by Sarah Marsh
The statistic that two-fifths of teachers quit within the first five years is often bandied about, even though no one seems quite sure where it comes from. But new research suggests there’s some truth in it – many of those training to be teachers have considered leaving and don’t expect to see out their careers in the profession.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) union surveyed its trainee and newly qualified teacher members and found that of those who have considered resigning, 76% cited heavy workloads as the reason. More than 54% said that they did not think they’d be teaching in 10 years’ time and almost a quarter imagined they’d move on in half that time.
This may seem disheartening, but some positive statistics also came out of the report. One of the most popular reasons (75%) for joining teaching was a desire to make a difference, and 80% said they taught because they enjoyed working with children. Contrary to popular belief, just below 20% went into teaching because of long holidays. We look at these statistics in a bit more detail.
Five reasons new teachers want to leave
1) Heavy workloads
This was the most cited reasons for considering leaving teaching; of those who had had second thoughts, 76% claimed it’s the amount of work that’s the problem. It was also a popular choice for why people didn’t like teaching: 87% said workload was the worst part of the job. A further 53% said that they felt they had insufficient time to reflect on their practice and 31% complained about report writing.
When asked about work-life balance, 79% of young recruits felt they didn’t have this quite right – with 46% working an average of six to 10 hours over the weekend. A worrying 81% of teachers said that they do not have enough time to participate in hobbies and 80% do not get enough time to relax. An improvement in work-life balance would involve “less unnecessary paperwork”, the survey found.
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2) Teacher bashing in the press
This was the second most popular reason given for thinking about quitting. This follows an OECD report released last year which found that two-thirds of teachers felt undervalued. Although teachers in the UK were above average in feeling valued, at 35% (unlike France where the figure was only 5%), they still fared quite poorly.
A trainee in his third year at a primary school in Bedfordshire said: “Teachers feel undermined and unappreciated.”
3) Constant changes
A quarter of respondents said “attacks on teachers’ terms and conditions” was another reason they had thought about leaving. The last five to 10 years has seen a great number of changes in quick succession. There’s been dramatic change to the curriculum, changes to pay structures and GCSE and A-level rerform. When asked what they wanted from the government, new teachers called for meaningful consultation and for reform to be taken more slowly.
4) Challenging student behaviour
About 25% said difficult behaviour made them consider leaving teaching. When asked what would have a positive impact on their teaching, 83% said that they wanted more time to plan and prepare and 42% required mentoring or coaching from experienced colleagues.
This comes alongside criticism for low-level disruption with an Ofsted report published last year saying that teachers are not doing enough to tackle unruly behaviour. The inspectorate found that students are losing up to an hour of learning each day in English schools because of bad behaviour.
This didn’t come up in the top reasons for quitting but it wasn’t an option in the survey. However, it’s a point that appears in the report in other sections. When asked what teachers dislike about their job, a staggering 63% said Ofsted. Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said that their survey showed the government need to review the current inspection system.
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Five reasons people start teaching
1) Work with young people and to make a difference
Of the 858 who responded to this question, just over 80% said they wanted to teach because they enjoyed working with young people. This was followed by 75% of teachers who said they wanted to make a difference. More commonly-held assumptions about why people teach, such as the draw of long holidays, were actually less popular choices. Only 20% of people said that they taught for that reason and just 10% chose teaching for its useful childcare patterns.
2) The variety of the job
This was another top reason for why people started teaching, with 57% of respondents picking this. No two days are the same after all. Teachers also said that they enjoyed the “light bulb moment” their students get and also learning from those in their class.
3) Teaching is fun
About 32% said they had chose to teach for this reason. Creativity in the classroom was also the fifth most ranked thing that inspires young teachers. When asked what would improve their teaching, 47% said they wanted more freedom, and 70% called for time to reflect on their practice with colleagues.
4) Inspiring teachers
If you need anymore proof of the value of teaching then the study also found that 37% of trainees were inspired by former teachers themselves. Interestingly, they also called for more collaboration between other teachers in their school. And when asked what would have a positive impact on their teaching, 42% called for mentoring from experienced colleagues.
5) Love of their subject
A highly-ranked reason to join the profession. The Sutton Trust examined 200 pieces of research in 2014 looking at what makes great teaching. It found that the two most important elements of great teaching were the quality of instruction and how well a teacher knew their subject.