The latest National Education Union (NEU) poll reveals that 44% of England’s state-school
teachers plan to quit by 2027. Half of those intend to leave within two years.
In a YouGov survey of teachers, two in five teachers questioned (40%) said they wouldn’t
choose to become a teacher again. Only 45% said they’d still choose to become teachers.
Alarmingly, the majority of teachers would generally discourage others from entering the
So what’s causing this mass teacher exodus and what can be done about it?
Workload and stress
High workload and stress in the workplace are significant contributors. According to the
NEU poll, 52% of teachers say their workload is either ‘unmanageable’ or ‘unmanageable
most of the time’. And two-thirds of teachers in state-funded schools in England feel stressed
at least 60% of the time.
And it’s easy to see why. As well as planning and teaching each lesson to a high standard,
they must monitor students’ welfare, mental health and safeguarding. There’s homework to
mark, reports to complete, emails to send to parents, extracurricular clubs, meetings and
additional paperwork for observation purposes.
Working ten- to twelve-hour days, often without a lunch break is exhausting. Even going to
the loo can be challenging, as students or other staff you intercept en route often want to
discuss something. It’s non-stop and frantic.
‘I am desperate to get out of education due to workload, constant monitoring and paperwork,’
said one teacher in the NEU poll.
Two-thirds of teacher members in state-funded schools in England feel stressed at least 60%
of the time. So it’s not surprising that 71% of NEU members said that the most important
action their workplace could take to improve wellbeing would be to reduce the volume of
There’s real concern about the number of teachers coming into the industry versus the
number of teachers leaving. The number of teachers leaving last year jumped by 12.4 per cent, with
4,000 more departures in 2020-21 than the previous year. Among newly qualified teachers,
the number who left within one year rose from 11.7 per cent in 2020, to 12.5 per cent last
Add to this the increase in cost of living and schools don’t always have the budget to recruit
the staff they need to replace teachers who have left.
Staff shortages mean teachers often have to sacrifice valuable PPA (planning, preparation and
assessment) time to cover other classes, thereby increasing the amount of work they have to
The NEU study showed that supply teachers were often used instead of permanent contracts
due to budgetary worries, and teaching assistants were increasingly asked to deliver lessons.
As teachers become more stretched, staff are close to burnout resulting in more leaving or
seriously considering leaving.
‘People leave and then their responsibilities [are] added to another role,’ and ‘Everything is
pared to the bone. We have increased leadership responsibilities but our time to carry this out
has been axed. Classes are covered by teaching assistants on a regular basis, as if this is
perfectly satisfactory,’ were the comments given in the NEU poll.
Another reason given for discontent within the industry was ‘the feeling that the education
profession is not valued or trusted by the Government and media’.
More than half (57%) of the school leaders who responded to the NEU’s latest survey felt
that a less punishing inspection service would alleviate workload pressures.
When teachers have to put so much focus on delivering specific lesson structures, on the
quality of work in exercise books, on training and data and targets, it prevents them from
being experimental and innovative. When the driving force behind the quality of teaching in a
school is based solely on achieving ‘good with outstanding features’, or of pupils attaining
‘higher than expected levels of progress’ grades in Ofsted, then the joy of learning is
Class sizes in secondary schools have grown by two students. The average secondary school
teacher taught 16.7 pupils, up from 14.8 in 2010-11. Officials noted rising secondary pupil
numbers since 2016.
This adds to the already critical problems caused by excessive workload. To deliver
consistently engaging and dynamic lessons to 32 students and cater to such an enormous
range of personalities and learning styles, is unsustainable. It takes a lot of energy to develop
strong relationships and earn the students respect so that they want to work well. The more
students in the class, the more exhausting it is.
Covid-19 has served as a catalyst for the mental health crisis. In 2020-21, 45% of teachers
took sickness absence, not including isolation or shielding. Long-term absenteeism is on the
increase with a proportion of the profession seeming to be suffering from anxiety.
The impact that teachers have on the lives of their pupils is immeasurable. They need to be in
good mental health themselves so they have the capacity to focus on engaging and exciting
children with their subject.
Commenting on the findings of the survey, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the
National Education Union, said: ‘Teaching is a great and fulfilling job, and people go into the
profession because they want to make a difference. Yet the government makes this more
difficult, and if we are to collectively do the right thing for young people then we must be
able to deliver the education they deserve. That change must come from the top.’
How do you feel? Are you tempted to leave or are you noticing a trend within your peers?
For full details of the report, visit https://neu.org.uk/press-releases/state-education-profession
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