Teaching unions are warning the profession has reached crisis point as record numbers leave their jobs and the government fails to reach recruitment targets for the fifth successive year.
This comes after figures released by the NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers) show over 50% of teachers have seen a doctor in the last twelve months over work related physical or mental health problems.
Union representative Simon Kennedy believes that an unrealistic workload is to blame.
He said: “The pressure which is on teachers and the reason they are leaving the profession is down to workload. The work life balance of a teacher is completely out of kilter.”
Mr Kennedy believes the profession has already reached “breaking point”.
He said: “I think we are at a real crisis within education.”
“If you are heading towards a cliff, I think it is incumbent on everyone to stop and identify and deal with the problems.
“It is the responsibility of the government to do something about it.”
Figures released from the survey show that:
- Nearly a third of teachers who qualified in 2010 have now left their jobs.
- 13% of newly qualified teachers leave within first year.
- 61% of new teachers are seriously considering leaving teaching altogether.
- The number of teachers aged between 50 and 59 has plunged from 87,397 in 2011 (20 per cent of the workforce) to 75,500 last year (17 per cent).
Maths teacher Gail Suggett, 54, left the profession three years ago to begin a new career with her husband, managing the ‘Royal Oak Hotel’ in Helmsley.
She decided to leave after becoming disillusioned.
She said: “In a core subject like Maths, the demands were horrendous.”
“Classes were becoming bigger, the children’s needs more complex and we were losing teaching assistants by the boatload.”
A debilitating workload and increasingly unrealistic salary dependent targets were behind Mrs Suggett’s decision to prematurely leave the profession.
She said: “The very thought of having these unreasonable targets imposed that your pay depends on, it just became impossible.”
“On average I was working 12 hour weekdays. That is before all the additional hours every weekend and during holidays.”
Mick Suggett, 52, believes the change in career has allowed the couple to return to a much “healthier” work life balance.
He said: “The pressures of teaching certainly had an impact on our home-life.”
“We were like ships passing in the night. She just couldn’t switch off. You get stress in this job but it is a different type of stress.”
Mr Kennedy believes the situation that Mrs Suggett found herself in is not unusual.
He said: “The government’s own figures show the average working week for a teacher is 59 hours. I spoke to a teacher last week who is averaging 72 hours.”
Mrs Suggett’s son Robert, 26, also recently left the teaching profession.
She said: “Robert did a four year Bachelor Education degree in primary teaching. The first job he had almost destroyed him. Everything he had thought about teaching was just blown out of the water.”
In the last five years 7,200 newly qualified teachers have left the profession within their first year.
Mrs Suggett said: “Of all of Robert’s course cohort not one is now in teaching.”
She believes the figures released are only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in the low morale being felt at the ‘chalk face’.
She said: “A lot of colleagues are considering leaving the profession.”
“I was fortunate in that I had an alternative and didn’t have small children as dependents.
“I think if it wasn’t for these ties then more people would walk away in a heartbeat.”
The government insist that teaching remains a popular career choice.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Secondary postgraduate recruitment is at its highest level since 2011 and we have recruited more trainees in key subjects including physics, maths, modern foreign languages, biology, chemistry and geography than we did last year.”
Schools are also facing a significant problem retaining experienced teachers.
In the last four years, more than 10,000 teachers aged in their fifties have prematurely left the profession.
Former assistant headteacher Andrew Thomson, 54, took up the option of redundancy after “falling out of love with the job”.
He said: “I had a period off work for 6 weeks after being diagnosed with depression.
“My responsibility was for pastoral care and I was beginning to think that if we failed Ofsted it would all be my fault.
“Pressure builds up to the point where you don’t sleep. I was probably suffering with depression, anxiety and low mood for a period of two years before being diagnosed.”
Click on the link below to hear more more about Mr Thomson’s experience.
The survey also highlights the serious impacts that increasing demands are having on teachers health. Figures released indicate:
- 12% of teachers say they have been prescribed anti-depressants to help them cope.
- 17% of teachers have undergone counselling and 4% have been admitted to hospital.
- Over three quarters (84%) reported experiencing work related anxiousness, 87% have suffered sleeplessness and over a third (40%) report poor health.
Head Teacher John Sykes, 52, believes the problems are unnecessarily increased due to the “constant change” inflicted on the profession.
He said: “The government needs a long term plan to make sure there isn’t this constant change of initiatives so that schools have the chance to implement something effectively.”
“Too many times, initiatives have not been thought out, it gets changed and schools are left to pick up the pieces.”
Click on the link below to hear the full interview with Mr Sykes.
Schools minister Nick Gibb accepts the issue of workload in the profession and believes the government are taking steps to address the situation.
He said: “While the vast majority of teachers stay in their roles for more than five years, we know unnecessary workload can detract from what matters most: teaching.”
“That’s why we launched the Workload Challenge, and are working with the profession to understand and tackle the top issues that teachers said caused the most bureaucracy, with leading education experts taking action on key areas such as marking and lesson planning.”