Teacher retention: Government 'failing to get a grip'

By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education reporter

Image source, JAKE RUSBY
Image caption,
Jake Rusby left after just three years

"Lesson planning, marking, carrying out assessments, parents evenings - there was always something to do.

"I felt very much under pressure to move children on in their learning, to meet their targets," says Jake Rusby, who left teaching after three years.

"I was consumed by the work, I became quite anxious - it took over my life."

Jake's story is not uncommon, and now the Department for Education is under fire from MPs for "failing to get a grip" on teacher retention in England.

In a report, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says the DfE does not have a coherent plan to tackle teacher retention and development.

The report says the number of qualified teachers leaving the profession - for reasons other than retirement - increased from 6% (25,260) of the qualified workforce in 2011 to 8% (34,910) in 2016.

It says the issue is particularly critical in England's secondary schools, with the number of teachers falling by 10,800 (5%) between 2010 and 2016, from 219,000 to 208,200.

This comes at a time when secondary school pupil numbers are set to increase by 540,000 (19%) between 2017 and 2025.

"The failure of the department to get to grips with the number of teachers leaving puts additional pressure on schools faced with rising numbers of children needing a school place and the teachers to teach them," the report says.

'You could work all day every day'

It says workload is the main reason teachers are leaving and criticises the DfE for not setting out what impact its interventions on this matter are having.

"We do not expect the department to prescribe how many hours teachers should work but do expect it to understand and have a view on the relationship between workload and retention," it adds.

For Jake Rusby, a heavy workload was very much an issue.

"I spent every hour either working or thinking about work - during the week and at weekends," he says.

"You could work all day every day pretty much and still not get everything done.

"I didn't see much of my young daughter at the time."

Jake says that when he left the profession to set up his own business, it was a relief both for him and for his family.

"When I left, my wife said she felt like she'd got me back again," he says.

What does the government say?

The DfE says there are record numbers of teachers in schools and that last year, 32,000 trainee teachers were recruited, in spite of a competitive labour market.

"Retention rates have been broadly stable for the past 20 years, and the teaching profession continues to be an attractive career," said a spokeswoman.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The DfE says it is investing in teacher recruitment

"We are consulting on proposals to improve and increase development opportunities for teachers across the country and working with teachers, unions and Ofsted to tackle unnecessary workload with specific support for teachers at the start of their careers.

"Alongside this we continue to offer financial incentives to attract the brightest and best into our classrooms."

What do head teachers say?

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the PAC report was concerning, but came as no surprise.

"Anyone working in a school knows how rewarding it is to help young people learn and grow. On a good day, there's no better profession to be in," he said.

"The trouble is our teachers work longer hours for less money compared to their peers around the world.

"Today's graduates are attracted to other professions, and current teachers are leaving in search of other careers."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the current situation had been "brewing for several years".

"Ministers spent too long in a state of denial, and having belatedly woken up to the problem have failed to put in place a coherent strategy and have focused instead on piecemeal initiatives. It has been a case of too little too late," he said.

Mr Barton said the ASCL was keen to work with the new Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, "to solve a crisis which will become much worse - unless action is taken urgently - because pupil numbers are rising significantly and many more teachers will be needed".

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