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A lack of work/life balance is deterring people from starting or continuing careers in the teaching profession

Workload pressure 'key driver' of teacher shortage

New ATL survey finds workload drives the teacher recruitment and retention crisis

Posted by Stephanie Broad | April 04, 2016 | Teaching

Workload is the key driver of the teacher shortage crisis, putting people off becoming teachers and compelling enthusiastic teachers to leave, according to a new survey released by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL). 

In March, 876 ATL members working in education in state-funded and academy schools in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man told ATL their views on the growing teacher recruitment and retention crisis. When asked what they thought might stop people from wanting to become teachers, 93% cited workload and 91% said poor work/life balance. Eighty-three per cent said they had considered leaving the profession and among those, almost nine in 10 (87%) said this was due to workload. When asked to sum-up what they thought was responsible for teacher shortages, nearly 300 people simply answered 'workload'.  

An academy teacher from Tyne and Wear commented: 'I don't feel like I have a life outside school. I am physically and mentally exhausted when I come in from work.' 

A head of department in a primary school in Merseyside said: 'In 23 years of teaching I have never felt so pressured and unable to achieve, both in terms of my work and family life. I worry greatly about the mental health of everyone involved in education… both teachers and children.'

When asked what they thought might stop people from wanting to become teachers, in addition to workload, two thirds (64%) cited lack of respect for the profession.  

A trainee primary school teacher from Yorkshire said: 'I am a trainee but have noticed teachers are constantly berated in the press and morale in education seems to be very low.' The Guardian newspaper’s columnist Secret Teacher recently acknowledged this widespread negativity and cited their abstaining from ‘edchat’ style forums and leaving their union as a way of reclaiming their love of teaching. 

Sixty-two per cent of survey respondents said challenging pupil behaviour and 48% cited pay as a reason people don't want to become teachers. However, when directly asked whether pay is a primary factor for teacher shortages, two thirds (64%) agreed. 

Head of Key Stage One at a primary school in London commented: 'My partner is a solicitor in the City. I shouldn't feel like I have less free time than him – he is on three times my pay!'

A teacher at a secondary academy in Merseyside said: 'The workload is increasing every year, all for a one per cent pay rise.' 

Eighty-three per cent said they have considered leaving the profession and a quarter (24%) said they do not envisage remaining in teaching any longer than two years. 

Policies come in and then go out, and we are left focussing on paperwork not the children

In addition to the 87% who cited workload, almost half (46%) of the education staff who have considered quitting said bureaucratic demands were driving them away and 44% cited the impact of government policy changes. 

A teacher from an academy in Wiltshire said: 'Too many changes are happening too soon without enough thought. Policies come in and then go out, and we are left focussing on paperwork not the children.' 

Forty-three per cent cited a feeling that there's a lack of respect for the profession.

A primary teacher from a school in Surrey said: 'The disrespect and huge workload take the joy out of what is one of the most important professions for the future of our world.' 

Respondents revealed why they wanted to become teachers, illustrating their sincerity and dedication. Eighty per cent said they chose the profession because they enjoy working with children and young people and 68% said it was because they wanted to make a difference. 

Although teachers said that pressure on the profession can drain much of their enthusiasm. 

One teacher from a primary community school in Merseyside said: 'I feel there is so much pressure, teachers are overworked and struggling, which has resulted in them being less inspiring, motivational or supportive.' 

When asked what specific changes would most improve teaching, 55% said less unnecessary paperwork, 48% want fewer policy changes and 40% want less pressure surrounding inspection visits. 

One primary teacher from Suffolk said: 'The government needs to sit up and take responsibility for the recruitment crisis.'

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: 'The government has missed its teacher trainee recruitment targets for the last four years and record numbers are leaving the profession. The government must take heed of what teachers say is fuelling the crisis and admit that tackling the shortage is about making the profession a more attractive one to join, and stay in. 

'So far the government's response has been inadequate, relying on expensive gimmicks like 'Troops to Teachers' that cost £10 million and resulted in just 41 veteran recruits. They haven't created a coherent teacher education programme, for initial teacher training or continued professional development. 

'The situation is becoming a vicious circle – the abysmal work/life balance puts people off and then teacher shortages contribute to an unmanageable workload, making more teachers want to leave. 

'There has to be a serious attempt to reduce teacher workload and to treat teachers as professionals, with the respect and salaries they deserve. The government has to accept we are facing a crisis and put credible measures in place that will produce systemic change.'



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