Workload Is The Cause Of Teacher Shortage Crisis!

ATL and NUT banners on the 5,000-strong emergency ‘No Forced Academies’ demonstration in London on March 23rd
ATL and NUT banners on the 5,000-strong emergency ‘No Forced Academies’ demonstration in London on March 23rd

WORKLOAD is the key driver of the teacher shortage crisis, putting people off becoming teachers and compelling enthusiastic teachers to leave, according to a new survey released by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

In March, 876 education staff told ATL their views on the growing teacher recruitment and retention crisis. When asked what they thought might stop people from wanting to become teachers, 93 per cent cited workload and 91 per cent said poor work/life balance.

Eighty-three per cent said they had considered leaving the profession and among those, almost nine in 10 (87%) said this was due to workload. Tellingly, when asked to sum-up what they thought was responsible for teacher shortages, nearly 300 people simply wrote ‘workload’.

An English teacher in a community school in Oxfordshire said: ‘I just can’t manage the relentless workload, no matter what strategies I employ. My marriage has recently broken down and I am now divorced. My ex-husband said it seemed school was always more important than him and the family.’

An academy teacher from Tyne and Wear commented: ‘I don’t feel like I have a life outside school. I am physically and mentally exhausted when I come in from work.’ A head of department in a primary school in Merseyside said: ‘In 23 years of teaching I have never felt so pressured and unable to achieve, both in terms of my work and family life. I worry greatly about the mental health of everyone involved in education… both teachers and children.’

Why aren’t enough

teachers being recruited?

When asked what they thought might stop people from wanting to become teachers, in addition to workload, two thirds (64%) cited lack of respect for the profession. A trainee primary school teacher from Yorkshire said: ‘I am a trainee but have noticed teachers are constantly berated in the press and morale in education seems to be very low.’

Sixty-two per cent said challenging pupil behaviour and 48% cited pay as a reason people don’t want to become teachers. However, when directly asked whether pay is a primary factor for teacher shortages, two thirds (64%) agreed. A Head of Key Stage One at a primary school in London commented: ‘My partner is a solicitor in the City. I shouldn’t feel like I have less free time than him – he is on three times my pay!’ A teacher at a secondary academy in Merseyside said: ‘The workload is increasing every year, all for a one per cent pay rise.’

What is making teachers leave the profession?

Eighty-three per cent said they have considered leaving the profession and a quarter (24%) said they do not envisage remaining in teaching any longer than two years. In addition to the 87 per cent who cited workload, almost half (46%) of the education staff who have considered quitting said bureaucratic demands were driving them away and 44 per cent cited the impact of government policy changes.

A teacher from an academy in Wiltshire said: ‘Too many changes are happening too soon without enough thought. Policies come in and then go out, and we are left focussing on paperwork not the children.’ Forty-three per cent cited a feeling that there’s a lack of respect for the profession. A primary teacher from a school in Surrey said: ‘The disrespect and huge workload take the joy out of what is one of the most important professions for the future of our world.’

Meanwhile, schools struggle to cope and children’s education suffers

To cope with teacher shortages in schools, almost a third (31%) said existing teachers are being re-deployed, often to teach subjects in which they do not hold a degree. A member of support staff at a secondary academy in Greater London said: ‘Too many staff are expected to teach outside their specialisms, mainly because the management believe that anyone can teach any subject regardless of their degree subject!’

As ATL highlighted earlier this year, support staff are being used to fill the gaps left by teacher shortages. Almost 300 respondents reported that in their school support staff are used to cover teacher shortages and a third (33%) reported that more responsibility is passed onto support staff as schools try to cope with the day-to-day impact of teacher shortages.

An SEN primary teacher at a community school in London said: ‘The constantly moving goal posts mean we often can’t give a child what we know they need because the pressure to concentrate on standards is just enormous.’ A primary teacher at a school in Cornwall said: ‘We are asked to spend so much time on unnecessary things which do not benefit the children’s learning.’

Teacher shortages have a serious impact on already overworked teachers. Of the 589 respondents that said there are teacher shortages in their setting, three quarters (74%) said shortages had led to increased workload.

Sapping teachers’ enthusiasm

Respondents revealed why they wanted to become teachers, illustrating their sincerity and dedication. Eighty per cent said they chose the profession because they enjoy working with children and young people and 68 per cent said it was because they wanted to make a difference. However, teachers said that pressure on the profession can drain much of their enthusiasm. 

A teacher from a maintained school in Northumberland said: ‘A lot of the joy has been sucked out of teaching and enthusiasm wanes due to the ever-increasing pressure.’ One teacher from a primary community school in Merseyside said: ‘I feel there is so much pressure. Teachers are overworked and struggling, which has resulted in them being less inspiring, motivational or supportive.’

Urgent changes are needed

When asked what specific changes would most improve teaching, 55 per cent said less unnecessary paperwork, 48 per cent want fewer policy changes and 40 per cent want less pressure surrounding inspection visits. One primary teacher from Suffolk said: ‘The government needs to sit up and take responsibility for the recruitment crisis.’

Commenting on the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: ‘The government has missed its teacher trainee recruitment targets for the last four years and record numbers are leaving the profession.

‘The government must take heed of what teachers say is fuelling the crisis and admit that tackling the shortage is about making the profession a more attractive one to join, and stay in. So far the government’s response has been inadequate, relying on expensive gimmicks like “Troops to Teachers” that cost £10 million and resulted in just 41 veteran recruits.

‘They haven’t created a coherent teacher education programme, for initial teacher training or continued professional development. The situation is becoming a vicious circle – the abysmal work/life balance puts people off and then teacher shortages contribute to an unmanageable workload, making more teachers want to leave. There has to be a serious attempt to reduce teacher workload and to treat teachers as professionals, with the respect and salaries they deserve. The government has to accept we are facing a crisis and put credible measures in place that will produce systemic change.’

• This article relates to motions that will be debated at ATL’s Conference: Motion 1 ‘Recruitment crisis and training for the future’; Motion 2 ‘Impact of pay and conditions of service on the recruitment and retention of NQTs’; Motion 4 ‘Impact of workload on trainees and newly qualified (NQT) teachers’.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ Annual Conference will be held at ACC in Liverpool from Monday 4 until Wednesday 6 April 2016. ATL is an independent, registered trade union representing approximately 170,000 teachers, headteachers, lecturers and support staff and is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC).