Teacher retention has been an ongoing crisis in the UK, with around 1/3 of teachers leaving the profession within five years of qualification. The negative consequences of this are manifold: a loss of talent to a profession that needs a motivated and incentivised workforce; a waste of resources devoted to training; disruption to pupil learning arising from unnecessary staff turnover; and demoralisation for those remaining in the profession.
While issues such as pay and working hours are highly complex, with implications for public finances, there are other responses that relate to re-enforcing teachers’ ownership of their professional journey and identity.
This proposal argues for an English-wide scheme (which could also be adopted by devolved authorities) for free access for teachers into a broad range of libraries, museums, galleries, learned societies, cultural institutions and subject-based associations. Each teacher would have an annual credit of up to £250 (in effect a personal research budget) to utilise for individual access to these institutions and the services that they provide, including membership fees, resources, and attendance to ad hoc events. The participating institutions would admit the teacher for free, on presentation of an individual photo card and supporting ID. The institution would then be reimbursed by the government on a charge-back basis for the costs incurred. The benefit would be non-taxable, the credit would not be transferable and would not roll-over to the following year.
The anticipated benefits would be as follows: (i) teachers would be able to gain access to specific knowledge and professional learning that would connect them pedagogically and philosophically with research developments across a range of disciplines; (ii) it would also be a countervailing effect against teacher perceptions of limitations to their professional independence which can sometimes arise from the prevalence of data-driven targets; (iii) it would enhance teacher professional status by crediting the individual with the capacity to map out their own professional learning; (iv) it would benefit the participating institutions (all of which have been closed during the COVID-19 crisis) by incentivising visitor footfall and by opening up a source of revenue; (v) it would enhance subject-knowledge for the individual teacher, with expected benefits for pupil learning and attainment.
While one intervention alone will not solve the retention crisis, the distinctive nature of this proposal is its emphasis on personal professional agency, and the individual stewardship of a resource. Enhancing professional autonomy and ownership can be expected to yield benefits for individual performance and outcomes for pupils, while also developing and enhancing connections between schools and research/cultural institutions. While the scheme would entail cost, this should be considered against the waste of talent and loss of investment when teachers leave the profession.