The number of teachers seriously considering leaving the profession has reached record levels as “crushing” workload levels emerge as their top concern, according to new research.
Almost three-quarters of teachers, 74 per cent, said that they had seriously thought about quitting the classroom in the past 12 months, according to a new survey of 13,000 teachers.
The proportion has risen from 68 per cent a year ago and 45 per cent in 2011, when the annual poll was launched. The figure has increased every year in that period.
The survey, shared exclusively with TES, was carried out last month by the NASUWT teaching union and independently verified by the polling firm ComRes. Chris Keates, the union’s general secretary, told TES that many teachers wanted to leave because the profession was in “crisis”.
“It’s a huge number [of teachers seriously thinking of quitting],” she said. “Teachers are leaving because they’re crushed with workload, and because their pay is uncompetitive.
“[Education secretary] Nicky Morgan is not going to silence us from raising these issues because it’s convenient for the government to have the profession pretending that everything is OK.”
The research also shows that workload was teachers’ top concern, with 90 per cent saying it was a problem. This was the highest proportion complaining about workload since 2011.
Other factors cited as major concerns included curriculum and qualifications changes, pupil behaviour, pay and school inspections.
Workload and teacher shortages were also raised as major concerns at the Easter teaching union conferences. Delegates at the NASUWT conference in Birmingham said that colleagues were leaving “in droves” and facing a “ridiculous and soul-destroying” struggle to maintain a work-life balance. Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, told TES at her union’s annual conference in Brighton that teaching was “a great job”, “beset by too many problems at the moment”.
Low morale and high workloads have created “a set of circumstances that means teaching is less attractive than it should be,” she said. “So people don’t come in and the people who are already in are more likely to leave.”
In a controversial speech to the NASUWT conference, Ms Morgan announced new measures to cut teacher workload (see pages 8-9) and acknowledged that “governments of all stripes haven’t done enough” to tackle the problem.
But delegates responded with sarcasm and laughter when she told the union that it should be more “positive” about the profession to encourage more people to become teachers. Rebecca Langston, a 25-year-old English teacher from Birmingham, said that she was one of a cohort of 27 trainee teachers who qualified in 2014. But she was one of just six who were still full-time teachers, less than 18 months later.
“That is a worrying statistic,” she said, adding that teachers were “leaving the profession in droves, fleeing from a career that they once cherished and loved” (see boxes, above and right).
The NASUWT poll comes after findings by the National Foundation for Educational Research, which show that 15 per cent of teachers who left the profession became teaching assistants.
The NFER research, published in November, suggests that many teachers were so keen to escape the pressure of their work that they were willing to accept a major pay cut.
“There aren’t many professions where so many would voluntarily seek demotion,” Sam Freedman, executive director of programmes at Teach First and a former government policy adviser, wrote in a column for TES last week.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “When the Secretary of State spoke to the NASUWT conference she asked that the unions do more to build up teachers, promote the profession and tell the story about how rewarding a career in teaching is. Teaching offers the chance to change lives on a daily basis and it is this that attracts many people to the profession.”
For more on the government response to teacher workload, see pages 8 and 9
‘A soul-destroying way to live’
Pete, a semi-retired teacher from the south of England, told the NASUWT conference that his 33-year-old daughter was leaving the profession because the pressure of work left her with too little time to care for her 19-month-old son.
He read out a letter from his daughter – a secondary science teacher whose identity he now wishes to protect – in which she explained the decision to her parents.
“You know what it’s like – I still absolutely love my 8.45 to 3.30 contact with the students but there’s no way I can find a work-life balance and I’ve reached the conclusion that I never, ever will,” she wrote. “I’m perpetually tired and/or ill. I never feel like I’m doing as good a job as I want to be doing. I’m trying desperately to keep my head above water, which is a ridiculous and soul-destroying way to live.
“When I’m at home, if I’m not working I feel guilty for the pile of work that’s sitting in the hall that needs to be done and if I’m working, I feel frustrated and angry that I’m not with [my partner] and [my son].”
Her father told TES that he and his wife, who is also a teacher, were “very sad” when they received the letter. “It’s a big step, but it’s not one she takes lightly,” he said. “To give up your career in teaching has quite an impact on domestic finances, maternity leave, pension and all the other things that we enjoy.”
He said his daughter would take a “massive pay cut” when she started her new admin-based job outside education.
“But the beauty for her is that she will work from 9 until 5 and she’ll have no burden to carry home, no angst,” he said.
He added that his daughter was a first-class honours graduate with a PGCE from Cambridge, whose lessons had been graded “outstanding”.
“The profession can’t afford to lose people like that,” he said.
Read the full letter at tes.com/news
‘I’ve had to do marking when I’m out on a date’
Rebecca Langston, a 25-year-old English teacher from Birmingham, said that she is worried that “unmanageable” workload is driving young teachers from the profession.
“At 25 or 26 years old, we have so many stresses with finances and with balancing home life,” she said. “We’re at that age where we’re getting married, finding houses and things. [When] all of that [is] added to the fact that you’ve got this unmanageable, unworkable marking workload, something’s got to give… Sometimes you have to choose life over work.”
Her workload has been so great that she has even had to take pupils’ books on dates with her boyfriend. “I’ll be sitting there at dinner, waiting for dinner, marking books,” she said. “Luckily, he’s quite supportive.”
In a speech to the NASUWT’s conference earlier this week, Ms Langston said that new teachers expected a lot of marking, but she added: “What we don’t expect is that we will only sleep for five hours a night or that we won’t have time to relax.
“We don’t expect to lock ourselves in our classrooms, crying as another learning walk looms because of the fear that there’s not enough student feedback evidenced in green pen.”