Why don’t people join teaching?

Having written Why teach when you can be a banker?, one of the areas I focused on but lacked evidence for was the reasons why people don't go into teaching. It's clear from many articles, surveys, Twitter and so on why people leave the profession. However, I claimed in my article that the media has an impact, and that physics/maths graduates have other more lucrative options that have a better work-life balance.

Given the lack of available evidence, I very scientifically carried out a Twitter poll:

I chose the options based on those that I had heard most regularly, but there were some others pointed out:

The first two here could be linked to workload/behaviour, but the last is certainly an interesting point to consider.

Given the results, with workload and student behaviour featuring as the top two reasons not to go into teaching, it would make a great deal of sense to focus on the positives that show how so many schools get these things right. The media ought to ensure that the most unhappy in teaching don't always shout the loudest because there are so many more joyful stories to share. Teachers too, in those difficult situations, must make it clear to those they speak to that their school or situation is challenging but that this is not reflective of the sector as a whole. There are a lot of very happy teachers.

For the schools that have workload issues, or departments or individual teachers who struggle to get the balance right, you need to prioritise finding a solution. Usually it's simple: too much is being asked of those in the school/department or of yourself. So, ask less. Scrap the unnecessary and refine the successful approaches. The same applies to behaviour, if this is an issue; prioritise finding a solution and work hard to make your well-considered strategies effective.

The government and Ofsted…well, you should continue with Ofsted mythbusting and really mine into schools' workload issues during inspection. Make sure schools are held to account where the fault for wellbeing problems lie with the school and the management teams.

Whilst I think there is a culture of too-high-an-expectation of workload that many of us hold, really, I think workload now is more an issue for senior leadership teams to get right, and they cannot blame the government and Ofsted for the many unnecessary goings on. Often the counter to that is that the government or Ofsted so frequently change things, like the government changing the curriculum or Ofsted transforming their inspection framework. Obviously a lot lies on the inspection outcome, but if you have a clear impassioned vision for school development and student outcomes that are successful and staff are on board with, then you're fine. You don't have to enforce a pile of initiatives for that to stand true. If you value teachers having time and space for curriculum development, which they have to do anyway, then you'll give them that time and space. Other things have to go. It's the school's responsibility to set that expectation.

Let's have a quick look at the four areas of the poll.

1. Workload

Based on the poll, 39% of respondees did not go into teaching primarily because of the workload. It is difficult without comparisons, but I wonder how many choose not to go into finance, the medical profession, or into law because of the workload? Probably quite a few, given the demands of so many professions.

The stories around bankers, particularly junior bankers, sound pretty horrendous and it's notorious for overworking. So much so that banks introduced measures to ensure, for example, that junior bankers take four weekend days off in a month, but that these measures supposedly have no impact with anecdotal reports of 75-hour working weeks and there not actually being any restrictions. There doesn't appear to be the same surveying as in teaching around working hours.

The stories around doctors are pretty dominant in the news too, with strikes over potential changes to workload safeguards and despite directives from Europe, junior doctors still work up to 100-hour weeks.

Perhaps it's the amount of extra time teachers are known to put in? According to this 2016 Telegraph article Laywers put in 9.2 unpaid hours each per week, doctors and nurses 9.9, managers in finance 11.2, teachers 11.9, and CEOs 13.6.

2. Student behaviour

This did surprise me a bit being so high, with 27% of responses saying that behaviour of students was the dominant reason not to go into teaching. I suppose it shouldn't be so much a surprise. Think about the number of times that you've told someone you're a teacher and they respond with: "I don't know how you do it!" and they go on to talk about unruly children and having to control a class of 30 of them.

There are a lot of anecdotal stories about poor behaviour and many glorified headlines around it. There is no easy way to consider how this has changed over the years, and research into it tends to be teacher surveys asking whether they feel behaviour has worsened the past X years or not.

Anything I say from here would be based almost entirely in personal experience, and given the complexity of considering whether it has changed – along with all the implications of societal changes – I'll give a detailed analysis of this a miss for now!

3. Pay

25% of those that responded found pay to be the most significant factor. This would almost certainly be the case for career changers where they have moved up the ladder, but is particularly acute for those in STEM subjects, as shown by this:

This website has some helpful detailed stats on starting salaries, where teaching (at around £23k) would feature particularly low:

Perhaps it's the pay progression and future prospects that put people off, rather than starting salary. It proved challenging to find suitable data on salary progression with years experience in different professions. Crudely (because I'm not entirely sure what the graduate programmes were) the Association of Graduate Recruiters note the following for pay progression:

4. Professional status and respect

This arrived in fourth place with 9% of those responding considering professional status and respect most significant reason not to join the teaching profession. Hargreaves (2006) noted that teachers themselves are "not overly concerned with their external status" but that perception of our status from within the profession had almost continuously dropped since the 60s. It suggested also, though this is ten years ago, that media portrayal had become more sympathetic and positive.

There are a number of publications out there, including this 2016 Education International report that shows a number of very similar trends across a number of countries. Interestingly, the 2013 Global Teacher Status Index places UK highly amongst other European countries, including above Finland:

What do we do, then?

I'm going to be very succinct here as the post is so long. Clearly workload, behaviour and pay are the three most prominent factors influencing those who choose not to go into teaching. The research suggests that teacher status isn't necessarily that low, but there are a number of actions we can take:

  1. Schools/departments/teachers – get workload and student behaviour right
  2. Teachers – if you're having a bad time, don't tell everyone that teaching is terrible
  3. Ofsted – ensure wellbeing of staff is not negatively affected by poor leadership and management
  4. Media – portray the positive stories too

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