10th October, 2016

Why are Teachers Leaving the Profession?

By Rachael S

An Education Policy Institute report, based on data from the OECD's Teaching and Learning International Survey between 2012 and 2014 - this compares the practices of teachers in secondary schools in 36 jurisdictions - has found that teachers in England work longer hours than teachers in all but two other states.

By comparison, the survey found England's teachers were near the bottom of the international table for continuing professional development. Workload was found to one of the main reasons for teachers failing to access up-to-date training on the latest teaching methods and material.

With such a high proportion of teachers leaving the profession within their first few years of teaching, this report sheds important light on an area which must be tackled if the UK wishes to offer the standards of education found in the most progressive countries.

The report found that despite working longer hours early on in their careers, new teachers could expect to earn a wage 16% lower than the OECD average. For many new teachers, the impact of a relatively low wage, high working hours and the negative press coverage of their concerns appears to be too much.

Continual government changes in assessment and accountability also heap additional pressure on teachers, with many having to change their teaching materials continuously, purely to keep up with new initiatives, which seem to be driven more by politics than academic research.

Many teachers also point to frustration with the academic expectations placed on pupils who they know cannot achieve the levels demanded. The pressure placed on such students is resented by teachers who often see them turned off education by the demands placed upon them.

Similarly, increasing amounts of time being spent on carrying out administrative tasks leads teachers to feel that they are not able to offer these pupils the support they deserve as they instead must tick boxes to demonstrate that, ironically, they are providing a sufficient standard of provision.

The EPI said its findings raised concerns not only for professional development and teaching quality, but also for the wellbeing of teachers themselves.

It adds: "With pupil numbers in secondary schools set to increase, it is unlikely that teaching timetables can be reduced if teacher numbers do not keep pace and there is not an increase in class sizes."

David Laws, Chairman of EPI, said: "This analysis highlights that the English education system is unusual internationally in its long working hours for teachers, low levels of professional development, and what looks like a high burnout rate of teachers.

"Combined with relatively low starting pay for teachers in England, these three features of our school system have clear risks for recruiting, retaining and developing a high quality teacher workforce."

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "Most worrying is the fact that teachers' professional development is being cut, at a time when there is massive change in the curriculum, its assessment and qualifications.

"Teachers want to do the best they can for their pupils, but they are being held back by 'busy work' and a lack of training and development which would enable them to meet the challenge of change which, for many, is overwhelming."

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Teaching has always been a long-hours profession, but hours spent preparing exciting lessons are very different to hours spent providing evidence for bureaucrats.

"The fact that teachers are working 60 hours a week is totally unacceptable and is exacerbating the teacher shortage."

In response, the Department for Education said: "Teaching remains an attractive career and we have more teachers entering our classrooms than those choosing to leave or retire.

"Teacher retention has been broadly stable for 20 years and the annual average salaries for teachers in the UK are also greater than the OECD average, and higher than many of Europe's high-performing education systems like Finland, Norway or Sweden."

It appears that the only people not concerned by the growing rate of teachers leaving the profession and the lack of training afforded to those who stay is the Department for Education.

Surely, more must be done to retain the best teachers and to train all who are dedicated to what should a fantastic profession. If we can combine this with reducing the bureaucratic burden then teaching might again become the attractive proposition it should be.

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