What is driving so many young teachers out of the profession?

The simple truth is that we cannot afford to lose these people from our profession, writes one teacher-leader

James Bowen

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We are now at that point in the year when schools will be trying to finalise their staffing structures for September. Teachers will soon be finding out which year group they will be in, which classes they will be allocated and some will be anticipating stepping up to take on a leadership position for the first time. 

Along with the internal manoeuvring, a whole swathe of new NQTs will have just been appointed and will be enjoying that final longest of summers before stepping into their own classroom for the first time. Most of us will recall that sense of optimism and anticipation that comes with being an NQT, waiting to start your first teaching job. It's that sense of knowing you're about to embark on a career that really matters. 

Every qualified teacher has been an NQT. They know the joy that having your own class brings – and, equally, they know the scale of the challenge that accompanies your first full year of teaching. As a profession, we have a duty to nurture and develop those entering the classroom for the first time. That's why the recent research by education datalab showing the high turnover rate of NQTs in some schools should be a real cause for concern. 

We are in the midst of a recruitment and retention crisis, with the DfE's own figures showing the rate of qualified teachers entering the profession has fallen to its lowest for five years. The simple truth is that we cannot afford to lose these people from our profession. 

I have argued previously that our schools are better than ever, but I also think the expectations on teachers are higher than ever. Of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing: it is right that we want the very best, most highly skilled practitioners working with our children. As a profession, we should be setting the highest standards for those who choose to enter it. 

However, we also need to accept that teaching has become more demanding than ever and all teachers – but especially those new to the profession – need and deserve the best possible support. 

Sharing wisdom

Personally, I would be in favour of a move to a longer NQT/induction period as long as it is about a longer period of support and guidance, and not an excuse to pay our newest recruits less. Nor should it make them easier to "get rid" – this would clearly be the exact opposite of what I'm arguing for. We should also guard against any increase in the unnecessary hoop-jumping and paperwork that many NQTs find such a distraction. 

Instead, this should be about an entitlement to high-quality, specialised CPD, a longer period of mentoring from experienced colleagues and an acknowledgement that it may take more than three terms to reach the sort of levels that are now expected of teachers. Approached in this way, such a change has the potential to be a real force for good. 

From the profession's perspective, we shouldn't lower our expectations, but we should keep in mind how much those expectations have grown over time and focus on providing the best possible level of support. The unwritten contract between experienced and new professionals is an essential one. 

And to those who have just landed their first teaching role, while there will be plenty of highs and lows in the year ahead, you really have chosen the best job in the world – congratulations. 

James Bowen is director of middle leaders’ union NAHT Edge. He tweets at @JamesJkbowen.

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James Bowen

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