Poor job satisfaction 'key reason' teachers quit

New research says cutting workload and improving job satisfaction are essential for tackling the retention crisis

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Improving teachers’ job satisfaction and workload are key to addressing “chronic problems” in teacher recruitment and retention, research has found.

In a new report, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) said teacher dropout rates had got worse since 2010 and that lack of job satisfaction was "a key reason why teachers leave the profession".

“The retention and recruitment of teachers is one of the most important policy issues facing England’s education system today,” said Carole Willis, the NFER's chief executive.

“As pupil numbers continue to rise and teacher numbers do not grow sufficiently to meet increased demand, retaining teachers in the profession must remain a top priority, particularly at a time when government recruitment targets are not being met.”

She went on: "Our evidence indicates that lack of job satisfaction is a key reason why teachers leave the profession.

"Focusing on improving job satisfaction, and tackling workload and long working hours could be vital for improving teacher retention and to make teaching an attractive and rewarding profession to enter as well as to stay in.”

Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation which funded the study, added: “This research confirms that there are chronic problems in the recruitment and retention of teachers, particularly in shortage subjects and in certain areas of the country.”

Dropout rates rising

Schools have long been struggling with ballooning teacher-pupil ratios as recruitment has failed to keep up with rising numbers of students, and more teachers leave the profession.

Education secretary Damian Hinds has pledged to make the teacher shortage a “top priority” but failed to address the issue at the Conservative Party conference this month.

The NFER report found growing numbers of teachers were moving jobs or leaving the profession entirely, making it harder for schools to maintain staffing levels.

Between 2010-11 and 2014-15, the dropout rate among secondary teachers rose 1 percentage point to 11.8 per cent. In primaries, it rose even more, from 8.9 per cent to 10.3 per cent.

London faces some of the toughest problems because class sizes are growing faster and more teachers are changing careers than in other major cities.

The NFER also found that leaving rates were changing the demographics of the profession, with the proportion of full-time teachers over 50 falling from 23 per cent in 2010 to 17 per cent in 2016.

“Far too many teachers are leaving the profession too early in their careers and the NFER is absolutely right that more needs to be done to solve this problem,” said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

“There is still a long way to go to improve retention, and one crucial factor is the need to alleviate the morale-sapping impact of the school funding crisis.”

High workloads, low job satisfaction

The NFER research found that job satisfaction and workload were key factors prompting growing numbers of teachers to leave the profession.

On average, teachers work more than 50 hours a week during term-time – longer than nurses or police officers – and are the unhappiest of all three professions with the amount of time they get off.

The study found teachers who changed their career path reported falling job satisfaction in the years before.

However, most keep working in the wider education sector – more than six in 10 non-retiring leavers stay in the sector, with a third of teachers leaving state schools moving to a job in the independent sector.

Few cited money as a deciding factor in their decision to leave and most took a pay cut of an average of 10 per cent when taking up a new job.

Instead, leavers blamed their decision to go on issues such as the quality of school management, teacher autonomy, and whether they felt supported and valued.

Based on their research, the NFER made several recommendations to improve retention rates:

  • School leaders should monitor staff satisfaction, including identifying workload issues and increasing support to ease any pressures.
  • The Department for Education and Ofsted should remove any unnecessary job requirements to reduce workloads.
  • The government should look urgently at how to accommodate more part-time roles in secondary schools.
  • Teacher pay increases should be targeted at certain groups who will be most responsive, such as early-career teachers.

Mr Hinds welcomed the report and said he had made it "a priority to cut unnecessary workload and make sure teaching remains an attractive and fulfilling profession".

"The 450,000 inspiring teachers in our classrooms deserve – and they have – our admiration, our respect and our thanks," he said.

“We have already taken a series of steps to try and help teachers’ work-life balance, but there is more to do and I will shortly set out a recruitment and retention strategy that will help us continue attracting and keeping great teachers in our schools."

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