By Joe Harker
Teaching unions in the UK are warning that the amount of staff leaving schools is unsustainable.
The National Education Union says there is a shortfall of 30,000 teachers and 80 per cent of them have considered leaving the job in the past 12 months, with a high workload being cited as the most common reason for considering quitting. This increased workload is put down to new government policies that make big changes to the way students are assessed.
The focus on meeting government set targets and giving precedence to the highest achievers is also giving teachers problems, with some worried that underachieving children are being left behind from an early age. For some the only reason they don't leave is because of financial insecurity.
Full-time teachers say they regularly work 50.7 hour working weeks as they have to keep up with marking and additional responsibilities of the job beyond the classroom. While some have the perception of teachers working shorter hours than everyone else and getting longer holidays it seems that it is untrue, particularly as teachers may be asked to give up their holiday time to supervise students sitting exams over the break. Teaching is a stressful job and time away is important, but if there is no break or it is sacrificed for work then job-related stress will skyrocket.
However, cutting the workload facing teachers might not be enough to keep them onside. Cat Scutt, Director of Education and Research at the Chartered College of Teaching, suggests that the government needs to look back to the reasons why people get into teaching.
Many enter the profession to make a positive difference in the lives of their students but may come to feel that they are unable to do so as they come closer to burning out. It's not just about the workload, it's partially the feeling that the amount of work to do is unmanageable.
New teachers are leaving at an "alarming rate" according to a report by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Almost 40 per cent of new teachers leave the profession after just one year, suggesting that the system is designed to train them up and get them into jobs with little regard for keeping them there. If the supply of new teachers dries up then schools across the UK could face a serious problem with staff as they cannot replace those who leave.
The Independent reports that by 2025 there will be three million students in secondary education and nowhere near enough teachers for them. One solution often suggested for improving the quality of schools is making class sizes smaller, thus allowing students more time with the teacher.
However, on the current trend class sizes will have to grow to reconcile the dropping number of teachers and the growing number of students. A greater focus on teacher retention and job satisfaction may be needed.