Primary leadership: staff retention and development case study

Recruiting and retaining teachers is an ongoing concern for schools. Suzanne O’Connell finds out how one school develops leadership among staff to ensure this isn’t a problem

Author details

Suzanne O'Connell has more than 25 years' teaching experience, 11 years of which were as a junior school headteacher. She has a particular interest in special needs, child protection and extended services and is currently a writer, editor and...

School information

School: Kingsdown and Ringwould C of E Primary 
Location: Kent
Number of pupils on role: 215
Headteacher: Joanne Hygate   
Category: Voluntary controlled
Level of PP: below average
Level of SEN: well below average

Comments from Ofsted

‘There is an expectation that leadership is everybody’s business, including the pupils. New leaders are well supported. The school has an effective mentoring and partnership model, which develops excellent leadership skills. Subject leaders motivate and inspire each other.’   (Effectiveness of leadership and management)

‘The exceptional individual attention which nourishes each pupil’s aspirations and talents is mirrored by the continuous development of staff.’  (Summary of key findings for parents and pupils)

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Kingsdown and Ringwould C of E Primary School boasts a full complement of staff and headteacher Jo Hygate is confident that this will continue into the future. 

Jo is the executive headteacher of both Kingsdown and Ringwould and Temple Ewell Primary, also in the town of Deal. ‘Kingsdown had been judged to be good by Ofsted in the inspection prior to this one and as a result of this I became a Local Leader of Education (LLE),’ Jo explains.

She then became involved in Kent’s programme of support for schools and was asked to help out with Temple Ewell when it was in special measures.

Now it is in a ‘good’ category and with Kingsdown judged to be outstanding in January, Jo and her team feel understandably proud of the schools they lead. ‘I encourage everyone to recognise the leadership qualities in themselves,’ says Jo. ‘I also keep the school slightly overstaffed. That way there is flexibility and should there be a sudden resignation, illness or maternity leave, we can quite easily fill the vacancy.’

I want my teachers to be leaders and not managers

The school’s healthy budget has helped to enable this, along with Jo’s openness towards part-time appointments. ‘Some people don’t like to employ people who are part-time but I don’t see it as a problem and believe that it adds to our flexibility as a school.’

Appointing staff

PGCE and School Direct candidates are Jo’s preferred options when it comes to recruiting new teachers. ‘We work with Shepway Teaching School and Canterbury Christ Church University. 

'Teachers still have days out at college but they’re learning, from day one, how we work here. Sometimes I feel that we expect NQTs to be fully-fledged teachers. They’re not. They still have a lot to learn,’ says Jo.

Leadership isn’t confined to a senior leadership or middle leadership role, all teachers are leaders

Jo likes to train her staff up into the ways of their school. Induction is vital and is built into their initial programmes.

The two heads of school have direct responsibility for this. ‘I teach across both schools,’ explains Jo, ‘and this provides additional time for these activities to take place.’

Once staff arrive at the school they don’t want to leave. A mixture of the strong CPD opportunities and the effectiveness of the teaching and learning here ensure that they want to stay.

Ofsted described the curriculum as exceptional and this aspect of the school also increases the incentive for working at Kingsdown. ‘We are a thinking school,’ says Jo. ‘We use the thinkers toolbox and it’s very much an enquiry-based curriculum. This is enjoyable for children to learn from and teachers to teach.’

Middle lead​ers

The two schools working together has meant there are opportunities for subject leaders to combine their ideas and collaborate. ‘We’re more focused around the subject than year or phase leaders,’ says Jo.

‘I want my teachers to be leaders and not managers.’ Now both schools have such glowing Ofsted reports they have found that their priorities are similar and mean that subject leaders across the two schools can work together.

Jo feels that being a head of school is a perfect way to prepare for headship. ‘We share an office and they can see what I’m doing all the time and the reasons behind the decisions I make,’ she says.

Jo is also aware of the importance of making sure that the heads of school make decisions themselves and are recognised by the local community as being in charge.

Staff CPD

CPD has a generous budget and this enables Jo to send two teachers together to courses outside the school. ‘I feel this is beneficial as they have opportunity to talk about what they hear,’ she says.

Alongside the need to develop according to school priorities is the importance of developing their own individual careers. ‘I encourage them to look to the next stage and we identify what they should be doing next. In their third year of teaching here, everyone embarks on a leadership course. Leadership isn’t confined to a senior leadership or middle leadership role, all teachers are leaders.’

Coaching and mentoring are the foundations of their approach and understanding data is vital. ‘Middle leaders need to be able to explain the data. We try this out at subject leader interviews.

‘These are conducted by a governor and myself and take place three times a year. We are checking that the subject leader really understands the internal data and what they’ve seen in the classroom. We ask them, ‘why are you an outstanding leader?’

Help everyone to see in themselves the leadership capacity they have


‘Losing’ teachers is never a problem for Jo. The over staffing has helped with this and Jo will use money creatively to ensure that there are additional teachers based within year groups who can both support when all staff are present and replace when there are absences. This means that the school never has to use a supply agency.

‘Teachers want to stay here,’ Jo explains. ‘However, I do encourage them to focus on their career and look at next stages.

‘I don’t see appointment elsewhere as a threat to the school. We’ll just bring someone else in and within three years it is surprising what they can have achieved.’

Jo believes firmly that keeping a healthy staffing profile is about investing in your team and encouraging them to think to the future.

‘They don’t have to aspire to be a headteacher but they should recognise that they are already a leader. I have had staff comment that they feel they have had their eyes opened to their leadership capabilities. That’s important.

‘Be creative,’ she says, ‘and help everyone to see in themselves the leadership capacity they have.’


Last Updated: 
10 Mar 2016