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Teachers are leaving the profession due to the nature of workload, research suggests

3 April 2019

Workload is the biggest reason for teachers leaving the profession, new research by UCL Institute of Education (IOE) shows.

Science Teacher and Pupil, Kirsten Holst © University College London

A survey of around 1,200 current and former teachers showed that despite being aware of the workload challenges before entering teaching, it was still the most frequently cited reason for having left, or for wanting to leave in the future.

The study found that it was the nature rather than the quantity of workload, linked to notions of performativity and accountability that was a crucial factor.

The survey also explored the reasons why people became teachers and found that teachers entered the profession because they wanted to work with young people and ‘make a difference’. However, once they started in teaching, the work-life balance and accountability culture dulled their enthusiasm.

One respondent said: “I feel I came into teaching for all the right reasons (passionate about my subject, a strong work ethic and a love of watching students learn) but am leaving for all the wrong reasons (workload, specification changes, not being able to have a life and too many classes). It makes me really sad that I had to leave a subject that has a shortage of teachers, but I could not do the things I want to do in my life like have children and continue being a mainstream secondary school teacher.”

The majority of those who entered the profession viewed teaching as a long-term career, with only 7% seeing teaching as a route to another career. However, this does not reflect the numbers leaving the profession.

“This amplifies the problem of teacher attrition, as those who want to be teachers are committed to the profession and yet, somehow, that commitment is eroded in a very short space of time,” authors Dr Jane Perryman and Graham Calvert note.

“Underlying this loss of commitment seems to be a contradiction between expectation and reality, the practices of being a teacher impeding the ability to be a teacher. Many of our sample thought they could cope with the workload, but lack of support and the target accountability culture seemed to be worse than they had thought and led to many leaving, and further numbers considering it.

“This raises the questions: what can be done to arrest this trend? The general response from government is that teaching will be improved by reducing workload removing unnecessary tasks and increasing pay. This may help, and our study does continue the discourse that workload is key. However, it also indicates that part of the problem lies within the culture of teaching, the constant scrutiny, the need to perform and hyper-critical management. Reducing workload will not address these cultural issues.”

Media contact

Rowan Walker, UCL Media Relations
T: +44 (0)20 3108 8515 / +44 (0)7769 141 006
E: rowan.walker@ucl.ac.uk

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  • Kirsten Holst, UCL