Many consider teaching a highly rewarding and respectable career. Despite this, a recent survey found that most UK state school teachers deem their work to be ‘meaningless’. An increasing number of teachers leaving the profession talk about being overworked, undervalued and underpaid.
So what then does the future hold for the state school sector and the education of an entire generation? Is the feeling of ‘meaningless’ job satisfaction and lack of respect for educators common through the entire education system, or is it just a ‘state school’ issue?
Undervalued, overworked and underpaid
Many teachers enter the profession with gleaming high hopes and visions of making a difference in young people’s lives. Among the top ten reasons for getting into teaching, TES lists benefiting from flexible hours, attractive holidays and even job security as bonus reasons to get into teaching, besides the ‘ability to make a difference’.
So, what is the main issue for many teachers who decide to quit?
The feeling of being undervalued by teachers is mainly attributed by the low levels of respect and high levels of classroom disruption most experience on a day-to-day basis. An annual report by Ofsted cited findings from a survey that showed just how worried teachers, parents and carers are about the current disruption to learning, spurred by consistent bad behaviour from pupils and general disregard to learning in the classroom.
The report explains how careless student attitudes are leaving teachers in English primary and secondary schools increasingly frustrated. They mainly attribute the feeling of their work being ‘meaningless’ to the failure of those in leadership positions who are not doing enough to address and ensure high standards of pupil behaviour.
Ellie Jones, an assistant head teacher who has been teaching for 17 years, spoke to The Guardian about every lesson being ‘a battle’. Long hours, sleepless nights and work transcending into her weekends lead her to believe that the job is simply not sustainable. “I cannot maintain this for another 20 years,” she says. “I’d break. They’d take me out of there in a box.”
Just under 40,000 teachers quit the profession in 2016 (the latest figures available) representing about 9 percent of the workforce, according to government figures. And not enough of them are being replaced – there is now a shortfall of 30,000 classroom teachers, particularly at secondary level, where 20 percent of teacher training vacancies are unfilled.
She recently resigned her £52,000-a-year post with no job to go to. And she is not alone. According to government figures, just under 40,000 teachers quit the profession in 2016 and are not being replaced. Even the enticing training bursaries offered which are not limited to recent graduates, do not seem to be enough to attract newbies into the profession. It comes as no surprise then why 20% of teacher training vacancies are unfilled.
A ‘state-school’ only problem?
Are large classes, unmanageable workloads and unreasonable pupil behaviour problems only faced by those working in state primary and secondary schools? Do independent schools offer a better teaching environment where teachers benefit from better pay, longer holidays and perhaps better levels of respect from privileged middle-class pupils whose parents can afford to choose their learning environment?
The problems faced by some teachers working in independent schools may not appear to be cut entirely from the same cloth as the problems in state schools. But it should come as no surprise that issues arising in this sector are mainly caused by economic factors.
Dan Woodrow, a former teacher at an independent school, wrote for The Guardian, “independent schools need as many fee paying students as possible, so it is counterproductive to limit their intake”. The situation becomes quantity over quality, so perhaps that’s the reason independent schools turn a blind eye to issues of poor selection of pupils.
Then there’s the added issue of making teachers put up with bad behaviour that should result in exclusion, as well as the same overbearing workload faced by their state school counterparts.
Where is the greener grass?
So, what happen after teachers quit?
Some teachers who decided to leave the profession in pursuit of less stress and better job satisfaction have moved on entirely to other fields, including sales, recruitment and even retraining for brand-new professions.
Others who decided to remain, wanting to teach without the baggage they faced in their previous state school roles, moved into different roles within the education sector.
PE teachers and sixth-formers from independent schools are taking maths lessons as heads face unprecedented competition for qualified teachers https://t.co/fmKefLnKWM
— The Times of London (@thetimes) December 8, 2018
These include becoming self-employed and tutoring students privately. Despite income being unstable as self-employed private tutors, many teachers venture into this because of the flexibility and freedom it allows.
Higher education is another option for those who have in-depth academic knowledge and background, equipped with the ability to teach in-demand courses over a short period of time within university settings.
Another big pull factor for teachers in the UK is the prospect of working abroad. An estimated 15,000 British teachers are recruited overseas, with many vowing never to return to teaching in the UK.
With the prospect of gaining a TEFL qualification in as little as four weeks, teachers with no background in English language teaching can go to any destination of their choice, paid to teach people English. For many dissatisfied and desperate teachers, this seems both an attractive and viable option.
Tax-free salaries, free accommodation and the thought of building a new life and career in a different part of the world is a major pull factor many Arabian Gulf countries offer British teachers in their quest to recruit high quality teachers.
This could mean that teachers trained in the UK are now benefiting the international education sector far more than at home, where demand for quality teaching outstrips supply.
Fixing the problem
The government has been accused of failing to get a grip on this issue. The reality is, while most teachers would love the prospect of earning more, many attest that better working conditions and more respect from pupils and those in leadership positions are far more important.
Paul Whiteman, General Secretary to the National Association of Headteachers states that, “Today’s graduates are attracted to other professions, and current teachers are leaving in search of other careers.”
But it appears the government may be in denial over the reality of the teacher shortage. The Department of Education maintains that “Retention rates have been broadly stable for the past 20 years, and the teaching profession continues to be an attractive career,” according to a spokeswoman.
These are all factors that clearly need to be addressed. Teachers must be listened to, since ultimately, they are the bridge between pupils and the government.
Until the government are willing to address the issues of unmanageable workloads and poor pupil behaviour in schools, teacher retention will continue to be a revolving door. Teachers will look for ways out, and that means British trained teachers are benefiting the international education community more than the domestic sector.