Exodus slows but thousands still quit

27th June 2003 at 01:00
Youngest and oldest staff are most likely to leave the profession to lighten their workload. Jon Slater reports

THE number of teachers quitting state schools has fallen for the first time since 1998 but more than 20,000 staff a year are still leaving, research published today reveals.

Schools are unable to hang on to newly-qualified teachers, more than a quarter of whom leave after five years or fewer in the job.

This high early drop-out rate is in addition to the 88,000 qualified teachers who have never worked in a state school.

Four in 10 teachers who quit said they were so disaffected that nothing could have persuaded them to stay, the government-funded study found.

Teachers in shortage subjects and those nearing retirement were also more likely to leave.

Those quitting took up a range of jobs from becoming a scuba-diving instructor to running a pub; from gardener to civil servant. One told researchers: "The day I handed in my resignation my daughter said 'We've got our dad back'."

Workload was by far the most common reason for seeking a life outside school gates especially among primary teachers and those approaching retirement.

Younger teachers were more likely to leave because they wanted a fresh challenge, better salary or in order to travel, often taking up teaching posts abroad.

Pupil behaviour in secondary schools, poor management and personal circumstances were among the other common reasons for quitting. But fewer than one in 25 ex-teachers blamed difficult parents.

Few expressed regrets about their decision to quit. All but 2 per cent were sure they had done the right thing, although one in 10 did return, usually part-time.

A male teacher in his late 20s who quit for a post with the Inland Revenue said: "I felt a bit guilty at being a rat deserting a sinking ship, but I was not going to damage my health."

More than 3,000 schools responded to the survey for the Department for Education and Skills undertaken by Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson of Liverpool university's centre for education and employment research.

Only one in 10 teachers who left the profession took up a job outside education - mostly those from shortage subjects whose skills are demanded by industry. Others retired early, took up advisory posts in support of government initiatives or moved to the private sector.

Professor Smithers suggested the Government should consider making advisory posts part-time to prevent good teachers leaving the classroom for jobs "more attractive than teaching itself".

Teachers in London and the South-east were more likely to move jobs or quit teaching than those in the North and Midlands.

There were widespread expecation among teachers that they would retire in their 50s.

Professor Smithers said: "It seems that older teachers have been ground down by the age of 50 which is worrying in light of the news that the Government intends to raise their retirement age."

At a General Teaching Council conference in London this week, David Miliband, school standards minister, said great strides were being made in teacher recruitment, but retention was still a challenge.

And MPs, conducting an investigation into teacher retention, were this week told by the teacher unions that plans to increase their retirement ages to 65 would make the situation worse. Shortage subjects also remained a problem.


Carole, a business studies teacher in her early 40s, quit because of poor pupil behaviour. She is now teaching gifted and talented pupils.

"I handed in my notice before this job came along. I could probably have put up with the workload but you get yourself in front of a class of 30 children who decide they don't want to work.

"The school had a very weak management style. It's a very lonely place to be when kids are verbally abusing you and there is even the possibility of attack and you know that there may not be any discipline taken against these children."

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