The UK is struggling with teacher retention during growing numbers of pupil intake and cuts to the education sector. The Government has missed recruitment targets for the last five years with falling numbers of graduates choosing to undertake initial teacher training. A lot of government intervention has subsequently focussed on improving recruitment, however the struggle to retain teachers is even greater. Since 2010, the numbers of teachers leaving the profession has increased across all subjects. This is by far the more pressing problem; in working on retaining more teachers and dealing with the issues causing them to leave, naturally more will be attracted to the profession.


This month, the National Foundation for Educational Research released the Teacher Retention and Turnover Research Report, detailing the factors impacting UK teacher retention rates. Their report found that there are problems retaining teachers at both ends of the career scale: both older, experienced teachers and young, graduate career starters are leaving the profession in high numbers. The report found that the number of teachers over the age of 50 has declined with older professionals leaving for reasons not related to retirement. It would seem that historic commitment to the role is no longer an indicator of likelihood to stay on in the profession through to retirement. If older professionals are now more likely to leave the education sector earlier than before, this also means that the pool for higher leadership becomes smaller.

in dealing with the issues causing teachers to leave, naturally more will be attracted to the profession.

On the opposite end of that, younger career-starters are also leaving in significant numbers, the recruitment initiatives and shiny bursaries clearly not enough to entice them to stay. The NFER report details the main driver for young teachers leaving was lack of experience and not having enough support to counteract this. This finding corresponds with similar reports that those undertaking teacher training often report a lack of support as a main reason for dropping out.

Academic Subject

Aside from the age of teachers, another driver for those leaving teaching was also linked to particular subjects and geographic areas. Overall, the number of teachers leaving has increased dramatically across all subjects, showing a profession-wide issue not necessarily linked to academic subject. However, those subjects that have particularly suffered are Science, Maths and Languages.


Additionally, geographic area was also found to be a large indicator of retention issues with London struggling more than the rest of the country. London had lower retention rates across the board, with higher rates of teachers leaving as well as higher proportions of unqualified teachers and higher vacancy rates. Worryingly, London has also seen the fastest growth in pupil numbers. London now has an increasing wave of pupils entering its schools but a shortage of teachers to teach them.

London now has an increasing wave of pupils entering its schools but a shortage of teachers to teach them.


So why are so many leaving teaching to pursue other careers? The House of Commons Education Committee Report on recruitment and retention of teachers in February of this year provides some of the stated reasons for teachers leaving the profession. The biggest reason was increased workload, making a once rewarding career no longer attractive, being weighed down with unnecessary admin and bureaucracy. The increased pressure of workload is largely due to frequent curriculum changes, greater assessment and greater accountability measures.


Other common reasons for leaving teaching were lack of support from management, inspection and policy changes and overall lack of job satisfaction. Teachers also reported high levels of stress leading to poor health and feeling undervalued. Both reports made some suggestions and recommendations to counteract these issues. Along with greater investment, the House of Commons report suggested focussing recruitment on regions of the country in most need as well as increasing the range and performance of initial teacher training providers.

teaching needs to be recognised as a rewarding career again.

Improving Teacher Retention

That’s all well and good recruiting more teachers in to the classroom but how can they be made to stay? The House of Commons report suggested promoting a culture of wellbeing in schools along with more access to higher quality CPD. The NFER report made some alternative suggestions to improve retention. They suggest that schools accommodate more part-time working in secondary schools to lighten teacher supply problems. To retain older professionals in teaching, they suggest providing incentives to stay in the profession while insisting on greater support for those starting their teaching career.

To counter London’s particular retention issues, the NFER report makes the suggestion that policy interventions, such as housing subsidies, could help to retain teachers in high-cost areas like London. The UK’s teacher recruitment and retention issues are growing year on year and if they are to subside, teaching needs to be recognised as a rewarding career again. Thankfully, there are still many dedicated and passionate people employed as teachers but if they are to stay in our schools, they must be valued and they must be listened to.


Read both reports below:

NFER Teacher Retention and Turnover Research: Interim Report, October 2017

House of Commons Education Committee: Recruitment and Retention of Teachers, Fifth Report of Session 2016-17, February 2017

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