in them. This presents a challenge for recruitment to more disadvantaged schools, where average attainment tends to be lower.
When asked which classes they least enjoy, teachers said that behaviour issues and lack of enthusiasm most commonly put them off. The interaction between behaviour and intake is complex but we do know, however, that schools serving disadvantaged communities are more likely to get a lower Ofsted grade for behaviour.
Workload is also consistently mentioned, across the entire teaching profession, as an issue for retention. Often more than behaviour. However, we also know that teachers currently in schools serving more affluent communities place a very high value on excellent student behaviour and would happily trade longer working hours to ensure it was in place. This presents a dilemma – it is going to be difficult to persuade these teachers to transfer to schools serving more disadvantaged communities if they feel that behaviour is not under control.
So, what should the mayor’s office do?
Despite all the issues, our survey showed that only one in five (20%) of teachers said there was nothing that would induce them to apply for a job in an educationally disengaged community. And around half said that clear and effective behaviour policies, a substantial promotion or a guaranteed timetable reduction of around 25%, would all be attractive enough to consider such a move. For newer, inexperienced teachers there are even more (and cheaper) options. For example, 41% would be attracted by the opportunity to work with a talented teacher and 45% would like to see a ‘no marking outside of school hours’ policy.
Inviting teachers to move across the country to deal with shortages is a non-starter. Only 1-in-10 would consider it for the ‘ideal’ job, and the prospect of moving to a school with chronic teacher shortages is unlikely to feel ‘ideal’. Instead, schools need to look locally, carefully considering what their external reputation is like and whether there is anything they can do to make their school more attractive to those working locally. School reputations are constructed slowly, through the complex interaction of the views of current and former staff and pupils, local media and the community at large.
The vast majority of teachers told us that they know locally which the best schools to teach at are. Reputation matters. Improving visibility as a school where teachers can teach and are supported at getting better at teaching appears to be an important first step in reducing teacher labour market inequalities.