In the latest survey of almost 18,000 National Education Union members, conducted ahead of Annual Conference in Harrogate, we asked teachers and support staff to reflect on their future plans and the staffing situation at their workplace.
- 16% of teachers plan to leave the education profession within two years, and 41% of teacher respondents plan to be gone within five years, excluding “don’t know” answers. Almost a quarter of support staff respondents (23%) will no longer be working in education by 2025, and almost half (48%) expect to have left by 2028.
- Since the pandemic, 78% of teachers in our survey have seen worsening levels of staff absence at their workplace due to sickness, 72% a reduction in support staff, and for 66% an increase in the rate of staff leaving their post. Support staff reported 71%, 62% and 63% respectively.
- The majority of respondents have adapted to the cost-of-living crisis by reducing home heating (85% teachers, 81% support staff), a quarter have skipped meals (23% teachers, 26% support staff) and one in five have taken on a second job to make ends meet (18% teachers, 21% support staff).
The State of Education survey gauges the views of working teacher, support staff and school leader NEU members in England and Wales. We are releasing the findings over the course of Annual Conference.
The responses point not just to worrying potential losses of trained teachers, but also to a significant degree of churn. When we exclude ”don’t know” answers, less than a third of teacher members (31%) in England and Wales think that in five years’ time they will be either in the same role or looking for promotion in their current workplace. The rest plan to either look for promotion elsewhere (13%), look for a different role or setting within the education sector (15%), or to quit entirely (41%).
When the numbers for those forecasting two years ahead are broken down, 17% of English state school teachers said they would no longer be working in education, compared to 18% of those in Welsh state schools and 13% of teachers in the independent sector.
This is in the context of a recruitment and retention crisis. The Government missed its target for recruitment of new secondary school teachers by 41% this year and by 7% for primary school teachers. And according to the Government’s own statistics, one third of the teachers who qualified in the last decade have quit. One in eight teachers who qualified in summer 2020 had already quit by the end of the following year..
Among support staff (see below), a larger proportion plan to quit the education sector than teachers. Almost a quarter (23%) plan to quit within two years, and almost half (48%) plan to leave within five, excluding “don’t know” answers. The proportions intending to remain in their current roles are similar to teachers, but far fewer plan to look for promotions either in their current workplace or elsewhere. This reflects the different career paths and potential to progress between teachers and support staff, as well as the greater impact of rising living costs on lower-paid support staff.
Expanding upon the question (see table below), we asked respondents to tell us precisely why they intend to leave.
The overwhelming issue for teachers is workload, chosen by 73% of those intending to leave in two years and 72% of those intending to go in five years. When re-weighted as a comparison with last year’s survey, which covered England teachers only, this is an increase from around two-thirds. Worryingly, some 90% of 20-29-year-olds cite workload as a reason behind their planning to leave within five years.
"Excessive workload [is] affecting both my mental well-being and physical health. Lack of value and understanding from the government about the challenges teachers face every day. Unrealistic expectations of both teachers and children."
Another told us: "The level of needs and demands placed on teachers is now at a level where the job is impossible to do and therefore you feel so ineffective and demoralised."
A strong driver for teachers is the belief that the profession is not trusted by the Government and media, closely followed by pay.
“The constant good will required in order to do the job is no longer viable, I feel like I’m constantly living on the edge of a breakdown but I have no choice but to carry on. My wage no longer lasts the month and I am constantly overdrawn.”
Pay has risen significantly as a concern, as is to be expected given the current cost-of-living crisis, longer-term cuts to teachers’ real wages and the recent period of industrial action. Last year, 25% of teachers who plan to quit within two years cited pay as a factor; this year, the figure is 39%.
Among support staff (see below), the role of workload as a reason to quit is much lower than among teachers, perhaps reflecting the fact that excessive work outside core working hours is a much greater problem for teachers. However, the other underlying issues remain.
As well as pay, a lack of career progression also resonates strongly with support staff. A third (33%) of support staff who plan to leave within two years say a lack of career progression is a factor, compared to just 5% of teachers.
The signs of a recruitment and retention crisis are all too evident in the findings of this survey.
When asked to identify staffing difficulties in their own workplace, teachers and support staff point to a worsening in many different areas.
Around three quarters of teachers reported a worsening in levels of staff sickness absence (78%) and support staff numbers (72%), while around two-thirds reported a worsening of specialist staffing levels (68%), staff leaving post (66%), individuals doubling up teaching and leadership (66%), vacancies needing to be re-advertised (63%) and unfilled support staff posts (62%). These figures shifted amongst support staff respondents but pointed to the same situation, of underfunding and a system which is buckling under the strain.
“We have gaps trying to be filled everywhere across the school. This was not the case five years ago. Something needs to be done urgently.”
“This has left classes without teachers for months and teachers exhausted from constantly setting cover work and covering classes.”
“We cannot fill our posts, kids are taught by different short-term supply for multiple subjects including GCSE students.”
Across both sections of membership in the above tables, not a single aspect rose above 6% in terms of improvement.
When asked if they had been called upon to ‘act up’ to a role with greater responsibility at their school, as a consequence of staffing shortages, teachers and support staff indicated in large numbers that they had.
Two fifths of teachers (39%) and half of support staff respondents (50%) said that they have done so, but only a small proportion of those members have been recompensed. This is on top of working hours which already devalue their existing pay.
Our survey also found that state school teachers in England who have taken on additional responsibilities without pay are more likely to have been female, from an ethnic minority group, or are aged under 40. A third of teachers (34%) in the most deprived schools had ‘acted up’ without extra pay, compared to just a quarter (26%) in the least deprived schools.
“I now lead on four subject areas, and I'm not given the required amount of time out of class to complete subject monitoring. It is usually expected that I use my PPA time (which I desperately need to try keep my teaching workload up-to-date) or I have to complete it in holiday time or after school.”
“I have taken on roles such as Deputy Headteacher and SENCO with no rise in pay.”
“I work in a small primary school in my third year of teaching. I am leader of three subjects with no pay reward.”
Cost of Living
Members were asked to outline how they have adapted to the cost-of-living crisis in the UK.
Around five out of six respondents have reduced home heating to save money on energy (85% teachers, 81% support staff). In comments, some members reported having to make a choice between food and heat. Several mentioned staying at work later because it is warmer, while one member said that teaching assistants were arriving early at school to keep warm and staying late to charge appliances due to soaring energy costs.
“I regularly use food banks because my salary doesn't cover my outgoings, including rent, electric and gas bills. It's embarrassing that I'm a teacher, thought to be a respectable well-paid job, but I can't afford to live.”
“I cannot afford to move out of my parents’ house at the age of nearly 40.”
“My husband has a well-paid job which means we are not reliant on my salary to make ends meet. If he did not, I do not believe teaching would be an affordable career choice.”
A fifth of members have taken on a second job to make ends meet, while 11% of support staff respondents have accessed benefits such as Universal Credit to support income that has fallen in real terms as living costs rise. The strain is particularly hard on members who are single parents. One told us: “I am scared. My money isn't stretching to cover everything… I can't afford to work with childcare costs, yet I can't afford to not work with the cost of living.”
Commenting on the findings of the survey, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“It is a stark reality for current education staff that so many are having to take on a second job in order to survive. This is despite the high working hours of their principal job, the stress this creates, and the assumption in the wider world that teaching is a relatively well-paid job.
“That so many should be leaving the profession or intend to do so in the very near future, can come as no surprise. This doesn’t prevent it from remaining a tragedy, and a waste of talent.
“Support staff, often the most vulnerable to having their post cut, are taking on additional responsibilities without recompense – and are doing so in high numbers. This is an unacceptable state of affairs and the clear consequence of a Government running a public service into the ground. It is not good for our members, and it is certainly not of benefit to children and parents to have a profession run ragged through overwork.
“It is only through a reset on pay and workload that we will begin to overcome this problem. This is obvious to all who work in the profession, and these are the main drivers of the recruitment and retention crisis we have been enduring for far too long.”
We conducted the survey between 11-27 February 2023. This report covers the findings from 17,891 responses from teachers, leaders and support staff in schools in England and Wales. We also received responses from NEU members in Northern Ireland, in the post-16 sector, in early years and supply; these are not included in this analysis but will feed into further work during the year.
We split the responses into two broad groups: school teachers and school support staff. We split these two groups into English state schools, Welsh state schools and independent schools in England and Wales. We did this so we could weight responses against the different demographic data available from their respective workforce censuses.
Where we have reported results for school teachers in England and Wales or support staff in England and Wales, we have combined the responses for English state schools, Welsh state schools and independent schools in England and Wales and weighted them in proportion to the size of the workforce.