So many NQTs are leaving. What are we doing wrong?

It's not yet October half-term, and already Colin Harris has spoken to NQTs who are thinking of quitting the profession

Colin Harris

NQT exodus: Many new teachers are quitting early because they were not properly prepared for the pressures of the job, says Colin Harris

We have not yet reached the October half-term, and yet I have already been asked to talk to some new teachers who are thinking the profession might not be for them. 

These are often sad conversions, with individuals who have found that the reality of teaching is so different from what they thought it would be. In just a few weeks, they have been turned off a career they trained so hard to be a part of, and had such high aspirations for.

It is a sad state of affairs when one in seven NQTs leaves during or at the end of their first year at school. And this is at a time when each and every one of these new teachers is precious to our profession.

The NQT exodus

Can we lay blame on the individual teacher for not researching the realities of the job enough? Or is it lack of preparation by the trainers at university? Or are the host schools to blame for not supporting the new teachers?

Perhaps it's a bit of all three. However, the reality is that we do, without doubt, have a problem. 

Interestingly, when that classroom door closes at the beginning of the year, it doesn't take the new teacher long to realise that teaching is vastly different from what they thought it would be. 

Before, there were others to turn to, others to take responsibility. Now it is all on the new teacher's shoulders. And that does feel like a big responsibility. 

Add to this the loneliness of being a new teacher in a new school, and the oppressive regime of performance pressure and workload.

Better preparation for new teachers

No matter how good individual school support structures are, we must be doing something wrong. The expectation that when an NQT enters the classroom they are nearly the finished article is a burden many cannot handle. And, on top of that, they must deal with all the pressures of the classroom and the school, plus an equal amount outside school, as they adjust to being part of the workforce. 

Training institutions could certainly do more. Very few sufficiently prepare students for the true realities of the classroom. The difficult children behaviourally, the lack of support for special needs, the onerous nature of assessment and the difficulties some parents present. Perhaps no training can prepare people for this, but some discussion should be held on what could be done.

There are so many reasons new teachers give for leaving. We could certainly do with a government enquiry into these reasons. The cost to the country is phenomenal. 

And what about the personal cost? Each NQT who leaves has their professional and personal lives affected in some negative way, and schools can also be affected. There is no doubt we need to do far more in this area.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were “outstanding” across all categories

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