The UK teaching crisis: why more teachers are leaving the profession

‘You can’t complain. I’d love to have 12 weeks of holiday a year!’ - Every person ever
Did you know, in England 43 percent of state school teachers plan to quit in the next five years? Did you know that almost three quarters of teachers-in-training regularly think about packing it in? As if to compound this talent drain, despite spending £700m, targets for trainee recruitment have gone down. UK teaching is in dire straits. The time has come to decide whether we want a crutch or a cure for this crisis.
Why are teachers leaving their profession behind?
There has been no change in the reasons why people get into teaching. The desire to help children and deliver better outcomes is still the driver behind joining the profession. However, there are issues within teaching that forces people to rethink their career path.
1.    Too much bureaucracy and interference
‘I don’t know any other profession where you have to fill in a self-evaluation form every day.’ Emma Lee-Porter (Independent, March 2016)
Teachers want to teach. They want to help children but encounter over-bearing bureaucracy and red tape instead. The administrative workload of teachers is such that they are typically working between 55 and 59 hours a week. All while only receiving wage equivalent to a 32-hour week. If we consider an eight-hour day as the average; teachers work an extra two days beyond their paid remit. Ofsted, the national education inspectorate, is another thorn in the side of teachers. The mere mention of the name is enough to strike fear into the heart of any education professional. Ofsted are seen as the creators of the red tape that restricts teacher effectiveness. Their inspections are so focussed on ‘box ticking’ that an excellent school can receive a bad rating. The sheer amount of work and the fact people brand you a failure despite performing admirably can push any teacher to tears. Compounded with the fact that teachers view most of this administration as pointless, is it any wonder they are leaving?
2.    Public perception
‘I had countless arguments with other parents – they felt that although there were individuals who worked hard, teachers as a whole were lazy and complained too much. Although I knew the opposite to be true, I didn’t want to be seen as one of those anymore.’ Anonymous (The Guardian, April 2015)
Everyone had a teacher they hated in school. But, despite that particular trauma being a long time ago, some people seem to hold on to that prejudice. There are very few jobs where a non-practitioner will feel confident enough to have a tirade on everything wrong within an industry. Unfortunately, teaching is the exception. As a result, people view teaching as a ‘B-list’ job, for those less capable. Yet, those same people will complain that teachers aren’t qualified or organised enough. This double standard is infuriating to teachers. Having people view you as a profession for lesser minds while they expect you to be a miracle worker.
3.    Climbing class sizes
Class sizes are rising; in some schools they can be so large as to have more than 35 pupils. Not only does this increase teacher workload but it leads to cramped working conditions for all involved. This trend seems to be on the rise with more and more teachers holding class in gym halls and porta-cabins. Teachers can become overwhelmed in such circumstances where they are solely responsible for between 35-40 children.
How to stop the talent drain
In short, we need to learn to love our teachers. We need to value teachers while trusting them to do their jobs effectively. We must reduce the ‘pointless’ bureaucracy and allow for a better work/life balance. This will require changes in the way the public views teachers and in governmental policy. It is not likely to happen any time soon. However, there are more tangible ways of retaining talent within teaching:
  • Increase development and professional growthRandstad Education suggests the way to keep teachers is to increase continuing professional development. ‘I think we badly need to have that extended early period of professional development’ says Jon Coles, chief executive of United Learning. He goes on to say that the focus must be on achieving a higher standard of professional competence. Many teachers don't want to be principals, but like everyone, they want to develop. By giving further training and career support for new teachers they are more likely to stay.
  • Collaborate and listen. Teachers feel more professional and respected when they are in a collaborative environment. Take teacher feedback into account and create collaborative plans for improvement. When they feel part of the team, their sense of job satisfaction will go up.
  • Plan for a better work/life balance. Streamlining administration would reduce teachers' workload. We should create a healthier working environment in schools with a focus on health and wellness. For example, it's important to allow time for lunch and bathroom breaks. Simple things like this make a big difference to staff.
  • Reward ‘master teachers’. In the past, teacher compensation focussed on raising entry-level salaries of teachers. However, as they continue through their career these benefits dry up. Schools should focus on rewarding competent mid-tier and master teachers who continue to excel in their field, and rewarding the best-performing teachers who are the most effective at improving outcomes for the children they teach.
Alternatives for teachers
Teaching can be one of the most rewarding jobs imaginable. But there are real challenges for teachers working in schools. Although the remedies are clear and widely understood, political difficulties make implementation slow, patchy and uncertain. This leaves teachers with a dilemma: 'should I stay or should I go?' Happily, there are ways to stay involved in teaching without getting stuck in the educational system. You can enjoy the pride of teaching a child to read, master multiplication and develop their self-confidence as a tutor or the owner of an educational franchise. It's a way of getting back on track and taking control of your own destiny. Find out more in our article on how and why you should become a private tutor.