Teacher quitting rates higher in English secondaries than in Wales, report shows

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The percentage of teachers leaving their jobs in English secondary schools is higher than in Wales but the trend is reversed when it comes to primaries, a report has suggested.

Researchers said their findings challenge their original thinking that the Welsh Government’s approach to policymaking was associated with universally lower rates of teachers quitting.

Looking specifically at classroom teachers, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) found that the leaving rate – known as the attrition rate – among secondary classroom teachers was 0.6 percentage points higher in England compared with Wales.

Among primary classroom teachers, the difference was also 0.6 percentage points, but this time with lower attrition in England, the NFER said.

The attrition rate was defined as the percentage of teachers leaving the state-funded sector between the 2019/20 academic year and the 2020/21 academic year.

The report, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, used teacher census data to compare rates in Wales with rates in schools in areas of England with similar economic and contextual characteristics, such as unemployment rates, wage levels outside of teaching and levels of pupil disadvantage.

The data was from the School Workforce Census to measure teacher attrition rates in England and the School Workforce Annual Census (SWAC) to measure teacher attrition rates in Wales.

Researchers said that education policy decisions made by the government in Wales since devolution have focused on a “producerist” approach which aims to prioritise teachers more in overall decision-making.

In the report, they wanted to test their theory that this could lead to a reduced workload for teachers – a reason most cited by ex-teachers when asked why they left the profession – and therefore see lower rates of departure than in England.

Among its conclusions, the report said a “more collaborative approach to policymaking in Wales may be associated with slightly lower working hours in Wales”.

But it added that there may be other factors influencing differences in teacher working hours in the two countries.

The report stated: “Overall, the findings suggest that there is a more complex relationship between policy approaches, teacher workload and attrition than implied by our initial hypothesis.

“While there may be underlying policy reasons contributing to differences in attrition rates, it might indicate that there are policy differences affecting primary and secondary schools differently, rather than a universal difference in overall policy approach.”

Jack Worth, report co-author and NFER school workforce lead, said: “Given the different approaches taken by education policymakers in England and Wales since devolution, we might reasonably think that teacher retention rates could be higher in Wales compared to England.

“However, newly available data that allows us to make robust comparisons of retention rates seems to show that it is a lot more complex than that.”

Josh Hillman, education director at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “With ongoing challenges with teacher recruitment and retention issues, this new research gives policymakers food for thought.

“By comparing England and Wales, the research also offers a valuable contribution to our understanding of the different approaches to teacher recruitment and retention across the UK.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said more research is needed into why teachers are leaving the profession and why rates differ.

He said: “This is an interesting piece of research and the finding that teacher leaving rates between England and Wales are not uniform in one direction deserves further analysis to better understand the underlying reasons.

“However, what is certain is that in both jurisdictions the overriding reasons for teacher attrition are similar – pay and workload.

“Teacher pay has been eroded over the course of the past decade by government-implemented below-inflation pay awards which have made salaries increasingly uncompetitive.”

He said school funding is “wholly inadequate in both England and Wales and this means schools cannot afford the number of staff they need, which impacts on workloads” and urged that both pay and school funding are improved “to encourage recruitment and retention”.

England’s Department for Education recognises there is more to do to attract and keep good schoolteachers and that action is being taken to improve recruitment, retention and quality of teaching.

A spokesperson said the Government has proposed the highest pay awards in a generation for new teachers, and further pay awards for more experienced teachers and leaders.

They said: “These proposed pay increases sit alongside fully funded high-quality professional development available at every stage of a teacher’s career, helping to raise the status of the teaching profession and make it an attractive career.”

A spokesperson for the Welsh government said: “By taking a social partnership approach, we support the teaching profession by ensuring their pay, terms and conditions are designed to best suit the profession here in Wales and provide higher salaries and allowances for both new and more experienced teachers than in England.

“We will continue to take action to support our invaluable workforce so that they can continue to provide the very best education for pupils.”