We recently met with Mary*. Mary worked for many years in media, before deciding to train as a teacher. Mary thought teaching would fit in well with her life as she is raising small children. Four years later, after a bad experience of teacher training, a huge workload and only being able to find supply work, Mary has decided to quit the profession.
Robin* was a scientist, but decided to retrain as a science teacher. Like Mary, after only a few years in the job, Robin is so disillusioned, thanks to little preparation time, as well as a lack of understanding of what it is teachers do, that he is strongly considering leaving teaching.
Zoe sacrificed time, money and a good job to follow her dream of becoming a teacher, but after being subjected to bullying behaviour at the hands of a superior during her NQT year, the dream became a nightmare. Zoe worked all hours to try to please her mentor, but eventually exhaustion set in and Zoe was written off sick with stress. Zoe no longer works in teaching.
Mary, Robin and Zoe are not alone. The numbers of NQTs contacting the Teacher Support Network concerned with their workload have increased by 29 per cent in the first five months of 2012, compared to the same period in 2011.
The numbers calling or emailing us citing a lack of support have also increased, by eight per cent, from 66 in 2011 to 71 in 2012.
Other research suggests that as many as one third of NQTs are leaving the profession within three years, yet, as I have written before, the number of teachers retiring early has also risen significantly. The result is that three out of four local authorities in England are experiencing a teacher shortage.
So why do so many NQTs seem to be unhappy? The NASUWT’s general secretary Chris Keates recently said: “What we are seeing is a culture of fear and bullying in some schools, as pressure increases for them to be seen to be succeeding at any cost. Random and frequent lesson observations are now the norm, causing enormous stress and anxiety.
“The result of this will be a squandering of a precious resource – young teachers who are capable and whom we have trained at huge taxpayers’ expense, who will leave the profession. This is not just happening in academies, but right across the system.”
Given that training an average teacher costs somewhere between £16,470 and £23,277, without even considering recruitment costs, what can be done to keep NQTs in the profession?
Mary thinks heads are key and that there needs to be a change of culture, with better relations between NQTs and management: “If you raise a problem, you need to know that you will be listened to and you need to know who to raise the problem with,” she explained.
Robin believes teachers need more time and a greater understanding from management of what it is they do on a day-to-day basis.
Zoe agreed: “It’s very sad that people in positions of power destroy the confidence of people who look up to them for advice and encouragement.”
At Teacher Support Network, we believe, from the calls and emails that we receive from NQTs, that the following needs to happen to improve retention:
Recruiters must ensure that potential teachers understand the realities of teaching before and during training.
Health and wellbeing must become an integral part of all teacher training and development.
School leaders and managers must implement practices that improve retention, and be encouraged to innovate in other ways. A culture where teachers are supported and encouraged to direct their own development is a key known ingredient of quality retention.
Policy-makers must proactively research and respond to the negative issues that teachers are giving as reasons for departure.
More should be done to publicly promote the work that teachers do to improve their overall status and position.
In the meantime, we can all help to foster a good environment in our schools. Be supportive to your new colleagues, be aware of the common signs of stress, anxiety or depression and make sure you and your co-workers, old and new, know where they can go to get expert advice, coaching and counselling whenever the going gets tough.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visitwww.teachersupport.info. or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales). (* names have been changed).