Qualified teachers are choosing to take huge pay cuts and work as classroom assistants rather than contend with the vast workload expected of them, TES has learned.
Some student teachers working in support or cover supervisor roles have also been turned off teaching by the idea of spending every evening with piles of marking or planning.
One school reported a teaching assistant (TA) post attracting dozens of applicants, with about half coming from qualified teachers or candidates who had undertaken a teacher training course.
Unions have said that the situation has been worsened by recent exam and curriculum reforms and a “policy tsunami”.
Department for Education statistics published last week show that between November 2014 and November 2015, the number of teachers in England increased by 3,800, while the number of TAs rose by 25,200.
And last year, a poll by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that 15 per cent of those who left teaching became TAs.
Support staff union Unison said that 3 per cent of its TA members had a PGCE qualification, according to a 2014 survey of more than 14,000 people. A further 7 per cent had another postgraduate qualification.
“We ran an advert for a level 3 teaching assistant in April.” said the chair of governors at a primary school in the North East, who asked to remain anonymous. “Out of a total of 82 applicants, around 40 were either qualified teachers or had undertaken a teaching course but not yet achieved QTS [qualified teacher status].”
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, blamed the workload pressures on a “policy tsunami”.
“[Teachers] want to stay in the classroom and work with students, but they simply cannot deal with the workload any longer,” Dr Bousted said. “The fact that graduates who have decided to teach are prepared to be paid a fraction of the wage they earn as teachers, shows the level of overwork.
“If you want to solve the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, you have to deal with this. To be fair, I think [schools minister] Nick Gibb understands that.
“But on another level, we have a government that went pell-mell into curriculum change, qualification change and has a policy tsunami that increases workload and then says: ‘What are we going to do about it?’ Until they deal with that conundrum, we are in trouble.”
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, agreed. “People may love working with young people and they enjoy their subject,” he said. “But they find the preparation and marking workload, which inevitably happens outside the school day, is too great and interferes with their personal life. Therefore, they choose to work in another capacity within the school.
“This is an issue that needs to be addressed – ensuring teachers’ workload is at a reasonable and realistic level – and school leaders are working hard to ensure that happens.”
James Williams, a lecturer in education at the University of Sussex, said: “I’m aware of several of our ex-QTS people who have either gone into teaching and then given up, or perhaps not felt they were ready for the classroom and therefore have become a teaching assistant as a way of gaining more experience and confidence before they take a teaching job.
“And then there’s a third category where people say: ‘I’m sorry, the stress and pressure are far too intense.’ Concerning that last category – it is a school issue. The difficulty we have as providers is the limited amount of time and contact we have with trainees. We have had people come back from a placement saying ‘I don’t think it’s the right career for me.’ ”
Sue Wilcock, a former supply teacher who now works as a higher-level teaching assistant at a primary in Wigan, explained her decision to take the more junior classroom role: “There is a lot less pressure. I plan lessons, I support teachers, I do interventions, but I start work at 8.30am and finish at 3.50pm. At weekends, I have a life. When a teaching job came up, I didn’t think it was worth the cost to my family life, so I didn’t apply. I wouldn’t go back to a teaching post now.”
TAs were originally given the power to take lessons, under the supervision of a teacher, in order to free up teachers to spend time on planning, preparation and assessment.
The national workload agreement made in 2003 between the government and unions (except the NUT and UCAC in Wales), which underpinned this change, also made it clear that in return for taking on some new responsibilities, support staff would be given the chance to convert from working as a TA to working as a teacher.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The latest figures show that the number of new teachers entering our classrooms continues to outnumber those that are retiring or leaving, and more teachers are returning to the profession.
“But we know unnecessary workload is one of the biggest frustrations for teachers. We are doing more than any other government to tackle this issue and have published the results of the three workload review groups on marking, planning and data collection – the three biggest concerns raised by teachers through the Workload Challenge.”
Teaching without ‘box-ticking’
Bethan Lloyd (pictured, below) is a cover supervisor in Reading and has a degree in English and drama from Winchester University.
“I worked as a swimming teacher, which I loved, and thought maybe I could go into teaching,” she said. “So I got a job as a teaching assistant at a secondary school in Reading. I did that for a year and then became a cover supervisor.
“I don’t want to go into teaching now. It’s mainly the workload. The pay level doesn’t reflect the amount of hours that teachers do and the amount of work they have.
“Teaching is not about teaching any more – it’s about planning, marking, box-ticking and proving progress for Ofsted. I love my school. I love what I do as a cover supervisor. It has got a teaching element but you don’t have to do all the marking and all the paperwork.”