How can schools and governments improve teacher retention and recruitment?

Teachers are the backbone of any society. As educators, teachers have a far-reaching and lasting effect on their students. A recent survey suggests that teachers can influence their students’ choices of college majors and careers. On a more urgent note, good teachers can raise the quality of education, which directly translates improvement in PISA scores and assessment results. Long term, an improvement in education directly correlates to employability and progress. It’s no wonder then that many high-performing nations have strict selection processes for recruiting new teachers. Singapore, for example, recruits only the top graduates, and even then only one in eight is actually selected.


Teacher recruitment, however, is facing a huge setback at the moment. A 2016 report showed that nearly 30% of teachers were considering leaving education within 12 months. This included early-education teachers, teaching assistants and Special Educational Needs (SEN) teachers. The reasons cited ranged from plummeting morale, poor work/life balance and heavy workloads to a narrow and uncreative curriculum. In 2017, another survey of more than 3000 teachers under the age of 36 suggested that more than 4 in 10 (45%) could choose to leave within five years.


How does this affect other sectors?

A crisis within teacher recruitment and retention can have a domino-like effect on a nation. To start with, a decrease in teacher retention and recruitment means that existing teachers are faced with greater workloads. It also means more secondary school teachers are forced to teach subjects they aren’t qualified to teach. For example, in STEM subjects such as physics, the proportion of those teaching without a relevant qualification rose from 21% to 28% between 2010 and 2014. This means that the future STEM workforce is being taught by overworked and exhausted teachers with no expertise in STEM.


So what can governments and schools do to overcome this crisis?

On the face of it, the solution seems straightforward. Most surveys conducted to explore this issue have teachers citing poor morale and salaries, heavy workloads, rigid curricula and poor work/life balance as the predominant reasons for wanting to quit their jobs. The Department for Education’s most recent teacher workload survey found primary school teachers with less than six years of experience were working an average of almost 19 hours per week outside school hours, with most teachers citing administrative duties adding to their workload.


Funding seems central to solving most teacher-recruitment and retention problems. Despite the UK government’s recent decision to invest £10 million into recruiting foreign teachers to help with the teacher-recruitment crisis, teacher pay rises stay capped at 1%. Poor pay, coupled with poor management and time pressures, leads to a sense of being undervalued. More and more teachers also face mental health issues for these reasons.


The first step in helping teachers is to stop blaming them. Most schools want to help their teachers but find themselves unable do so due to limited funding. Over the years, some schools have taken to applying for private funding from alumni and parents; however, most schools are forced to make do with public funding. How schools can help, however, is by better management. This extends towards the curriculum. Schools can give teachers more flexibility in preparing and delivering their lessons, as well as keeping administrative work to a minimum. This might help to reduce teacher workloads and encourage a better work-life balance. Another practice is to provide continuous professional development for teachers, keeping them updated about the latest teaching technology and techniques that might help them reduce workloads. Much has been said about technological resources for teachers. However, it’s important that schools take the time to figure out which resources might suit their budget needs. For example, a school with a modest budget might profit better through a digital teaching resource that can be accessed via a variety of devices, rather than one that requires investing in a product geared towards learning. Also, teaching resources that are adaptable to a variety of pedagogies offer more value than those that need to be constantly upgraded or expanded depending on student groups.


Governments can also support schools by implementing less stringent curricula, allowing teachers to choose the best pedagogies and techniques to teach their students. For example, Finland gives its schools a great deal of autonomy over the use of curricula and assessment, compared to other countries. Most Finnish teachers hold master’s degrees, with knowledge and experience in research and practice-based subjects. More importantly, they are given a great degree of freedom in designing and delivering lessons. They also clock the least amount of working hours in comparison to their colleagues in other countries.


If governments can’t afford pay rises, they need to compensate for this by offering reduced working hours and more freedom in delivering lessons. Experts have also suggested increasing pay rises, where possible, within poor districts that usually suffer the most in terms of funding and quality teaching.


As with most important things, there is no single or simple solution to the crisis surrounding teacher recruitment and retention. However, it is essential that steps are taken to properly address the issue, at least on a smaller scale initially, in order to preserve a valuable national workforce.

Assessments: helpful or a hindrance

Educational institutes around the world use assessment to measure student performance and learning outcomes, with international assessments such as PISA gaining increasing popularity. Much debate has taken place about the genuine value of assessment, from primary assessments to international tests like PISA. So, is testing really helpful to students? Or does it get in the way of learning? We decided to investigate.


What is assessment and why do we need it?

Often, assessment is confused with testing. Testing is just one form of assessment. Students can also be assessed by various methods such as project-based learning and phenomenon-based learning.


Assessment is an important part of education, helping policymakers and industry thought leaders determine whether curriculum goals are being met. Assessment is the baseline against which decisions about learning outcomes, educational policies, curriculum standards and, yes, even funding are made. In short, its importance hinges on the fact that it provides measurable results.


Is assessment helpful?

While assessment is invaluable to policymakers and educators, the real question stands: is it helpful to students and teachers? The answer is a resounding yes. Here’s why:

  • Assessment helps educators determine if learning goals are being met.
  • Assessment helps us understand the efficiency of the latest pedagogies and teaching methods.
  • Assessment identifies students who are struggling academically, allowing schools and educators to provide them with extra support.
  • Schools need support too. Assessment can help policymakers to identify schools that need extra funding for professional development or classroom supplies etc. For example, reports show that only 19% of low-income students met the ACT test benchmarks.
  • Assessment also helps teachers develop achievement goals when planning their lessons.


So when does assessment become a hindrance?

The biggest concern with assessment is the competitive pressure nations put on their schools and teachers to get better scores. When educators and nations begin to use test results as a source of competition rather than growth, they unwittingly skew the basic purpose of assessing students, which is to evaluate their progress and support them in overcoming their weaknesses.


Another trend stemming from international testing is the tendency to blame teachers for poor test outcomes. Teachers form the backbone of educational systems, often working long hours beyond their working days to help support students. The purpose of tests like PISA ought to be to ultimately support teachers and help them manage their workloads. However, parental and social expectations often lead to criticism of teaching styles or methods, casting doubt on teachers’ ability to do their jobs well. This, in turn, translates into teachers quitting their jobs and/or a drop in teacher recruitment.


Assessment can work incredibly well when it is used to evaluate learning goals and progression. It only becomes a hindrance when it is used to bring down teacher morale and put pressure on schools to compete with other others around the world.

Teaching students with learning difficulties

Over the past few years, there has been growing awareness in many countries towards people struggling with learning difficulties and learning disabilities. Around 1.5 million people in the UK struggle with a learning difficulty and statistics point to nearly 15% of Americans being affected. The terms “learning disability” and “learning difficulty” differ in meaning from country to country and are sometimes used interchangeably: for example, the terms “learning disability” or “learning disorder” are both used in the United States, while the UK displays a preference for the term “learning difficulty”.


It’s important to be clear about what we mean. In this post, we use the term “learning difficulty” as The Salvesen Mindroom Centre does: “any learning or emotional problem that affects, or substantially affects, a person’s ability to learn, get along with others and follow convention.” Examples include dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and auditory processing disorder (APD).


How can educators and schools provide support to students with learning difficulties?

Over the years, steady efforts have been made by countries around the world towards inclusion – allowing students with learning difficulties to learn in regular schools. Inclusion is extremely important, benefiting students developmentally as well as socially. There are, of course, certain challenges for teachers. Each student is different, and there is a wide spectrum of learning difficulties that can make the situation even more delicate. A student with dyslexia needs a different support system to a student struggling with ADHD.


It, therefore, becomes the teacher’s responsibility to read up on individual symptoms and teaching strategies in order to understand student needs. To help, we’ve compiled a list of five teaching strategies designed to help students with learning difficulties.


Each of these can be easily adapted to suit individual needs. So whether you are a teacher looking to better support students with learning difficulties, or a parent looking for some guidance, we hope you find the following list helpful.


1. Break learning into small steps

Often also referred to as “chunking”, this strategy involves breaking down complex information into smaller and simpler parts that are easy for the brain to digest. Chunking is said to relieve the cognitive load on the brain and engage short-term memory in a more efficient manner. Chunking works with any text and subject. You can chunk information by ideas, paragraphs or keywords. You can even chunk your lesson into a list of learning objectives or goals, writing these on the whiteboard so that the students can follow your line of progress.


2. Visual aids

Visual aids are invaluable in teaching all students, especially those struggling with a learning difficulty. The human brain can process images faster and better than it can words. Words are abstract in nature, making them difficult to process, especially for children with learning difficulties. Using images, educational films and other visual aids such as diagrams and charts during lessons can help students build a direct correlation between words and their meanings – making learning much easier and faster.


3. Use multiple reinforcements tools

Repetition and revision are key to learning. But repetition can be boring, and focus is often a struggle for children with learning difficulties. That’s where multiple reinforcement tools can help – using different formats to teach the same concept. Generally, the more versatile the mediums are, the better: make them visual, aural and sensory, if possible. For example, for a lesson on how plants transport food, start with an attention-grabbing activity like changing the color of a flower. This will engage students and connect theory to practical knowledge. Follow this with a lesson on food and water transport in plants, supported with colorful images and engaging visuals. To reinforce the knowledge learned, set a quiz or revise the topic with a film.


4. Build on previous lessons

A simple but efficient way of revising or making it easier to learn a new topic. You can review the previous, related lesson, or you can teach something new by connecting it to a previously taught topic and building up the new activity around it. For example, if students already know what plants need to grow, you can work towards a new lesson on tropism.


5. Memory techniques

Revision reinforces lessons taught in class, but students may still benefit from learning certain memory techniques to help them remember how one chunk of information relates to another. Mnemonics, mind maps and even simple diagrams can go a long way towards helping children understand and remember information easily. Mnemonics or special phrases have long been used by teachers to help students remember difficult concepts. The mnemonic LAWN, for example, can help students remember that all plants need four things to survive: Light, Air, Water and Nutrients. Mind maps and pie charts represent written information in a more visual format, making information like statistics and proportions easier to remember.