Though Schools Minister Nick Gibb insists it is a “challenge we’re managing”, rather than a “crisis”, (TES 3rd July 2015), the issue of teacher recruitment and retention is currently exercising many schools and headteachers. If the success of students is so closely bound up with the quality of teaching, how can we ensure that we attract sufficient numbers of teachers of the right calibre, with the greatest potential? How can we continue then to develop them effectively in post, and retain them so that their growing confidence and competence ensures school stability? And what happens when our capable and valued staff reach the stage of their career where they are definitely ready for a fresh challenge in a new context? Can we be sufficiently selfless and open-minded to give them the “positive push” they may need to expand their horizons and move elsewhere?
It may seem counter-intuitive to a school leader who is committed to doing all in their power to secure their own school’s success, but sometimes good people do need to move on. Internal promotion and being offered the chance to take on new challenges within your current school are important opportunities for growth, helping you to build your range of skills and to demonstrate your versatility. But there is something to be said for experiencing a number of different schools if you are to develop the breadth of experience and a healthy overview of the educational landscape – the wider perspective that ensures you appreciate the Big Picture and that you do not become entrenched in the context of one particular school. There are different ways of doing things, and sometimes it takes a change of school to help us fully to appreciate this.
Successful school leaders are, in my experience, adept at spotting potential and predicting future capacity – sometimes even before those concerned recognise it themselves. If you are currently a middle leader, senior leader or a head, ask yourself who are the most talented staff (both teaching and support staff) within your current team. How might further responsibility help these staff to find increased professional fulfilment? It may be that the opportunities to take on new middle or senior roles simply are not going to materialise at the right time within their current school. If individuals are in need of a fresh challenge, can you encourage, support and prepare them to look for such challenge beyond the school, sorry though you may be to lose them?
Consider the following, perhaps:
Being known as a school which is committed to the personal and professional development of all staff, enabling them to achieve even greater things elsewhere in due course, is a positive testament to your wider commitment to education which can actually support future staff recruitment. Others may be keen to apply for roles at a school which is known for successfully growing leaders.
We are all educators with a conviction that all children deserve the best educational opportunities, whichever school they attend. Helping to secure a supply of good school leaders in the future by investing in staff potential at all levels is part of our wider responsibility.
Those who are capable of undertaking such new challenges are likely to feel even more highly valued by the demonstration of your confidence in their capacity to do so. Having such conversations about future career development can be a positive way of ensuring staff morale is buoyant.
In addition to having this dialogue about future professional potential, it is important to offer practical advice and support about how they might prepare themselves for such a move. This might include being prepared to read and comment on draft letters of application, discussing interview technique and even arranging for them to have a practice interview. Those considering moving on may also need guidance on finding the right post in the right school at the right time.
School leaders looking back at their own career may recognise how they were, themselves, supported and encouraged by role models and mentors over the years. This may have helped them to make the right move at the right time. If we have benefited from the “positive push” ourselves, this may be the most powerful demonstration of why this is a service we should now be prepared to offer to others.
As James Hunter would have it, “If you love someone, let them go…”