One in three UK teachers plan to quit the classroom within five years because of increased workload and diminishing respect for the profession, according to a major union survey.
The poll by the National Education Union revealed an education workforce exhausted after a year of Covid disruption, with 70% reporting increased workload over the last 12 months and 95% worried about the impact on their wellbeing.
Out of a poll of 10,000 members, 35% said they would “definitely” not be working in education by 2026, while two-thirds (66%) said the status of the profession has got worse and blamed government for failing to listen to or value teachers.
As one respondent put it: “The pandemic has highlighted a high expectation on teachers whilst a total lack of respect from government.”
Among those who said they intended to leave education, the most common reason given was that the profession was not valued or trusted by government or media (53%), closely followed by workload (51%), accountability (34%) and pay (24%).
Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary said it should come as no surprise that so many teachers are thinking of leaving the profession.
“These findings come after a year in which the education profession – as key workers – have been provided few safety protections, had to improvise solutions where government had simply left a void, and were met with a pay freeze for their troubles,” he said.
“To create an environment in which so many are overworked and looking for an exit, it is a scandal that so little effort has been made by government to value the profession. Instead, they feel insulted, and for many there comes a point where enough is enough.”
The survey, which was conducted among teachers, school leaders and support staff in schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, also found that more than half (55%) believe their work-life balance is now worse than before the first lockdown.
Lockdown has however had a positive impact on staff relationships with their pupils’ families with 30% reporting improved contacts with parents, many of whom have been intimately involved with their child’s education this year, home-schooling while schools have been closed to all but vulnerable pupils and children of key workers.
The survey was published to coincide with the NEU’s annual conference – held virtually this year due to the pandemic – where members voted on Monday for a motion which called for GCSEs and A-levels to be scrapped and replaced with more flexible assessments.
After two years without exams because of Covid, Duncan Morrison, from Lewisham, south-east London, told conference: “We have a golden opportunity to win our agenda to stop toxic testing. Parents can see we don’t need tests. They can see there is an alternative. Everyone can see there is no case for going back.”
Amid anger over the government’s pay freeze for public sector workers, the NEU called for a 7% pay rise for teachers this year and agreed to survey members to build towards a ballot for national strikes if ministers fail to meet their pay demands.
Addressing conference, Christopher Denson, from Coventry, said: “It is a slap in the face for us all. This is our chance to set the tone in the battle against underfunded schools, underpaid educators and an undervalued education system.”
Addressing the NEU’s findings on teacher retention and well being, a Department for Education spokesperson said: “We have taken a wide range of action to address teacher workload and wellbeing, and invested millions in mental health charities to support teachers.
“We are also improving support and professional development for teachers at all stages of their career. This includes providing additional support for teachers who are at their least experienced and at most risk of leaving the profession, through our Early Career Framework reforms.”
The footballer and campaigner Marcus Rashford made a surprise appearance at the NEU conference to accept an award for his work on food poverty.
Picking up the Fred and Anne Jarvis award, established in 2008 to recognise the contribution of individuals who have campaigned tirelessly on educational issues, Rashford thanked the NEU for the award and said: “I feel really privileged and honoured to receive this award.
“I’m obviously very happy and grateful for the support that I’ve been given, just by the nation really, and I feel like together we’ve pushed each other to strive for more – and hopefully we can continue to do that.”