Members tell us that high workload and workplace stress are significant contributors.

  • 44% of England’s state-school teachers plan to quit by 2027, according to the latest NEU poll. Half of those (22%) intend to leave within two years.  
  • Schools are struggling to fill vacant posts, leading to a doubling up of roles. 73% of teachers say this has worsened since the start of the pandemic. 
  • Over half (52%) of teachers say their workload is either ‘unmanageable’ or ‘unmanageable most of the time’, up from 35% in 2021. 

Two-thirds of teachers in state-funded schools in England feel stressed at least 60% of the time.

The State of Education survey is an extensive look at the current mood of the profession, including teachers, heads and leaders, and what they wish to see from Government. We are releasing the findings over the course of Annual Conference. 

Retention 

When asked “where do you see yourself in two/five years' time”, 22% of state-school teachers in England who felt able to give an answer told us they will no longer be working in education in two years’ time. 44% plan to quit within five years. 

These are broadly consistent with the official national statistics which show that the two-year retention rate subsequent to qualifying is 80.5%. Department for Education statistics also show that 41% leave within ten years. However, the NEU’s latest survey covers all teachers and not just those who have recently qualified. 

When we put the same question in 2019, 21% of respondents indicated they would leave within two years, and 51% in five years. These figures predate the pandemic. In 2021, when the same question was put amidst a third national lockdown and a period of great uncertainty for the workforce, the figures were 14% and 41% respectively. 

Reasons for leaving

“I am desperate to get out of education due to workload, constant monitoring and paperwork.”

When asked in 2022, workload was the overwhelming motivation for 65% of teachers in English state schools who expect to go within two years, and 63% of those departing within five years. 

This was part of a question where just three options could be selected from a list of 15. The next most popular options were “the feeling that the education profession is not valued or trusted by the Government and media” (38% of English state-school teachers planning to leave within five years) and accountability (35%). Pay was also a significant reason given (25%), as was retirement (26%) although many who selected the latter option were in leadership roles or already working part-time.  

Recruitment

Through the State of Education survey, published today by the National Education Union, we asked members to identify the ways in which recruitment and retention challenges are putting a strain on their workplace. The answers from teachers in English state schools reveal significant trends toward ‘doubling up’ of workplace roles to make ends meet and a reduction in support staff numbers over the past two years. 

Graph of survey answer on recruitment and retention

“People leave and then their responsibilities [are] added to another role.”

“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."

There are very few positives to draw from these findings. The table above removes “unsure” answers, but this still leaves no category in which more than 10% of respondents believed matters had improved. Only in the last two options – on flexible posts, and vacant/interim senior leadership posts – did the majority believe the situation had remained the same or got better since the early months of 2020. 

On the question of support staff posts being unfilled, 74% of teachers in state-funded special schools and pupil referral units (PRUs) felt the situation had worsened since March 2020. The same was said by 66% of secondary school teachers, and 56% of primary school teachers. 

“We have far too few teaching assistants and [they] have been asked to do cover more than ever.”

Similarly, 67% of secondary teachers felt the picture on unfilled teaching posts had worsened, compared to 59% of those in special schools and PRUs and 44% of those in primaries. Members described supply teachers being used instead of permanent contracts due to budgetary worries, and teaching assistants increasingly being asked to deliver lessons.

The concern over teaching shortages in secondaries reflects recent statistical releases and independent research. In March, the National Foundation for Educational Research found that the “Covid surge” in teacher training applications has now subsided, returning us to a situation where many secondary subjects are persistently short of new recruits. This is in spite of a long-since announced pledge from Government of £30,000 as a starting salary. In December, the Education Policy Institute highlighted how the Government’s headline figures on recruitment continue to disguise significant under-recruitment in many subjects.

Workload

The vast majority of respondents told us that their workload was challenging. Past surveys, including the Government’s own, typically place working hours at around 50 hours per week. This is well above the OECD average of 41 hours. 

In the State of Education survey, 52% of English state-school teachers who responded said their workload was either unmanageable or unmanageable most of the time, with a further 30% saying it was ‘only just manageable’. A small proportion (2%) said it was manageable all of the time. 

current workload bar chart

The change in just a year shows a severe and growing problem with workload, as the return of Ofsted and ever-present accountability demands clash with the urgent challenges of educational recovery post-pandemic. 

“It's impossible and unbearable, and teaching staff are having to give up PPAs to cover things. More work piled onto an already inflexible and unbearable workload.”

Teachers in leadership roles were a little more likely to say their workload was unmanageable than classroom teachers, and primary teachers were slightly more likely to report an unmanageable workload than their secondary counterparts. 

When asked in a multiple-choice question – with three possible answers – what would be the most effective actions of Government to tackle workload in the next twelve months, teachers told us: 

bar chart - managing workload

Reducing teaching time in favour of space for planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) was more popular with classroom teachers than those in leadership (although it was still selected by 41% of leaders), and it was particularly supported by teachers in secondary schools, 72% of whom chose it as one of the three most important actions to make workload manageable. 

Smaller class sizes were also supported more by classroom and secondary teachers than those in primary or leadership roles. This should not come as a particular surprise when class sizes in secondary schools currently stand at a more than 40-year high.

57% of school leaders responding to the NEU’s latest survey favoured a less punitive inspection service in order to alleviate workload pressures, and 48% wanted to see an increase in the number of staff employed. This is significantly above the 43% and 36% of classroom teachers who selected those same options amongst their three priorities.

Just 1% of respondents overall said that they needed to see no changes to make their workload more manageable.

Stress versus wellbeing 

Are English state school teachers feeling stressed

Two-thirds of teacher members in state-funded schools in England feel stressed at least 60% of the time, once we excluded “I haven’t thought about this” answers.

“Staffing has become more stretched and staff are close to burnout and more are leaving or seriously considering leaving teaching.”     

Overwhelmingly, members told us that the most important action their workplace could take to improve wellbeing would be to reduce the volume of work. A clear majority (71%) of teachers in English state schools selected this measure as one of their three choices.

bar chart of factors to improve staff wellebing

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“It is high time that the government reflected on the failure of successive education secretaries to get a grip on the issues facing teachers. When Nicky Morgan launched the Workload Challenge in 2014, little did we expect to be scarcely off the starting position eight years later. We remain a profession with amongst the highest number of unpaid working hours, and we are still well above the international average for hours worked by teachers. This is simply unsustainable and can only lead to burn-out."

“The government would do well to not just accept that high workload is a problem, but that they have played a starring role in many of the contributing factors. Our survey findings show that whether it be recruitment targets missed, talented teachers leaving the profession, the pernicious effects of a punitive and deeply flawed inspection system, or the effect of real-terms cuts to pay over many years, a national policy decision is always the villain of the piece. The Department for Education must take steps to right the ship, which is currently shedding too many staff and not finding enough to replace them. This is to a very large extent because the job is made unattractive and unsustainable."

“Let us be in no doubt. 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.”  

Editor’s Note

The National Education Union State of Education survey was conducted online through membership and received 1,788 responses from English state-school teachers between 24 February – 8 March 2022. The relevant data tables are provided.

END

Note to editors

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  • The National Education Union stands up for the future of education. It brings together the voices of more than 450,000 teachers, lecturers, support staff and leaders working in maintained and independent schools and colleges across the UK, to form the largest education union in Europe.  
  • It is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing its members in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.  

The National Education Union is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). It is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.  

Annual Conference
State of Education - The Professions

NEU's State of Education Report

Annual Conference
State of Education - The Profession

Data for the NEU's State of Education survey