Working conditions need to improve and workloads must become more manageable if schools are to stem the number of teachers leaving the profession, a report has urged.
Twenty per cent of teachers feel stressed about their role most or all of the time, compared with 13% of “similar” professionals – such as lawyers, scientists, accountants and nurses – the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has found.
Teacher recruitment and retention
The Teacher labour market in England annual report 2019 also claims that forty-one per cent are dissatisfied with the amount of leisure time they have, versus 32% of workers in comparable professions.
While their working hours averaged over the whole year are similar to those in other professions, working intensively over fewer weeks of the year leads to a poorer work-life balance and higher stress levels, the NFER suggests.
Jack Worth, co-author of the report, said: “England’s schools are facing significant challenges in recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of teachers.
“Nurturing, supporting and valuing teachers is vital to making teaching an attractive and rewarding career choice. In order to do this, there is a clear need to improve the working conditions of teachers, with a focus on making the teaching career more manageable and sustainable.”
Teachers often work in excess of 50 hours per week according to the National Education Union’s joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted, with primary teachers new to the profession working nearly 19 hours per week outside of normal school hours.
“A great deal of these excess hours are consumed by accountability measures – pointless box-ticking activities – which may satisfy Ofsted and the DfE, but have precious little impact on the children teachers teach.
“Workload is unsurprisingly at the heart of the matter. This is why the NEU has put pressure so consistently on Department for Education, to attack at root the very factors which create such an unnecessary burden.”
The NFER report suggests that improving part-time and flexible working opportunities, particularly in secondary schools, is likely to help retain teachers and encourage more leavers to return back to the career. Almost a quarter (23%) of full-time teachers would like to reduce their working hours even if it means taking a pay cut, compared to 17% of those in other professions.
The number of teachers returning to state schools after a career break has remained fairly stable at 13,000-15,000 per year between 2011/12 and 2017/18. However, Department for Education figures show that the number of in-year vacancies and temporarily-filled posts have doubled between 2010/11 and 2017/18, indicating a major shortfall in teaching staff.
The DfE has forecast that secondary schools will need 15,000 more teachers between 2018 and 2025 to meet a 15% increase in the number of pupils.
In January the government published its teacher recruitment and retention strategy which encouraged schools to develop more supportive cultures, offered a two-year support package for all new teachers and suggested a new job-share service to encourage more flexible working opportunities.
“The reasons that so many leave the profession so quickly are not a mystery to us. When faced with impossible workloads, endless accountability, a testing culture run riot, and flat or underfunded pay deals year after year, it is all too common for good teachers to leave the profession,” said Bousted.
“The solutions are really not so complicated, and have been obvious to anyone on the frontline for years. Address pay and workload and we will see increases in applications to teacher training for subjects that have long had shortfalls. Address excessive accountability and we will see teachers stay in the profession and thrive, returned to first principles and the vocation they love.”