This is a post I’ve had on my mind for a while but haven’t wanted to write but then I decided that actually I would as I’d also do a post to counteract it with 5 reasons to stay in teaching.
We need more teachers; teachers are leaving the profession and few are being replaced. The numbers of teachers in secondary schools has fallen whilst the number of teachers leaving for reasons other than retirement has increased by 34,910 between 2011 and 2016. Yet the number of students is set to increase by 19.4% between 2017 and 2025.
So why are teachers leaving?
The following five reasons are based on my experiences and those of many teachers I have spoken to over the years.
1 // Accountability
Current accountability structures were introduced originally in 1988 as part of the Education Reform Act with the introduction of Ofsted and league tables yet it’s been Gove’s legacy that has had the most significant impact on teacher and school accountability in my opinion.
Accountability is important to maintain sufficient standards of education for all but it’s the way it has been implemented more recently and combined with performance related pay that has impacted teachers the most.
Ofsted and league tables already have a widespread impact on teacher workload, wellbeing and stress. In my first two schools, I feel as though I heard the word Ofsted more than I heard the word student; yet we are in our schools for the benefit of our students. Everything we do should be for them, not for Ofsted, not for the LA, not for the MAT boss making big bucks but for the students in our care. There are many examples from schools across the country whereby strategies have been implemented not for the benefit of students but to tick box in preparation for Ofsted. Strategies that have had little to no benefit for the students; so why were we doing them in the first place? It takes a brave and honourable leader to stand up and say ‘other schools maybe doing it, but we are not because it doesn’t impact on learning’.
But the introduction of performance related pay for something with so many external influences is damming.
In 2013, the DofE released details on how schools will be able to link teachers’ pay to performance allowing them to pay good teachers more. By that September schools had to revise their pay and appraisal policies to outline how pay progression would be linked to teacher’s performance. The advice suggested schools assess teachers’ on their performance in some of the following
- impact on pupil progress
- impact on wider outcomes for pupils
- contribution to improvements in other areas (eg pupils’ behaviour or lesson planning)
- professional and career development
- wider contribution to the work of the school, for instance their involvement in school business outside the classroom
For many this meant setting specific targets for pupil progress and specific targets for performance in observations and scrutinises of different kinds.
For me, one of my appraisal targets looked something like this…
These targets were set by the school. The lack of autonomy in the PM process for many and the implementation of specific targets, some of which are impossible to achieve due to external factors has massively increased the stress experienced by teachers to perform whilst also leading to a great deal of micro-management in order to help others to meet their targets. It’s been crazy for many, stressful for others and downright impossible for some.
2 // Unnecessary Workload
Resulting from the introduction of greater accountability and new performance management measures, teachers have also been finding their workload increase exponentially over the last 5 years or so. Often the workload has been associated with either doing it to cover ones back or to tick boxes for Ofsted, Mocksted, parents or performance management. Too often workload has increased not a benefit to learners but merely to say it is being done.
Take class profiles for instance; in my first school class profiles were introduced to give to any observers. These outlined the class, their achievement, progress, concerns etc.; imagine doing every term for 12 or more groups of students. I never felt this helped me to improve my students learning; instead just a tick box exercise of justifications.
In my opinion the unnecessary tasks that distract from the assessing of learning and planning of progress are the biggest distractions to improving education in our schools.
3 // Constant change
Along with unnecessary workload, another major influence on teacher wellbeing and the workload crisis is the impact of constant change. So far, I’ve been through just two governments in my teaching career, yet it feels like many more as a result of the political input into the UK’s education system. Each time there’s a change of Secretary of State for Education there are new policies and changes to implement; that’s 4 to date for me and despite the name change of the role, others have seen many more ‘in charge’ of education in the UK.
Along with changing ministers, comes changing examinations.
I started my teaching career in 2010; just as Gove become the Education Secretary and since then I’ve taught the following GCSE exam specifications
WJEC (1 year)
Edexcel A (1.5 years)
Edexcel B (2.5 years)
AQA IGCSE (1 year)
AQA 1-9 (2 years)
I’ve taught with levels and without levels. I’ve taught with the national curriculum and without it.
I’ve taught in a comprehensive converting to an academy, an academy, a MAT and a free school. All within 6 years. Some of this was chosen change, others were enforced change all of which those increased workload as it wasn’t possible to just ‘transfer’ resources from one situation to another. Each school their own way of doing things; each exam spec was different; each had new implemented strategies that had been noted in another school as good practice and thus we had to implement just in case.
The change to qualifications, curriculum and testing has probably had one of the largest impacts on workload, in my eyes especially for those teachers in schools teaching both GCSE and A-Levels. The introduction of new testing; the removal of levels and new qualifications have meant a lot of change all at once for schools, subjects and teams to implement alongside dwindling resources and money. All of which has increased workload, stress and poor mental health of teachers.
4 // Limited Autonomy and Micro-Management
Tom Rogers shared this on twitter just the other day
A very anxious and stressed maths teacher received these emails last week. IMO email picking apart display boards (pics) and comparing to another dept is unprofessional. Its lines like “i’ll delay your finish time if…” in the 2nd one that kill this profession. pic.twitter.com/GTRLugFR0f
— Tom Rogers (@RogersHistory) 26 July 2018
A fine example of micro-management and poor leadership. Limited autonomy has a huge impact on teachers; imagine being faced with a school leader that tells you what you can and can’t do in your classroom; that tells you to do things you damn well know will have little to no impact on your students; that tells you to follow me and you’ll be outstanding; that doesn’t let your own way shine through. Imagine how uninspired you’d feel, how your enthusiasm would drain; how ticking boxes to please that person rather than to benefit your students becomes your norm. No thank you.
Yet too many people have experienced this. The list of non-negotiables. The do it this way or take the highway out of here routine. Or worse still the you’re with us or against us, so we’ll put you on PM measures that mean you’ll hate working here and we can soon get rid of you approach. This micro-managing and in some instances, bullying is driving teachers out of the classroom.
We train to teach because we want to teach. We want to give something to our students. We want them to take knowledge away. We want them to develop skills. We want them to be life-long learners. We want them to enjoy and be happy in school and life. If we’re not allowed to do that; our souls become drained. Our happiness withers. Our love for the profession dwindles. We leave.
5 // Societal Opinion
Ever had the kid turn around and say, “my mum says you’re just a teacher, so I don’t have to listen to you’? Thankfully it’s happened just the once; but who has the right to say that? No one is ‘just a….’. We work hard in our jobs, whatever job you do whether a truck driver or dentist, teacher or neurosurgeon you’ve worked hard to get where you are. You’ve put time and effort into your job and/or career. Everybody is worthy.
Just because we’ve chosen to be teachers doesn’t mean we couldn’t have been something else if we wanted to. Teaching is incredible, every day is different, every student is different. We learn as much from the kids as they learn from us; what we learn is just slightly different.
Yet people envisage that we have 13 weeks paid holiday where we go galivanting around the world, sunning ourselves and relaxing. When in reality the majority of us spend much of our time working over the holidays or recuperating after the last slog of several weeks of hard and tiring work.
A recent survey by the Education Support Partnership found that teachers expect to work eight days over the holidays up from six days in in 2013 and that’s just from the 811 surveyed.
I’ve been guilty of working far more days in the summer than 6-8; as I know others have been. Fortunately, I’ve now I’m working in a school that considers workload and have developed my own strategies for reducing my workload meaning I’m sure I can limit my time working to less than 8 days.
Teachers work hard for their students and those that don’t are few and far between. Teaching as a profession needs higher recognition in the UK simple as. Greater recognition for our professional status, greater emphasis on professional development and efforts to retain rather than recruit will help to maintain numbers.
There are so many other reasons teachers are leaving teaching other than those above. What would you add to the discussion? Feel free to leave comments.
// Useful Links
// Posts from teachers that have left teaching