In the debate over teacher retention we are in danger of distraction from a simple truth. The old clichéd call that we want teachers for whom teaching is a vocation resulted in a limited debate about teachers’ workload and an expectation that dedicated and hard-working teachers would not need time with their families and friends. But we should not be lulled into a false sense of security by the recent attention this issue has received from the DfE. Business as usual has seen a rush to make intuitively motivated or even whimsical changes to the national curriculum, the inspection framework, teacher training, and school governance. Meanwhile anything to do with teacher wellbeing is left for local solutions to be tentatively, slowly and deliberately mulled over.
In the UK, we have a problem with the retention of teachers. The parameters of debate have been and still are inadequate. Previously, pay or the esteem in which teachers were held was proposed as probable cause and solution for this problem. But the problem has always been the lifestyle that teachers are expected to adopt. Teachers teaching well in schools today are remarkable people willing to make major personal sacrifices to support their students. But this is a requirement, not a choice and there are not enough people qualified and able to teach who are also willing to make the sacrifice.
The current focus of the DfE on Teacher workload review groups where teachers and schools are asked to tweek their policies for marking, planning and data management is innadequate and a distraction. The parameters of debate are being limited again. The workload problem cannot be explained by alluding to myths of over-zealous managers or images of teachers with no time to reflect on the necessity of tasks. Minor adjustments will not stop teachers from finding it necessary to miss a night’s sleep in order to catch up with their work. The only sensible solution is also the simplest, as Ross McGill has already suggested, “Cut time in the classroom to one-third.”
In a recent article TES reported that a DfE spokesman said: “Teaching continues to be a hugely popular career, with more teachers in England’s classrooms than ever before and record levels of top graduates entering the profession.” Clearly these are carefully chosen words. It must be true that there are more teachers and it must be true that there are more graduates with higher grades but this does not address the issue of teacher retention. It is a simple matter: it takes time to mark properly; it takes time to plan a good lesson; and it takes time to ensure assessment data are valid and reliable. It takes a lot of time per class so we have to give teachers more time during each weekday to complete this important work.
Check my sources
Nearly 100,000 teachers quit in 2 years; that is, more than 1 in every 5 teachers quit in 2 years “Between November 2013 and November 2014, 49,120 teachers left the profession – an increase of 3,480 teachers on the previous year, and the largest number to quit in a year since records began.”
“Figures from the Department for Education show that in the 12 months to November 2013 – the most recent year for which statistics are available – almost 50,000 qualified teachers in England quit the state sector.”