This blog was written to highlight trends in the teacher workforce, using research and evidence gleaned from credible sources.
The Covid 19 pandemic saw a slowdown in the long-term trend of increasing teacher resignations. During this period teachers delayed decisions to leave the sector because of the comparative stability it offered. Furthermore, data collected by Education Data Lab indicates that teacher anxiety, except the initial phase of lockdown, was significantly lower during the first wave of Covid with teachers working fewer hours and with increased flexibility.
However, the recent Department for Education workforce census indicates a resurgence in the number of classroom practitioners leaving the profession in the immediate post-pandemic era.
This trend was first observed in London where the jobs market has rebounded at a quicker rate. The fear is that this pattern will now roll out across the rest of the country.
More than 100,000 teachers under the age of 40 have quit teaching in the last 5 years according to the latest school workforce census and one-third of teachers leave within 5 years of qualifying to work in other sectors.
The number of leavers in 2022 stood at 43,997 which is 7,800 more than in 2021. 91% of these individuals left to pursue other careers or to work in other sectors of education. Unfortunately, the long-term trends show the stark reality of the challenges associated with retention with only 59% of teachers remaining in the profession a decade after qualification. This same statistic was 65% when the school workforce census was first commissioned. Although resignations have risen for all posts, head teachers are now four times more likely to have quit their roles for careers outside of state schools. This is a trend that seems to have been exacerbated by the pressures associated with the pandemic when head teacher anxiety levels reached alarming levels, particularly during the second national lockdown.
In 2010 there were 122,000 teachers over the age of 50 representing 22% of the workforce but there has been a 5% decrease since then. Despite a slight uptick in the proportion of older age groups since 2018 (attributed to returnees and DfE funding programmes to attract career changers), the school workforce is getting progressively younger.
The number of teachers leaving to draw a pension continues to decrease suggesting that people are not working in the sector throughout the entirety of their working life. One-third of the teaching workforce today is aged 30-39. This is likely to be associated with several perceived barriers to working up to and beyond pension age including reduced energy levels, increased physical limitations and workload pressures.
Although the complete teaching workforce has grown since 2010 the number of vacancies has increased, in fact, they have doubled in the last 2 years from 1,200 in 2020 to 2,300 in November 2023. Despite an overall increase in the school workforce during this period, vacancy rates have increased from 2 to 5 per thousand teachers. These are not spread evenly across the entire sector with secondary vacancy rates increasing dramatically whereas primary rates are near historical averages.
Although there is no strong evidence that teachers can leave the profession for higher-paying jobs, research by the University of Essex suggests that 3 in 10 teachers would be financially better off if they left.
There has been much focus in the media over teacher pay and there is some research indicating that an improvement in remuneration might ease some of the retention issues. Research by the Gatsby Foundation concluded that paying early-career science and maths teachers a 5% salary supplement from 2010 -2015 would have eliminated the maths and science teacher shortage in that period. It must however be stated that maths graduates are unique in that they can find higher-paying roles outside of teaching directly after graduation.
There is also much scrutiny on the role of pupil behaviour when it comes to retention, but research by the Education Data Lab suggests that teacher stress is most strongly associated with unsupportive leadership and workload pressures so these should be areas of focus moving forward.