Global review finds financial rewards could help teacher recruitment and retention

Teachers sitting round the table
Teachers sitting round the table

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

Academics at the IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, looked at global evidence on recruitment and retention strategies, to find out which areas have the most potential to explore in future research.

Researchers found that offering financial incentives - such as higher salaries, writing off loans, performance and recruitment bonuses - could be effective for attracting teachers to roles in challenging schools.

The review, Teacher quality, recruitment and retention, Rapid Evidence Assessment, 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.

Researchers 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.

The review 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.

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."

Professor Becky Francis CBE, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: "Supporting the recruitment and retention of teachers should be a central focus of any effective education system.

"This initial review is an exciting 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."

The EEF has 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.

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