From education to employment

New EEF evidence review shows financial incentives and reducing workload could support teacher recruitment and retention

students sat around tables

Financial incentives could be an effective way to support teacher recruitment, particularly in schools with high levels of socio-economic disadvantage, according to a new exploratory evidence review published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) today. 

The review, by a team of researchers from IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, explores the global evidence base on recruitment and retention strategies, to find out which areas have the most potential to explore in future research.

According to the review, offering financial incentives – such as higher salaries and performance and recruitment bonuses – could be effective for attracting teachers to roles in challenging schools.

One study, conducted in Chile, explored the effects of awarding greater bonuses to teachers working in disadvantaged schools. Another, which took place in England, interviewed long-serving teachers working in challenging circumstances about their experiences to understand why they might have stayed in post.

The review shows that incentives have been used with different levels of success across different countries, but that financial rewards given directly to teachers – rather than allocated to their school of employment – show particular promise.

The review also found that strategies to reduce workload and improve working conditions were associated with improved retention. Heavier workloads were consistently associated with higher staff turnover, with factors such as working hours and leave entitlement strongly influencing teachers’ decision making.  

Access to professional development, induction support and effective school leadership also show potential in supporting recruitment and retention, according to the review.   

High-quality teaching is one of the most powerful levers for improving outcomes for children and young people, particularly for socio-economically disadvantaged pupils who stand to benefit the most. Yet attracting and retaining teachers, particularly in schools serving a high proportion of disadvantaged pupils, is one of the biggest challenges our education system faces.

Recent research shows that many schools in England are struggling to recruit and retain teachers. Applications for initial teacher training have fallen by a fifth compared to their pre-Covid levels, while schools are posting 93% more vacancies than before the pandemic.

Today’s report draws predominantly on international research as very few studies have taken place in English contexts. The EEF aims to supercharge the evidence base in this area through a multi-year research agenda focused on strategies for improving recruitment and retention.

They’ve recently commissioned a range of new evidence reviews, each of which will focus on specific practices which show promise in supporting teacher recruitment and retention in English schools, including school leadership, flexible working, and workload management. One of the reviews commissioned will look at recruitment and retention practices used specifically by schools serving disadvantaged communities.

These reviews will explore the evidence base and current practice using a range of methods, including analysing teacher job descriptions and school policies as well as gathering perspectives from teachers and leaders using surveys and interviews.

Professor Becky Francis CBE, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“We know that it’s great teaching that has the biggest impact on the learning of pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Supporting the recruitment and retention of teachers should be a central focus of any effective education system. But targets for teacher recruitment are regularly missed, and a third of new teachers leave within the first five years of joining the profession.

“Today’s report is an important first step in our work to understand more about what can be done to attract teachers to, and keep them in, schools with pupils who need their expertise most.

“These findings will be hugely helpful in sharpening the focus of our future research, making sure we put our resources behind trialling strategies with the greatest potential to make a difference in this crucial area.”

Dr Becky Taylor, Principal Research Fellow at UCL’s Centre for Teachers and Teaching Research, and lead author of the review, said:

“Through this review we have identified new and promising areas for future research into teacher recruitment and retention, which we hope in time will enable new strategies for attracting and retaining teachers in schools that serve disadvantaged communities.

“Many of these areas, such as the role of effective school leaders in recruitment and retention of teachers, or the use of induction and mentoring, have not yet been investigated at scale in England and we are looking forward to seeing what research develops from these themes.”

The new evidence review will be available here.

Sector Response

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The ability of teaching to compete against other graduate professions has been hit hard by years of major real term pay cuts since 2010, the imposition of unfair performance related pay and sky-high workload.

‘The NEU is clear that any effective solution to the severe and widespread teacher recruitment and retention problems must include significant improvements to pay and conditions for all teachers. So called targeted approaches, with pay incentives for some teachers but not others, do not solve the existing problems and instead create additional recruitment and retention issues by demoralising the teachers who miss out. The recruitment and retention problem are system wide, and solutions must be equally holistic. That is why the NEU’S call for a fully funded above inflation pay rise for all teachers is essential to solving the recruitment and retention problem.

‘Workload also plays a significant role in the recruitment and retention of teachers. High intense workload and low work life balance are causing teachers to leave the profession in droves, exacerbating the retention crisis in our schools.  Along with improved pay, reducing the drivers of workload and improving work life balance must be a priority for Government and the DfE. The NEU is calling on the STRB to extend its remit to include teacher and leadership workload and will continue to make sure it remains on the agenda”.  

Julie McCulloch, Director of Policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“Teacher shortages are a growing problem that pose a significant threat to educational standards. It is clear by looking at the repeatedly missed recruitment targets and high level of vacancies that teaching is not deemed as attractive as similar graduate professions. Pay erosion over the last decade has undoubtedly contributed towards this and needs to be reversed, but it is important that this is applied fairly across the education sector. Targeted approaches will only serve to further demoralise those who are not deemed eligible for pay incentives and exacerbate other problems such as staff retention.

“We fully support the review’s findings that tackling unmanageable workload is key to improving retention. Workloads have been driven up by the underfunding of education and a punitive system of inspections and performance targets and this is pushing teachers into other industries. This trend will only continue unless meaningful change is made to teacher pay and conditions in a way that is affordable for all schools.”

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