So, 30% of teachers quit within five years. This news has been emblazoned across the BBC website and has been recycled across the news cycle this week. Sadly, alas, this ‘story’ is nothing new and it is a bleak tale that has beset the teaching profession for decades now.
Place this poor retention rate alongside issues of teacher recruitment, then add into the mix a steep rise in student numbers, and you are left with a significant problem for us all. It is newsworthy.
After nearly two decades of teacher retention issues, we should aim to root out the causes. The Education Policy Institute (see HERE) have clearly outlined just some of the reasons for poor teacher retention with these bleak statistics:
- Teachers in England work on average 19% longer than teachers in OECD countries elsewhere. The reported average working week is near 50 hours (48.2).
- Teacher ins England spend a mere 4 days on CPD annually compared to an average of 10.5 hours in other OECD countries. To compare, Shanghai spend nearly 40 hours on CPD annually!
- England is ranked 30 out of 36 countries in average days spent on CPD.
- Teachers in England have a starting pay that is 16% lower than the OECD average.
I could go on. New teachers earn less, train less and work for longer than equivalent teachers in other countries. Let’s not get started on issues with accountability and the like.
You could argue that the pay could be resolved by schools simply utilizing their ‘freedoms’ to raise the pay of their teachers. Well, when budgets are squeezed and 80% of the typical school budget is already spent on teacher wages, there isn’t much money left.
Can we train teachers better? Well, within reason – yes. We could meet the aspirational demands of the new DfE Teachers’ Professional Standards (I written about these here: ‘The New Teachers Professional Development Standard‘), finding teachers time within the working work, in a regular ‘rhythm‘, drawing on robust evidence and fostering collaboration.
With great CPD we can help nourish the ‘intellectual attractiveness‘ of being a teacher, new and old. Most new teachers, fresh out of university, want the intellectual challenge of understanding learning in all its labyrinthine complexity. Working endlessly to input data and marking everything that moves simply isn’t what teachers enter the classroom for and it doesn’t have the emotional or intellectual pull required.
Of course, it teachers find CPD time hard to come by, or they have too little time to plan collaboratively with colleagues, everything takes longer and is likely less effective. It is a vicious cycle. Time for new teachers to train well in the first five years of the profession may just save us a vital 10% of our teachers.
We cannot fix workload overnight – particularly for new teachers learning the ropes (it simply takes longer to plan, mark and more) – but we can mitigate our international increase in teacher workload.
We can better audit teacher time. We can reduce the number of data inputs. We can initiate common sense feedback policies that limited marking madness. We can make planning concise and collaborative, and more. When you list what the power in the hands of school leaders, you realise that we can do a great deal to help retain new teachers.
Increased teacher pay… well, we can dream can’t we? Now, whilst the ‘austerity’ narrative is still dominant when it comes to public services pay, if we don’t have equitable starting pay for teachers then we will be fighting a losing battle for both recruitment and retention. The expense of hemorrhaging new teachers will prove far more damaging.
People can fairly argue that teachers leaving the profession, or going to join the mushrooming number of British schools abroad, is a natural feature of the teaching profession just like any other profession. Perhaps so, but even small issues with teacher retention are made more acute when we need more teachers than ever with rising student numbers. 30% is simply unsustainable.
The solutions, like the problem, will no doubt prove complex, but they aren’t simply in the hands of our Secretary of State. We can start by making a difference in our schools.
You can read the transcript from the ‘Education Select Committee discussion of teacher supply‘.
Read the ‘TES Teacher Recruitment Index‘ document here which presents the data for existing recruitment issues with some potential solutions.