Recruitment and retention in New Zealand secondary schools Publications
A small-scale qualitative study was undertaken in 20 secondary schools throughout New Zealand between June and September 2002 to identify any barriers which may exist to the recruitment and retention of beginning teachers, heads of departments (HoDs) and people returning to teaching after taking a break. In total, 20 principals, 19 coordinators of beginning teachers, 63 beginning teachers, 56 HoDs and 20 returning teachers were interviewed for the study
Author(s): Sharon Dewar, Shelley Kennedy, Catherine Staig and Lois Cox, Research, Ministry of Education.
Date Published: 2003
Key Findings from the Study
A primary focus of the study was to determine whether there were any barriers to the employment of beginning teachers in secondary schools and what policies and practices might encourage beginning teachers to stay on in secondary teaching. The following points are on the basis of the information provided by study participants in the course of the interviews.
- Principals of participating schools liked and valued beginning teachers because of their enthusiasm and vitality and consciously looked to employ them.
- There was however usually said to be a limit to the number of beginning teachers that a school could realistically sustain: the greater the number of beginning teachers the greater the input required from HoDs and other staff to support them.
- Principals and HoDs were generally happy with the quality of the beginning teachers in their school, although some commented that there were a number of beginning teacher applicants that they had not considered employing either because of `quality' issues or because they did not think the applicant fitted with the ethos of their school.
- While principals, coordinators and HoDs thought the majority of their beginning teachers were progressing well, they nevertheless felt that they often required extra assistance in the early months of their teaching career, particularly in areas such as classroom management.
- Beginning teachers liked many aspects of their work: they enjoyed working with and relating to young people and gained particular satisfaction when they were able to get on with teaching per se and see their students reach new understandings.
- Beginning teachers said they were often frustrated and overwhelmed by what they saw as the many obstacles to doing the actual job of teaching. Most summed up their first and/or second year as a teacher as being very difficult, a point not only acknowledged but also emphasised by their principals, HoDs and coordinators.
- Almost all of the beginning teachers interviewed said they felt overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork and administrative tasks the job required and commented that their initial teacher education programme had not adequately prepared them for this particular aspect of teaching. They felt that these tasks often got in the way of what they felt they should be in school to do: that is, to teach.
- Although advice and guidance programmes for beginning teachers were offered in all participating schools, after initial orientation, aspects of these programmes often appeared to be on an ad hoc rather than formally scheduled basis.
- As part of their advice and guidance programme, many of the beginning teachers would like to have seen more formal arrangements put in place to ensure that they had regular, ongoing contact with a mentor; they also stated that they would like more timetabled opportunities for lesson observations.
- Beginning teachers generally looked to their HoDs for specific assistance and guidance. But they were also very conscious of their HoD's workload and were often hesitant to ask for assistance for fear of "bothering them".
- The views expressed by principals, beginning teachers, the coordinators of beginning teachers, and the HoDs themselves made it clear that the part played by HoDs in supporting beginning teachers is often pivotal to how well beginning teachers cope during their first two years in the classroom.
- Principals, HoDs, and the coordinators of beginning teachers interviewed acknowledged that their schools were seldom able to provide as much support to beginning teachers as they ideally would have liked or they felt beginning teachers needed.
- Of the beginning teachers who participated in the study, over a third anticipated that they would still be teaching in five years' time. Most of the remainder either stated that they would most likely be overseas (probably teaching) or were unsure about whether or not they would be teaching and were keeping their options open.
As well as focusing on the recruitment and retention of beginning teachers, the study sought to gain an insight into any potential barriers to the employment and retention of returning teachers and to find out what might encourage people to return to teaching. In the schools that we visited, it was possible to speak with only 20 returning teachers. This, and the finding that these teachers were a very diverse group, means that generalisations cannot validly be made about these teachers on the basis of the present study.
In saying that, some interesting and valuable insights were obtained from the interviews which may be helpful when considering the wider picture in relation to the recruitment and retention of teachers in secondary schools.
- Principals were keen to appoint the 'best person for the job', irrespective of whether they were a beginning teacher or an experienced teacher returning to the workforce.
- In most schools, there was little formal support in place for returning teachers, other than induction days which were for all new teachers to a school. This was not generally seen to be a problem as, in most cases, participants felt that as they were experienced teachers, what they needed most on their return to teaching was simply collegial support, just to help them settle into the school and become familiar with the particular school's processes. Principals agreed with this view, adding that experienced teachers needed to be respected and acknowledged as such.
- The particular advantages to employing a returning teacher were said to be that they were established teachers and knew the way things worked within a school. They were often described as being mature and confident enough to ask questions when they were unsure of how to proceed (something that can be more difficult for younger, inexperienced teachers).
- Women who return to teaching after having children were generally attracted by the ability to have school holidays off with their children, the flexibility of part-time work; returning teachers in general also mentioned either that teaching was something they knew they could do and that there was a certain security in returning to 'the known' or mentioned that the decision to return to teaching was influenced by a lack of other suitable job opportunities in the area where they lived.
- A number of the participating returning teachers felt they were in a strong position to negotiate certain conditions for themselves such as flexibility of working hours or not having to take on extra-curricular activities. They said that the ability to negotiate such matters had made the return to teaching more attractive for them.
- Like the beginning teachers we spoke to, the aspects of teaching which returning teachers most enjoyed included the interaction with students and other teachers, teaching in their chosen subject area, and the satisfaction of seeing a student finally understand what is being taught. Returning teachers also particularly valued the flexibility of working hours, which fitted with their other commitments, and having a regular income.
- Aspects of teaching which returning teachers did not like included what they saw to be the ever-increasing amount of paperwork and administrative tasks that they felt did not directly contribute to teaching and learning. A number of these teachers commented that the amount of administrative paperwork required had noticeably increased since they had last been teaching. Other areas of difficulty or concern for returning teachers were dealing with difficult and/or unmotivated students, what they saw to be inefficient systems in place to deal with difficult students, the workload in relation to pay, the lack of readily accessible resources, and the lack of support for administrative tasks and the requirements associated with teaching technical classes (eg, help with buying ingredients for food technology).
Heads of Department
A further major purpose of the study was to investigate any issues concerning the employment of heads of department (HoDs) and what support or incentives might be needed to make an HoD's job more manageable or desirable. From our interviews with principals and HoDs themselves the following themes emerged. Other interviewees also often spontaneously offered comments about the role and responsibilities of HoDs which supported the following points.
- Principals considered that having competent HoDs, with the right skills, was an absolutely essential component of a well functioning school.
- Principals were very concerned about their school's ongoing ability to recruit competent HoDs and commented on what they considered to be a significantly reducing pool of suitable applicants for such positions over the last few years.
- All principals and HoDs interviewed expressed the view that an HoD's job has become too big. They described the current situation as one where further duties are always being added without any of the existing ones being taken away.
- There was also unanimous agreement that the remuneration for undertaking this responsible and demanding role was insufficient, and that as well as workload, this was a significant disincentive for teachers who would be eligible to apply for an HoD position.
- Principals, and the HoDs themselves, saw workload as the main barrier to the recruitment of new HoDs; beginning teachers also commented on the heavy workload of their HoDs.
- Most HoDs we spoke with - many of them very experienced - were feeling overwhelmed by the expectations of the job.
- HoDs saw their job as having two distinct parts - middle management and teaching. All of them enjoyed teaching. They also enjoyed many aspects of managing a department.
- But although they enjoyed teaching and believed that continuing to teach was essential in order to maintain credibility with their teaching staff, participating HoDs felt that their teaching load was too high, given all their other responsibilities. They stated that consequences of the high teaching load they had to manage included (1) often not being able to devote as much time to preparing lessons as they would like and (2) a high level of ongoing "frustration" at the feeling that they were not able to achieve all other tasks required of them (especially developing a vision for their department, and strategic planning) to their level of satisfaction.
- In addition to the above, a major concern for the HoDs that we spoke to was what they saw as the significant increase over the last few years in the amount of administrative (and accountability) work required. They felt that too much of their energy went into this work and to trying to streamline administrative procedures, at the expense of being able to best implement the curriculum and improve teaching and learning.
- The overarching theme in the views expressed was that there needed to be formal recognition or acknowledgement of the increasing workload and responsibilities for HoDs, and steps taken to address the problem.
- A considerable number of HoDs interviewed said they were actively looking for alternative employment outside teaching, were considering or planning on taking a less stressful position within teaching (eg, returning to being a classroom teacher), or thinking seriously about leaving teaching despite being realistic about the possibly narrow range of alternative options open to them.
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