Non-Peruvian teacher attrition in Lima’s international school sector: power, agency and identity


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Author: Will Everitt

The evidence is clear that for schools, as with any type of organisation, high staff turnover poses a considerable financial burden. In the education field, this trend can also hold back student attainment (Hayden and Thompson, 1998; Ingersoll, 2001; Mancuso et al., 2010; Skinner, 1998). As a British teacher drawn to Peru 7 years ago, I have noticed that many of my international colleagues move schools, either to return to their home countries or to other international postings, often after completing their initial 2-year contracts and, on occasion, even earlier. This prompted me to wonder whether any formal research exists in this regard, and whether this pattern exists in other parts of the world. I also wanted to examine why this trend exists and what school administrations can do to address it.

During my career, I’ve often heard teachers complain that they don’t have the freedom to teach as they would prefer. Considering high turnover rates, what intrigued me was the extent to which these gripes prompt moving schools or, even, quitting jobs. Common sense, I thought, would dictate that teachers who felt they had autonomy would be more likely to stay in post. Nevertheless, I also took this assumption as a clear signal that this was an issue worthy of investigation, to validate or refute, and to reveal with more clarity the issues relating to this topic. Thus, the investigation explores the ways teachers in this sector consider they have professional agency as well as seeking a fuller understanding of teachers’ relationship with their school’s leadership.

The rationale for examining teacher attrition through lens of power was to focus the discussion towards a sociological evaluation of relationships that exist within schools, particularly between teachers and managers. The concept of identity similarly frames many of decisions we make in work, including whether to leave a post. Therefore, the aim here was to assess the extent professional identities mirror that of their school and whether this relationship also influences teacher turnover. Indeed, since this investigation is centred on Lima’s international school sector the inherent cultural mix that characterises these institutions means that themes associated with identity are revealed more clearly than usually would be the case (Lai et al., 2016; Joslin, 2002). The underlying belief is that these three concepts provide a basis from which valid understandings of teacher attrition rates may be achieved.

Framed by existing quantitative and qualitative research drawn from outside Peru, the investigation adopts a case-study methodology, drawing from semi-structured interviews with educators working in Lima’s international school sector. Emphasis is unequivocally placed on teachers’ subjective experiences thus the aim is to interpret the experiences of teachers within a social sciences paradigm informed by the literature in this field.

Due to the nature and limitations of the research, the investigation is best regarded as exploratory. Additionally, the ability to draw clear conclusions is hampered by variations that exist between schools and between individual educators employed in the same school. Variation exists in terms of teachers’ perceived agency, the management styles evident in different schools, and, not surprisingly, educators’ perceptions of leadership teams. Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that many of the trends existing internationally in terms of teacher attrition are also evident in Peru’s international school sector. In particular, the evidence suggests that the majority of teachers move on after the initial two-year offering and that personal reasons dominate the array of influences involved in this decision (DeAngelis and Presley, 2011; Everitt, 2019; House of Commons Education Committee, 2017; Odland and Ruzicka, 2009).

The research also justifies an interrelationship of power, agency and identity in the work place, not least since these concepts frame how professionals interact within social organisations. In addition, those teachers who are flexible in terms of adapting to Lima’s international school sector and in terms of their professional identities are far more likely to stay in post. In this sense, the evidence tentatively suggests that those teachers who manage adeptly their professional identities and understand how power operates within schools have a greater chance to flourish in a new environment (Everitt, 2019).

To stem attrition rates the paper recommends that school management teams improve communication with teachers, especially regarding pedagogy and assessment. A more far-reaching approach would be to encourage professional growth through effective CPD, as effective CPD arguably increases job satisfaction and a sense of career progression. More fundamental still, transformational CPD programmes offer leadership teams a way to narrow differences existing between personal and school identifies (Fraser et al., 2007; Parding et al., 2012; Schleicher, 2012). Finally, progressive schools may also explore ways to share the responsibility for institutional change between the leadership and the teaching body, especially given the claim that positive change is emergent and on-going (Barnard and Stoll, 2010). The chief objective of these recommendations is to enable schools to meet the changing demands of the sector, to raise teacher agency, and draw together teachers’ and school identities.


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