The reasons why teachers leave the profession are manifold, and the numbers are worrying.  With recruitment already falling short of demand and pupil numbers growing (there will be 3 million secondary aged pupils by 2025), a crisis is just around the corner.  In fact, it has probably already arrived.  Last year, under half of design technology initial training places were filled.  The workshop lights might well be going out before long.

As bad as that would be, losing maths or physics is surely unthinkable.  But recruitment missed its target by almost a quarter in those key fields suggest the latest figures.

The Short Fall of Staff

Every profession has its leavers.  Teaching is not unique in seeing its members trying pastures new when the joy disappears and life in the classroom becomes an ordeal.   Where education is unusual in the numbers who seek new challenges in alternative, flower filled fields.  The grass might seem greener; and for most, it is.

According to a NUT survey carried out in 2017, already half of young teachers expect to change careers within five years.  While the idea of a job for life is much less of an attraction to modern workers than for older generations, nevertheless that is a disturbing statistic.  The figure is not much better among more experienced staff.  They too are leaving the profession in droves, sick of the workload, the lack of support, the poor salary and the intense pressure.

The ‘Real World’ Is Pretty Good

And what those teachers overwhelmingly discover is that the ‘real world’ is a lot more appealing than might have been thought from within the pressurised cauldron inside the school gates.

Firstly, skills teachers are in great demand.  We are used to settling conflicts, we are used to ‘selling’ children’s progress (or lack of it) to demanding customers (i.e. their parents).  We are good at meeting deadlines and we can work under pressure.  We have excellent soft skills, but also strong all round literacy and numeracy, and real academic strength in some areas.

Ex-teachers really are highly desirable candidates for jobs in a whole range of professions, nearly all of which pay more than all but the most senior teaching positions.  Teachers also possess everything a budding entrepreneur needs to set up their own business.

A Multiplicity Of Reasons To Go

But what is causing us to make the decision to leave in the first place?  The Government, of course, pretends that there is no problem.  Apparently, there are ‘more teachers than ever’;  maybe, but there are also many more pupils.  And despite the sound bites and false smiles directed towards teachers (all the better to stab us when our backs are turned) politicians and civil servants are sufficiently worried to have recently carried out their own research into why teachers leave the profession.

Clearly, conclusions based on a relatively small sample (under 1700 took part) offer no more than a guide to problems.  Where questions are loaded to discourage certain responses – nobody mentioned mental health concerns as a reason for leaving; if they did, it wasn’t reported – reliability is even more limited.  Nevertheless, the main finding is not surprising.  If Ministers listened to teachers, held proper talks with those at the display covered coal face, they would have a much better chance of repairing the leak and offering a better chance to the country’s young people.

It is a combination of factors rather than one big issue that is causing teachers to leave the profession and find work elsewhere.

Long hours with low pay were quoted as the main issues teachers felt discouraged them from remaining in their schools.  Of course, the ‘real world’ loves reasons such as these, because they give ‘real people’ the chance to whinge.

Long hours?  What about twelve weeks of holidays per year?  Poor pay – I’d love to earn £33000 a year after six years of babysitting!  But those of us who have spent virtually all of our holidays working know the truth, we know that the £33000 is probably as good as it gets for managing 30 tricky teenagers with unreasonable parents and unsupportive managers.  We know that family life and our health will inevitably suffer as we try to cope with the work load and pressure put upon us.

Reducing budgets comes next in the league table of reasons to leave.  Although, as we all know, the Government insists that budgets are protected.  It’s just that, each year, there is a bit (a lot, actually) less to go round.

Workload, expectations from senior leaders, meetings, the waste of time that lengthy target setting has become; in fact general frustration with working conditions filled positions four to twelve, and then came dis-satisfaction around the issues of dealing with parents.

Carrying out duties and, with surprising specifics, managing detentions appeared on the ‘reasons to leave’ list.  It is, to be honest, quite hard to imagine teachers abandoning their vocation because they have to run a detention session.  Still, who would dare to argue with the DFE’s findings? Even more surprising is that running a detention causes more to seek employment elsewhere than a lack of professional development opportunities.  Interesting.

Other reasons the Government gave for teachers leaving the profession included the drudge of policy writing (really, does anybody ever read these wastes of paper?) and poor pupil behaviour.  Surprisingly, this last factor propped up the table and was a concern to only 5% of teachers in the survey.

Unspoken Causes

So, according to the Government at least, these are the reasons teachers leave the profession.  Health, family reasons, redundancy and the simple wish to do something new did not feature on the Government’s hit list.  But then, they probably would not.  The reasons given in the report could mostly be switched back onto teachers – too greedy, not prepared to work hard enough, not open to new ideas, not able to cope.  To admit that the mental health of teachers suffered because of the conditions under which they are employed is a tougher one to defend.

Obviously, for some teachers there will be a single, significant reason why they chose to move on.  But, common sense dictates, for most it is a combination of causes culminating in a general sense that enough is enough.

Simply – The Joy Has Been Taken Away

Although it is anecdotal, there are five family members and close friends I know who have given up the job in the last year.  In every case, they enjoyed the classroom, loved the kids (even on bad days) and were saddened to go.  They were, every one of them, sick of not being appreciated, frustrated by the incompetence of their managers and decided that the love of the classroom was now outweighed by their hatred of the ludicrous and pointless administrative duties they faced.  For all, it was like telling a Premier League footballer he can play only half of matches, and should spend the rest of his time completing audits of the team kit.

Saddest of all, our anecdotal five, without exception, are happier and healthier now they have left teaching.  They are no worse off financially (generally, they have more money, and more time to spend it), they are happier, more relaxed and their families are reaping the benefits.  They miss little of school life and have discovered that the ‘real world’ is actually nicer, more professional and more respectful of their skills and experience.

And, most probably, that is why teachers leave the profession.