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Why are so many teachers quitting?

Large numbers of teachers are leaving the profession after just a few years. Read why teacher retention and recruitment is a growing crisis in England.

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There’s concern across England that the recruitment and retention of quality teachers is gradually decreasing. This is leading to a core knowledge shortage and skills gap across our schools. Government figures published in October 2016 indicated that nearly a third of teachers who began work in British state schools in 2010 were no longer teaching five years later. There’s little indication this will shift anytime soon; a recent teaching union survey highlighted that four in ten young teachers could quit the classroom within the next five years. So, why the worrying departure?

Teachers cite various factors impacting their job satisfaction from increasing levels of stress; a growing amount of paperwork, high expectations for formative assessment and a requirement for accountability tasks, resulting in an overall lack of motivation. This comes at a time amidst fears for teachers’ poor mental health. We’ve identified the top five reasons teachers are leaving their profession:

1. Work conditions

Most teachers realise that their working hours go far beyond those spent in front of their pupils. Due to its very nature, education is not a standard 9-5 job. On top of this, demands around extra marking, data entry, lesson planning and additional classroom admin have increased, according to educators. When asked in a survey by NASUWT about the key concerns about their jobs, 90% of teachers cited workload as the primary issue.

According to a recent Government Social Research report, good quality leadership, teacher cooperation and manageable workloads are three of the top contributors to higher job satisfaction in education. Good leadership, in particular, is strongly associated with higher teacher satisfaction and reduces the odds that educators will change jobs. This is perhaps no surprise, but it emphasises how much of an impact Senior Leadership Teams (SLTs) can make on teacher well-being. Effective management and support, in turn, will likely have a positive influence on many of the other factors identified in the report.

2. Limited ongoing training

As well as the need for more support in schools by senior leaders, there’s an inherent lack of ongoing training at a national level. Research by The Teacher Development Trust shows that schools spend £12,000 on teachers in their first year of practice, compared to £400 each year thereafter. What’s more, in England there’s no official requirement or entitlement for Continuing Professional Development and Learning (CPDL).

Schools would benefit from a prescribed programme of training with specific funding allocation. This would help to ensure that all staff, regardless of experience, have access to high quality professional development which is relevant to them personally.

3. Assessment and data collection

According to a survey by the National Union of Teachers, 91% of teachers agree that the expectations on teacher assessment by the Department for Education is beyond the reach of the majority of children. What’s more, the survey highlighted that 86% of teachers believe changes to assessment have led to a significant increase in their workload.

Technology can contribute towards streamlining the administrative tasks and reducing teachers’ assessment burdens. Despite this, our annual State of Technology in Education report revealed that only 35% of educators use digital technology to track formative assessment. Is it a missed opportunity?

Schools may benefit from reducing the expectation for excessive paperwork, observations and ongoing assessment procedures, unless the teachers believe it would genuinely enhance their development, or their students’ learning.

4. Lack of forward thinking

Some teachers believe our current education system is old fashioned, lacking the innovation and intuition to prepare pupils for the future. According to recent article by TES, schools ‘live in the past… [occupying] a system that has become narrow, polarised, restrictive and divisive.’ In an age where digitisation, automation and other emerging technologies will dictate many pupils’ future careers, there could be more focus on fostering transferable skills. The use of interactive technologies give pupils the opportunity to develop their digital literacy.

At the same time, teachers have reported a ‘one size fits all’ approach to learning, with little consideration for differentiation and mixed ability classes. More schools, then, could consider basing less of their core learning on a fixed curriculum and more on the pupils’ passions, their skills and their individual needs.

5. Inflexibility

The same TES article by Colin Harris highlights a sense that schools are becoming ‘exam factories’, in which the needs of individual pupils are sorely neglected.

Schools which adopt a more flexible approach to accommodate the diverse learning styles of their students, putting the needs of the learners first, may see an improvement in outcomes.

As high teacher turnover in schools is directly associated with reduced pupil attainment, it’s important for SLTs and other school leaders to consider teacher wellbeing in their institutions. What’s more, the gap in staffing levels could worsen still, with the number of secondary school-age pupils expected to spike by more than 500,000 to 3.3 million by 2025.

Collaboration and support from SLTs, therefore, is essential. Allow teachers to talk about systems or processes that are inadequate or could be improved. Consider retiring systems that are burdensome and have little impact on the pupils’ learning. Another approach is to invest in time-saving technologies that support and empower teachers, leaving them with more time to provide pupils with a more inspiring and valuable learning environment.