‘Crippling’ workloads leading swathes of teachers to quit, research finds

2 Apr 2019 By Lauren R Brown

Almost half of teachers with less than a decade’s experience intend to leave profession, says UCL

Poor work-life balance, ‘crippling’ workloads and poor management are pushing almost half of teachers towards leaving the profession in the next 10 years, research has revealed.

A survey of 1,200 teachers conducted by University College London (UCL) found between 40 and 50 per cent had either already left or were considering leaving the profession within 10 years of starting their teacher training. 

Of those that had already left (238 respondents), three-quarters (75 per cent) of respondents cited poor work-life balance, 71 per cent cited ‘crippling’ workloads and well over half (57 per cent) said a target-driven culture was detrimental to their job.

Respondents – all of whom had been teaching for less than 10 years – also cited “teaching making me ill” (51 per cent) and a lack of support from management (38 per cent) as reasons for quitting.

Among those still teaching, 16 per cent were planning on leaving the profession within the next five years and a further 23 per cent within the next decade. The research concluded this represented a potential loss of 52 per cent of trainee teachers over a 10-year period, in line with national trends.

Similarly, the main reasons those still in teaching were considering leaving included workload (83 per cent), work-life balance (76 per cent), not feeling valued (58 per cent), a target-driven culture (55 per cent) and poor line management (47 per cent).

One respondent who worked in a secondary school for five years and intends to leave said: “Very poor and unsupportive line management is by far the worst aspect of my job. The crippling workload is also killing me but would be a lot more manageable if I was thanked and appreciated and valued.”

Another said they did not think it was the children and their behaviour that was driving people out of the profession. “It is the lack of support and trust from management that ultimately is directed from the state in the form of the pressure of constant tests, assessments and targets,” they said.

“Teachers need to be trusted more.”

The research comes against a backdrop of increasing pupil numbers. In 2017, the government estimated the school population would increase 19 per cent over the next decade, meaning around half a million more students in secondary school by 2026. 

Last year, the BBC’s Inside Out found teachers were leaving the classroom at the highest rate ever recorded. Figures showed that 36,000 working-age teachers stepped down from the profession in 2017, and one in three quit within their first five years.

A teacher who had worked in a secondary school for five years but intended to leave told UCL researchers that many of their friends had left the profession due to exhaustion.

“Their quality of life has been greatly improved by leaving teaching,” they said. “This needs to be addressed urgently, otherwise more skilled teachers will leave the profession.” 

Jerry Perryman and Graham Calvert, the authors of the paper – which was published this week in the British Journal of Educational Studies – said: “It’s not as if [the survey respondents] weren’t aware that teaching was going to be demanding.

“However, they feel that the demands of the job outstrip their capacity to adapt. This raises the question: what can be done to arrest this trend?”

They suggested government intervention to reduce workloads was key, but added this would not address the culture of teaching, the constant scrutiny, the need to perform and hyper-critical management.

“Reducing workload will not address these cultural issues,” they said.

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