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Capital leavers a loss to teaching profession

Many teachers quitting London have no plans to return to the classroom. David Budge reports

MORE THAN 20 per cent of the teachers leaving London schools are quitting the profession altogether, a new survey has revealed.

The six-borough study, conducted by researchers from the University of North London, is likely to fuel the Government's anxieties about the capital's teacher recruitment and retention problems. London's vacancy rate is more than three times higher than the national average and about 1,000 agency staff are said to be plugging the gaps.

The new survey, which has been funded by the Teacher Training Agency, shows an average annual jobs turnover of 15 per cent in the six boroughs: Hammersmith and Fulham, Harrow, Islington, Lewisham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest. But in one borough the figure reached 20 per cent during the 1998-99 academic year, and one of its secondary schools had to advertise more than half of its teaching posts.

Analysis of the 1,682 posts that the boroughs advertised over the year shows that the turnover is much higher in nursery and secondary schools (22 per cent in each) than in primary (12 per cent).

Maths, design and technology, and special school teachers were hardest to replace - in each case only 56 per cent of posts were filled. But Catholic primaries also encountered serious recruitment problems and managed to fill only two of the 12 deputy headships advertised during the year.

The University of North London team have been questioning some of the "leavers" to try to establish why the turnover is so high. They discovered that 48 out of 312 leavers intended to change career while 17 said they would not teach even though they had no job to go to. A further 41 were taking a career break, and it was therefore uncertain whether they would return to teaching.

A disturbingly high proportion said that they were quitting because they were unhappy about the way their school was being run. "The children and parents were wonderful, but I was forced out of my job without another to go to and a small baby to care for because of a bullying head," one teacher told the researchers.

Other factors that caused teachers to resign were pupil behaviour (37 per cent), lack of promotion opportunities (36 per cent) and long working hours (34 per cent).

"I was doing an 85-hour week and was still unable to complete everything," one teacher said. "I have been accepted to train to be a nurse. At 32, with an honours degree and six years' teaching experience, I feel this is a loss to teaching but ... life is too short."

The leavers also cited pollution, price of accommodation (see story below), the cost of living and crime levels as other turn-offs. Just over one in four were also concerned about the quality of education available to their own children.

But the report, which was presented at the British Educational Research Association conference last weekend, is not unrelentingly gloomy. Even the leavers appreciated the cultural and cosmopolitan nature of London.

However, it was teachers who had been brought up in London who were most likely to say that they intended to spend the rest of their career in the city. As far as many of them were concerned, Dr Johnson's remark that anyone who is tired of London is tired of life still held true.

"Leaving and joining London's teaching force", by Ian Menter and David Thomson with Alistair Ross, Merryn Hutchings and Dorothy Bedford. e-mail

BERA conference, 26

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