The myth of teacher wastage

Many years ago Mike Tomlinson gave an interview with The Guardian. It was soon after he became Chief Inspector. In it he referred to a figure of about 40% of new teachers not entering the profession. Like Chris Woodhead’s earlier claim of 15,000 incompetent teachers this figure has entered the mythology of education. Helpfully, in the additional data now published with the 2013 Workforce Census tables the DfE unpick the latest data on what happens to trainees after they qualify to help us understand whether this view is correct.

At this stage it is worth setting the ground rules for understanding the data. Most trainees have to compete for teaching jobs with ‘returners’ and those existing teachers changing schools for whatever reason. There is no logic to the use of teacher resources, so a trainee in their 30s with a house and a partner with a job might not secure a teaching job near where they live, but a footloose graduate in their early 20s might take that job even though they could work anywhere. As training numbers are established some years in advance, although not as far advance as in the past, changes in economic circumstances can radically affect the labour market. The new DfE figures go up to 2011 and concentrate on the early years of the recession when secondary school rolls were also falling.

Overall, the DfE calculate there were 106,000 trainees still under the age of 60 who had never worked as a teacher in circumstances where their employment would have been recorded by the DfE in March 2012. Interestingly, 24,300, or approaching a quarter of the total, emerged from training in the years 2009-2011 after the recession hit in late 2008. Some of these will have started undergraduate degrees way back in 2006 in an entirely different economic climate. The recession matters because the GTCE that still existed then identified a large number of teachers that re-registered with them in 2009. Presumably, some were casualties of the recession and looked to re-enter teaching and were competing with newly qualified teachers for the available jobs. The three years from 2005-2008 only have around 12,000 not recorded as entering teaching, about half the number in the later years. This suggests that it might not have been from a disinterest in teaching that the numbers were higher, but that there were more candidates than jobs.

A second table produced by the DfE confirms that those NQTs that enter teaching are likely to stay. The percentage in regular service after one year has never been below 90% since 1997 and after five years generally around 75% remain in teaching. Even after ten years two thirds of entrants are still teaching. For a profession with so many young women in it, some of whom might be expected to take a career break, this is an impressive percentage. The fact that 55% of those that entered teaching in 1997 were still there 17 years later raises interesting questions about the perception of the profession as a quick in and quick out area of work. But then the DfE made this all clear some years ago in the chapter on teacher wastage in their detailed review of the 2010 workforce Census that can be found at The charts on pages 77-79 are especially helpful in understanding what happens.



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