This week marks the last opportunity for most teachers to give the legal notice required to leave their posts by the end of the academic year. There’s every indication that tens of thousands of teachers will have decided to resign, with many leaving teaching altogether.
The DfE’s own figures reported that nearly 50,000 teachers left the profession in the last year for which data is available (2012/13). The figures for 2014 and 2015 may well turn out to be even worse.
Teachers are being forced out by the unbearable intensity of excessive teacher workload, added to by a bullying regime driven by Ofsted, league tables and performance-related pay. Their health and well-being will have been damaged. Just as seriously, this rising turnover is also seriously damaging education.
Teachers tell their stories
Last week, worried about reports of high numbers of staff leaving schools that I know in London, I posted a query on the NUT Facebook group. It soon became clear that teachers across many different regions shared exactly the same concerns.
Here are just a few of the responses that were posted over the next few hours:
- “There’s been a mass exodus from my school. An entire key stage has gone in the last week”.
- “I handed my notice in on Monday. I used to love this job - I actually looked forward to going into work. Now that idea seems completely ridiculous to me! I always wanted to be a teacher; I never thought I'd be so desperate to leave”.
- “ My school will be down to two permanent members of teaching staff (out of 14) in September”
- “I'm afraid I'm also one of the statistics. For me teaching was becoming unbearable so I'm leaving the profession altogether”.
- “I decided not to go back after having a baby. I was due to go back in February of this year but decided being poorer was better than being stressed. Also, I knew that every child would matter, except my own”.
- "After 17 years I decided to take a break to recover after a period of ill health. I was kidding myself that it would be a break. Sadly, I have now been forced to accept that given the current climate, I will never return to teaching again”.
- “After 25 years I'm leaving the profession. If full time were 40 hours a week, I would stay, but at 60 hours a week I feel exploited and exhausted”
- “I’ve just left a job in a department where, by the end of term, all but two colleagues will have gone too. This is after the aftermath of a vicious ‘OFSTED’ yet the leadership team seem surprised and personally offended that so many are leaving!”
“I am really sorry, but I regret that I have to hand in my notice. It is with a heavy heart that I do this, but feel that I have no option. The workload is simply not reasonable and I just cannot keep on top of it and do the teaching to the standard the students deserve and I set myself.
I have tried to complete everything, but even though I come in early and go late, regularly staying in school more than 12 hours a day, I have found it absolutely impossible. I do not see this improving at all next year; in fact I think that it will get worse. I feel I ricochet from one deadline to another, one instruction to the next, never on top of things and it is the teaching that suffers each time. Endless, endless paperwork and jobs to be done that end up taking away from the teaching and learning and the students. My email inbox is full of priority red flags and paper is piling higher and higher on each surface around my desk. The job is simply undoable.
I know you and others have been pleased with my teaching ... and I am happy to give you and the Governors proper feedback and suggestions, as well as fuller reasons for coming to my decision. I would not resign if I felt I had any other option. I have not got a job to go to, so it is probably not the wisest of decisions, but I do not feel I have any choice. I will leave everything in good order, continue to work flat out for the rest of this term and set it up for next year. With regret ...”
These stories explain the harsh reality of education for many teachers and many schools. It is a reality that the plans in the 'Queen’s Speech' for more fragmentation and for more threats aimed at supposedly ‘coasting schools’ will only make worse. This is the reality that Nicky Morgan promised to address in her ‘Workload Challenge” - then did nothing. However, this is a reality that cannot be ignored – because it is damaging education as well as teachers’ lives.
Don't mourn, organise to defend education
As a number of teachers commented in the Facebook discussion, it’s important for teachers to highlight the crisis in teacher morale and turnover but, even more important, it’s vital for teacher unions to organise to defend teachers and education.
To turn the tide, we need an honest analysis of both the successes and weaknesses of our campaign strategy under the last Government so that, this time, unions can act to call a halt to rising stress and workload.
Last week’s NUT National Executive began a discussion about the tasks for the Union following the General Election. On Saturday June 6th LANAC, the Local Associations National Action Campaign, will be meeting in London to continue the discussion about the action we need to take. We have a responsibility to our colleagues – and to the children we teach – to act to stop this growing crisis.