Workload matters

The NfER has issued the third in their series of research updates on teacher recruitment and retention – scroll down the page for the download of the report.

The headline finding is that ‘on average, teachers’ pay doesn’t increase after they leave’. The authors suggest that this means leavers are not primarily motivated by increased pay. ‘Teachers appear to be more motivated by improved job satisfaction, reduced working hours and more opportunities for flexible working’. This research chimes with my long-held view that there are three key factors in ensuring sufficiency in the teacher workforce: pay; conditions and morale. A government might be able to underplay one element, but to affect all three is to ensure a teacher supply crisis by increasing departure rates to a level where numbers leaving cannot be replaced by new entrants.

Looking deeper into the NfER research, it is interesting to see the three groups used on page 5 of the report as the main outcomes for departure. 43% of leavers from state schools remain in schools, with the bulk switching to teach in the private sector. Only 1.6% in the NfER study become teaching assistants. This is low compared to the 15% NfER found in another study using a different cohort of interviewees.

Overall, only 10% of teacher leavers went into other employment, with a further 5% becoming self-employed. This latter group are rather confusingly included in the economically inactive group of outcomes in this study. If anything, this whole group may be a smaller proportion than in the past when there were more active local advisory and inspection teams and more money was being spend on supporting professional development and research creating more job opportunities. However, there will always be a need for some people with a teaching background to move into other careers. As with the switch to teaching in private schools, it would have been helpful to try to assess whether the percentages discovered in this survey were increasing or declining over recent times?

Finally, the percentage leaving the labour market and becoming economically inactive amounted to 49% of the total, with retirement account for 29% of the total for this group. Perhaps more significant was the 4% that reported being unemployed. Was this due to a partner’s move to an area where there were fewer teaching opportunities or down to having had enough of teaching as a career and taking stock before moving on? More analysis of this group would be illuminating, especially their profile and locations.

What is clear, as the National Audit Office reported earlier this year in their report, is that reducing departures from the profession helps alleviate the need to train more new entrants. The NfER research might have made it clearer that their study used data from a period when secondary school rolls were falling; it is interesting that they don’t have a category for ‘made redundant’, perhaps these teachers are in the ‘unemployed’ group.

With school rolls now on the increase, the messages from this research takes on a greater urgency and, as others have said, the use of part-time working opportunities for an increasingly female dominate classroom teacher workforce in secondary schools is becoming an area where schools now need to pay particular attention to what they can offer staff as it may help to retain some teachers. But, on the evidence of this study, the gain won’t be large. Even so, it is a necessary move.