Working conditions identified as key battle in retention crisis

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

One in five teachers feel tense about their jobs most or all of the time, compared to 13 per cent of other professionals.

Furthermore, the retention rates of early career teachers (those between two and five years into their careers) have dropped significantly between 2012 and 2018.

The findings come from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) in its inaugural annual report on the teacher labour market.

The teacher recruitment crisis continues to hamper schools in England. Secondary schools, according to government forecasts, need 15,000 more teachers between 2018 and 2025 to cope with rising pupil numbers.

However, the report highlights continuing problems with teachers quitting the state sector and insufficient numbers signing up for initial teacher training.

The retention of early career teachers is a particular problem. The report says that from 2012 to 2017 around 87 per cent of those who entered teaching remained in the state sector after their first year. However, in 2018, this dropped to 85 per cent.
Retention rates for teachers between two and five years into their career have also dropped.

More generally, the leaving rate for secondary teachers of all ages has increased in recent years. The report adds: “The secondary vacancy rate has doubled since 2010, suggesting teacher shortages are biting.”

The NFER has been conducting research into teacher recruitment and retention trends and factor for some years now and its previous findings have shown the key role played by working conditions.

A key factor is working hours. While teachers’ hours across the whole year are similar to other professions, the report warns that “working intensively over fewer weeks of the year leads to a poorer work/life balance and higher stress levels among teachers”.

Its research finds that two out of five teachers (41 per cent) are dissatisfied with their amount of leisure time, compared to 32 per cent of similar professionals. And 20 per cent feel “tense” or “worried” about their job security compared to 13 per cent of similar professionals.

The report states: “Job-related stress is higher among teachers than other professionals, particularly the proportion of teachers feeling ‘tense’ or ‘worried’ about their job most or all of the time. Teaching needs to be an attractive and rewarding profession to retain staff over the long term.

It adds: “Reducing teachers’ unnecessary workload presents the biggest potential area for improving retention.”

In January, the Department for Education (DfE) published its Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy, this included plans for an Early Career Framework (ECF) to support new teachers. This will see teachers offered a two-year induction, with trained mentors, structured support and tax-free retention bursaries, to be implemented from 2020 and 2021.

The NFER report says the ECF could make a difference: “These are the critical years where the right development opportunities, nurture and support can make or break a teaching career. The government’s ECF, which includes time off timetable for second-year teachers for professional development and mentor support, is a promising development.”

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.

“The proposed measures to address these issues in the government’s Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy are welcome, but the teacher supply challenge will continue to grow, particularly in secondary schools, unless urgent action is taken.”

Commenting on the report, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Workload is unsurprisingly at the heart of the matter. Teachers typically work well in excess of 50 hours per week, as demonstrated by survey upon survey. A great deal of these excess hours are consumed by accountability measures – pointless box-ticking activities.

“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.”


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