June 2018


  • Back to the future
    Geoff Barton says it's important we look to the future of education but in doing so, we mustn't ignore the significant challenges we face at present. More
  • Smarter learning
    Artificial intelligence (AI) has the power to transform learning by drawing on a range of data to pinpoint each child's specific learning needs as they work. Education needs to embrace it, says CEO of a school improvement platform Priya Lakhani OBE. More
  • A step in the right direction
    ASCL has campaigned for fair education funding for over 30 years. Here, former President Peter Downes highlights key moments from our quest and says, although the proposed new formula isn't perfect, ASCL and its members can be proud that the principle for which it has campaigned has been accepted. More
  • Keep your head
    One ASCL member shares his experience of going through the redundancy process and says he can't speak highly enough of the help he was given by ASCL when he needed it most. More
  • Is the grass greener?
    Why are so many teachers leaving the profession? Jack Worth, Senior Economist at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), looks at the latest research. More
  • Changing the narrative
    ASCL PD Associate, Carly Waterman, explains how collaboration could help change the narrative of the recruitment and retention problem in schools and colleges. More
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Why are so many teachers leaving the profession? Jack Worth, Senior Economist at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), looks at the latest research.

Is the grass greener?

As pupil numbers are expected to rise over the next decade, teacher supply is a key priority for education policy in England. The number of trainee teachers has fallen short of the governmentís targets for keeping up with demand for the past five years, placing even greater importance on retaining teachers in the profession.

New NFER research, Teacher Retention and Turnover Research: Is the grass greener beyond teaching?, explores what happens to teachers after they leave teaching in the state sector, and offers some insights on what motivates teachers to leave (www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/NUFS04). The research identifies key factors driving retention, and suggests ways that school leaders can better retain teachers, and ways that the government can develop policies to support them to do so.

Where do teachers go when they leave?

A large proportion of teachers who leave the state sector in England remain in the wider education sector, either teaching in the private sector or moving in to a non-teaching role in a school. About a third of teachers who were teaching in an English state sector school moved to a private sector job teaching in a school. Many of these teachers are likely to be teaching in independent schools, but this group could also include supply teachers, since the agency they work for is a private sector firm.

That so many teachers remain working in the wider education sector suggests they are strongly motivated to work with children. A large pool of qualified ex-teachers working in the education sector also suggests that many could be in a position to return to teaching in the future. While many do return to teaching, recent attempts by the government to encourage more returners by offering support, have had limited success.

Will an increase in teachersí pay improve retention?

The pay of those who leave teaching and take up a new job is, on average, 10% less than it was as a teacher. Teachers feel this financial hit: their self-reported satisfaction with their income also falls slightly after leaving. This suggests most teachers are not leaving to seek a better-paying job. Instead, many teachers take a pay cut in their new job to gain other benefits.

This does not necessarily imply that increasing teachersí pay will have no impact on teacher retention, since a pay increase may compensate for other factors that are driving their decision to leave. But policy responses that aim to increase teacher retention need to consider pay alongside other factors affecting the trade-offs that teachers make, such as their workload, working hours and job satisfaction. While there may be other good reasons for increasing all teachersí pay, especially after years of freezes and below-inflation increases, the impact on retention may be fairly limited.

Working hours and flexibility

On average, teachersí weekly working hours fall by 12% in the year after leaving and remain below the level they were at just before leaving for at least three years. However, there is no significant change in weekly working hours among those teachers who work full-time both before and after leaving teaching.

The fall in average working hours is therefore driven by full-time teachers taking-up part-time work after leaving teaching, rather than reducing their hours in new full-time roles outside teaching. There are significant differences in part-time take-up after leaving between primary and secondary school teachers: the proportion of secondary teachers working part-time increases by 20 percentage points after they leave, while there is no change among primary teachers. This suggests there are a substantial number of secondary teachers who would like part-time work, but are unable to get a position that suits them in teaching.

NFER research shows that primary schools seem to be better able to accommodate part-time teachers than secondary schools (www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/NUFS03/). Secondary school leaders cite timetabling as the most significant barrier to agreeing part-time working with teachers, which is a more complex issue in the secondary sector (https://tinyurl.com/y76xcjup).

Nonetheless, if secondary leaders can find ways to meet the demand for part-time working opportunities, there may be important retention benefits. Better part-time opportunities may encourage teachers who are at risk of leaving the profession in the future because they cannot work part-time to stay. This may also encourage former teachers who left the profession, for example, to have families or care for relatives, to return to work part-time. School leaders could look for ways of making suitable arrangements for part-time teachers and consider exploring what they can learn from schools that have been successful in accommodating part-time working.

Teacher job satisfaction and workload

The job satisfaction of teachers who leave and take up a new job improves considerably after leaving, which suggests that the prospect of improved job satisfaction was a major factor in teachersí decision to leave the profession. Falling job satisfaction in the years before teachers leave also indicates that low job satisfaction was an important trigger for leaving. School leaders should regularly monitor the job satisfaction and engagement of their staff, to spot the early warning signs of disengagement and intervene to keep teachers in the profession.

What are the most important factors influencing teachersí job satisfaction? Research has highlighted important associations between teachersí job satisfaction and the quality of school leadership and management, including their feelings of autonomy and of feeling they are supported and valued by managers (www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/LFSB01/ and https://tinyurl.com/yd38owb8). Having an unmanageable workload is also a key determinant of low job satisfaction.

School leaders, government and Ofsted need to work together to review the impact that their actions are having on teacher workload, to identify practical actions that can be taken to reduce this. The governmentís recent campaign aimed at reducing teacher workload, with Ofsted and others including ASCL, is a welcome step in the right direction. But, there is so much more to do.

Teachers in England work considerably longer term-time hours than in many other countries (https://tinyurl.com/y8xct4ht) and compared to other professions (www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/NUFS05). For many teachers, working long hours is a way of dealing with a high workload. For those who are unwilling or unable to work long hours, their workload can become unmanageable, impacting negatively on their motivation, job satisfaction and wellbeing. Nurturing, supporting and valuing teachers is vital to keep their engagement high and improve their retention in the profession. Making teaching a sustainable career is one of the keys to the future of Englandís education system, and one that school leaders have to play an important role in delivering.

Jack Worth
Senior Economist at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER)