New research: Working women are quitting teaching for good

Jonathan Simons

Director of Policy and Advocacy, Varkey Foundation

Joint Policy Exchange and ASCL paper addresses the challenges of recruiting and retaining teachers and argues for more flexible working practices 

In a time of significant teacher shortages, schools across the country are missing out on the skills and talent of thousands of working mothers who are not returning to teaching after childbirth.

To mark the start of the annual Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) conference, Policy Exchange and ASCL have published a series of essays setting out new ideas to boost teacher supply and recruit and retain high quality teachers across the country.

The report highlights some worrying figures linked to women – who make up 73% of all teachers – dropping out of teaching:

  • DfE figures show that between 2008 and 2012 (last available data), an estimated 6,000 women a year aged between 30 and 39 left teaching.
  • Data from the NfER suggests that, of teachers who leave in order to “look after family”, only about half will return to the classroom.

The report also highlights that of the 35,000 male and female teachers who quit state schools every year, roughly half stay in the education profession in some form. This suggests that teachers retain a passion for their subject, but are unable to manage the circumstances of teaching on a daily basis. However, many ex teachers will also subsequently return to teaching if given the opportunities.

In their contribution to the report, ASCL are clear that whilst government takes responsibility for the overall supply of teachers, schools must take primary responsibility for the recruitment and retention of their staff, and that all schools should work to maximise the opportunities for their staff to work flexibly, including actively engaging with those who might wish to return to teaching following a period out of the classroom.

Jonathan Simons, Head of Education at Policy Exchange, said:

“Schools and the government both need to recognise the need for flexibility, and that flexible working means more than just working part time. In particular, we know that younger graduates tend to want portfolio careers which enable them to come in and out of professions – and teaching is no different. Our education system needs to embrace a new way of working. If it doesn’t, schools are going to continue to struggle to attract and retain the best talent.”

Malcolm Trobe, Interim General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“We are delighted to have joined up with Policy Exchange to present this timely and insightful collection of essays on the teacher shortages which are causing such concern across schools and colleges.

“The severity of these shortages is widely recognised, and the challenge now is to find solutions. More needs to be done to incentivise and promote teaching as a career, but it does not end there. We must all do more to create a positive discourse about the profession and about education in general. We have so many great schools and colleges and a career in teaching can be so rewarding and fulfilling. We all need to say so more often.”


For a copy of the report contact Nick Faith on 07960 996 233



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