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TEACHERS LEAVING THE PROFESSION - DETAILS OF NEW STUDY

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Pupil behaviour, workload, government initiatives and salary levels are forcing teachers out of the profession and ...
Pupil behaviour, workload, government initiatives and salary levels are forcing teachers out of the profession and discouraging young people from completing their training or from entering teaching.

To get them to return, the leavers say that these issues must be addressed by the government. In particular, they say that salary levels should be similar to those in industry.

The deepening crisis can only get worse. Large numbers of teachers were recruited in the 1970s following an independent inquiry into teachers' pay, setting it at levels comparable with other occupations recruiting graduates.

Those teachers out-number by two to one the present new intake. Some may need to stay to protect their pensions, but retirement is looming, bringing an even greater hole in the supply of teachers.

These are the findings of an independent study* carried out for the National Union of Teachers by Professor Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson of Liverpool University's Centre for Education and Employment Research.

Commenting on the findings, Doug McAvoy, NUT general secretary, said:

'The government has got to address not just recruitment but retention as well. Teachers' concerns must be listened to and acted on.

'Concerted action on at least four fronts is needed: workload, pupil behaviour, constant and imposed change - and salary. The situation is urgent. More than 61 per cent of our current teaching force is over the age of 40, and 42 per cent is between 40 and 50. These are the people who flocked to the profession the last time there was an independent review establishing professional levels of salary.

'Then teachers' salaries were set at 37 points above average earnings. They are now just 7 points above. There is a lesson from history here for the government on how to tackle a seemingly intractable problem.

'But it must also look at the other issues deterring recruitment and retention: pupil behaviour, workload and its own constant imposition of initiatives. Most could be tackled by following the Scottish example and establishing an independent inquiry into teachers' pay and conditions of service.

'High quality education cannot be guaranteed while year after year local authorities and head teachers are forced to scour the world to plug the gaps caused by the government's failure to tackle the fundamental problems.'

Summary

The resignation rate from schools is rising sharply. In the summer term 2001, there were 36,483 resignations from full-time permanent contracts and 12,880 from fixed-term and part-time contracts from schools in England and Wales. Grossed up over the year, this would give an annual resignation rate of 15.8 per cent, (a total number of resignations of 70,500 in 2000/2001), four per cent more than the previous year.

Some 24,400 were leavers or retirees. Extra funding and rising secondary numbers will have led to another 8,100 posts being created. Schools were therefore looking to make about 32,500 appointments for September 2001.

With some 30,000 final-year trainees, most of this demand could have been met by new teachers. But there is incredible wastefulness during the training process. 12 per cent of those admitted to PGCE courses, or the final year of BEd courses, do not successfully complete their training. An inexplicable 30 per cent qualify but do not enter teaching.

Of every 100 final year students, 40 do not make it to the classroom. Given a training budget of£245 million, this is an annual loss of£100m.

A further 18 per cent of newly qualified teachers leave during their first three years of teaching, giving an overall loss of 58 per cent. With adequate retention, the training targets would largely have solved the teacher shortage.

As it is, the teaching profession is not renewing itself. The teacher cohort, aged 40-49, is twice the size of the present intake, with a much lower resignation rate, but retirement is already looming.

If the trends of recent years continue, 18,500 newly trained teachers will have been available for September, leaving a shortfall of about 14,000. About half the posts on past trends could be expected to have been taken by returnees, leaving a gap of 7,000 to be filled by overseas recruits and other means. It is this gap - whose effects will be cumulative - which gives rise to the teacher-vacancy headlines each September.

The gap could be considerably reduced if fewer teachers were to leave prematurely. The researchers interviewed 102 teachers from a cross-section of schools. Typically, they gave about three reasons each for leaving. These were overwhelmingly negative. Of the total of 290, 85.2 per cent referred to getting out of teaching and only 14.8 per cent to the attractions of something else (themselves often a comment on teaching).

Among secondary teachers, the most frequently given reasons for going were workload (57.8 per cent), pupil behaviour (45.1 per cent) and government initiatives (37.2 per cent). Others included salary (24.5 per cent), stress (21.6 per cent) and status/recognition (19.6 per cent). Difficult parents were mentioned by more than one in ten.

Primary teachers mentioned pupil behaviour (15.8 per cent) less frequently, but were more likely to cite workload (73.9 per cent), government initiatives (42.1 per cent) and stress (26.3 per cent).

About half the leavers were going without anything else in mind. They were retiring early, leaving with no immediate plans, or signing up for supply until they were clearer about what to do. Those leaving to do something else were mainly going to independent schools, either in this country or abroad, or taking one of the numerous education posts that have grown up around school teaching. These well paid quasi-teaching jobs, as consultants, advisors or trainers associated with various initiatives, are an unacknowledged factor in the teacher shortage. Very few teachers were moving to established posts with other employers, and those who reportedalternative work tended to have invented it for themselves - in IT development, drama workshops, odd jobs and rural crafts, for example. The over-riding impression is of moving away rather than towards.

This is sad because the leavers had often come into teaching with idealism and commitment. Many had positively chosen teaching, sometimes after experience of other employment. They said they were looking for something worthwhile that was not linked to targets and the bottom line. They wanted to work with children, pass on their enthusiasm for their subjects and enjoy the freedom of the classroom. They were leaving because they perceived these satisfactions to have been eroded.

Some of the leavers could be tempted back, but it would take substantive improvement to what has been causing them to go - the workload, pupil behaviour and excessive change. Significantly, they also said more money, which seems to be more of a pull factor than a push factor. It was also suggested that since teaching was now more like industry the rewards should be commensurate.

Why the teachers are going, where they are going, and what would tempt them back offer policy pointers to the government. Its present strategy of seeking to boost recruitment to initial training and make teaching more attractive through modernising the profession seems not to be working. The huge drop-out post-training and the hike in resignations means that any increase in applications and trainees is being dissipated.

* the study is available on request from LGCnet.

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