Why do teachers leave the profession, and can schools fight this worrying trend?

Untitled design 36 | Why do teachers leave the profession, and can schools fight this worrying trend?
By Toby Lester | 13th November 2019 | 8 min read

Last year, nearly a tenth of the education workforce quit teaching. Imagine a staff turnover rate that high in any other profession, and it’s nigh unthinkable. However, we all accept the incredibly high teacher turnover number as something that’s normal and inevitable.

It’s difficult to argue the case for this way of thinking – until you examine the reasons that teachers decide to stop teaching.

Teacher salaries

Lately, the question of teaching salaries has been like opening a can of worms. While the government has pledged huge teacher pay funding increases – a welcome change – but arguably this still doesn’t go far enough. In fact, funding increases will still only bring teacher pay up to the same rate as a decade ago in real terms.

Teacher salaries also aren’t competitive with the private sector – something we cover in our recent insight paper.

However, official government press releases still state that education funding is at its highest ever levels – so why aren’t teachers also seeing this benefit? School funding is a different, but just as contentious, issue, but it’s important to note that teacher salaries are in part being shrunk to accommodate other essential school spending. In fact, for every pound spent by schools in 2016-2017, 49p was spent on teachers – down from 59p in 2002-2003.

The true value of teacher pay

Staff work much longer hours than they are being paid for – in fact, our teacher retention insight paper found that, after accounting for actual hours worked, NQT hourly pay can be as low as £9.63. This barely squeaks past the minimum wage of £8.21 per hour.

However, the issue here is not necessarily that teachers aren’t paid enough, but rather that teachers are expected to do too much work for too little benefit. Even if you pay somebody an executive salary, it doesn’t mean they’re willing to work for 60 or 70 hours of the week. The effort that teachers are putting into their career isn’t currently being valued highly enough.

Employment benefits

Public sector offers unique benefits that the teaching sector should consider implementing, such as flexible working.

Schools are losing out on would-be young families, for example, because of the total lack of flexible working opportunities. Moving forward, advances in technology could make this a valid option.

However, as flexible working becomes less of a dirty word in education and adoption becomes more mainstream, it’s important that schools also consider the negative effect that reduced hours working can have on teacher careers.

There are several unique challenges that reduced hours teachers must tackle. Whether because additional tasks take up too much of their spare time or because their career prospects are cut, there can often be too little or no support in place for these teachers.


Teaching professionals are stretched to the limit. In fact, in our latest insight paper, we find that unreasonable workload is the most common reason for teachers to abandon teaching.

This is leading 64% of teachers to feel stressed. It’s clear that this number is too high, and it’s a prime cause of teaching post abandonment.

A solution may lie in offering greater support for staff, whether via dedicated counselling services or by fostering a positive school community.

In-depth solutions to teacher retention

Are you looking for ways to hold on to your most valuable resource? Our new insight paper is available to download now for free. Packed full of insight, it aims to help school leaders to retain their most talented teachers. Download it for free today.