Life lesson: two MPs on how to keep teachers in the profession

Posted On: 
11th January 2018

As fears grow over a ‘retention crisis’ in secondary schools, Mike Kane and William Wragg – two ex-teachers turned MPs – discuss the causes of teacher dissatisfaction, and what government can do to put them right 

Mike Kane and William Wragg were both teachers before entering politics
PA Images


There is a growing body of evidence which shows our teachers work longer hours, have lower salaries and have fewer opportunities for professional development than their counterparts around the world.

Data from the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) suggested our secondary school teachers are now working more than 48 hours a week, which is significantly more (19% longer) than the average elsewhere. And, one in five teachers are working in excess of 60 hours in a typical week. The data also shows new teachers in the UK are paid less than their OECD counterparts, with starting salaries 16% lower than the average reported in the survey, and Labour research shows that the average teacher has lost £5,000 a year in real terms since 2010.

Whilst I know from my own personal experience as a teacher that the professional rewards from teaching can be immense, too many are leaving the profession – with only 48% of UK teachers in the survey reporting more than 10 years’ experience. I hear from teachers on the frontline that real terms funding cuts, pay stagnation and workload pressures are driving them away.

With such a haemorrhaging of skills and experience from the profession we have a looming crisis in school leadership which the government is not addressing.

This is being compounded by the fact that the government has failed for the fifth year in a row to meet its own Initial Teacher Training targets. Whilst the Secretary of State cites figures stating the number of teachers in state funded schools has increased by 15,500 (3.5%), I fear the bigger picture of the reduction in the number of secondary school teachers by 10,800 (4.9%), set against rising pupil numbers is being lost.

It is of course right that action should be taken on teacher recruitment but without turning off the tap of teachers leaving the profession this will have little to no impact.

Teachers need better and more accessible CPD throughout their careers, not just at the outset. This requires proper resourcing, yet with the government refusing to acknowledge the impact of real terms cuts to school budgets we are going to see further staffing cuts in our schools in the years ahead. This in turn will create greater workload pressures, reduced time for professional development resulting in low morale and disillusioned teachers leaving the profession. The tap will continue to leak.

So, what can be done to stop the drain and address the crisis our schools are facing? I believe we need to return teaching to a high-status profession. We need to invest in good teachers, we need to select from the highest achieving students and we need to ensure training salaries make the profession an appealing choice. We need to introduce an appraisal system that rewards teacher contributions, in and out of the classroom and we need to review the training pathways into the classroom.

We also need to address the monster in the room. Ofsted has created a data collection monster in our schools. One which eats into teacher time with little or no impact on standards in the classroom. Our teachers spend a similar amount of time teaching to their European counterparts but where it all falls apart is the amount of time teachers here spend on feeding the data monster to satisfy their school leaders.  We need an accountability framework which is valid, reliable and does not deter teachers and school leaders from working in challenging schools.

If we recruit the brightest and best, if we then give them academically rigorous training and the respect and autonomy in the workplace that professionals command, then they can really make a difference in our classrooms.

That is how we ensure that we have skilled and motivated teachers to lead our schools and raise standards. 

Mike Kane is Labour MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East and Shadow Minister for Schools


In education, the Three Rs are now two. Even those with a passing interest in the subject will have heard the alliterative phrase of ‘Recruitment and Retention’ roll off the tongue of education commentators, union leaders, and even government ministers. Yes, it appears that in this instance, rote learning really is working – or at least it’s easy to parrot the phrase if it’s heard often enough.

However, the key test is how much the phrase has been understood and translated into reality. As a member of the Education Select Committee, I see this as the crucial area of concern for the teaching profession. Essentially, any discussion of ‘Recruitment and Retention’ is asking what are the causes of teacher dissatisfaction and how can they be put right? We have to focus on this to ensure a satisfied and productive workforce that can give their very best for their students.

From the short time I spent in the classroom before coming to Westminster, I can tell you that teachers work hard. In fact, they don’t just work hard, they toil to the point of near exhaustion. Whenever I hear people express the view that teachers work from 9 o’clock until the bell at 3pm, and spend a quarter of the year on holiday, I cannot help but launch into a fury.

A high workload is not just shared staff-room moaning, and strained stress-levels are not just something ‘to put up with’ in the profession. The constant Ofsted Readiness and high stakes accountability adds to the pressure and when it comes back to the Two Rs, a high workload is the reason cited by three-quarters of teachers leaving. It is no surprise then that teachers who leave, on average, take a 10% cut in pay in their next job for a 10-15% cut in working hours.

Understanding that teachers are not just leaving for pay, or that there are subject and regional factors, goes a long way to produce relevant interventions, which is why the Education Select Committee has recommended carrying out exit interviews.

This is the evidence-based response needed. The Committee collected evidence over the past two years for the report ‘Recruitment and Retention of Teachers’, published earlier this year. The report highlights how schools are constantly playing catch-up to sweeping policy proposals and efforts to improve the Two Rs are often implemented inconsistently.

Improvements are being made in education thanks to government policy. However, continual overarching change makes retention difficult. Schools need some stability so that practises introduced over the past two parliaments can be properly consolidated. The profession needs space to understand best practice in new areas. For example, the majority of teachers now train via school-led routes such as Teach First or School Direct.

Facing the Two Rs in an evidence-based manner means understanding the subject, regional and demographic influences. Whilst recruiting targets were met for primary school teachers, as well as Geography, Biology and History teachers, targets for Computing and STEM subjects were not. The governmental interventions of recruitment will never compound the exogenous market, where there are too many competitive STEM jobs across the economy and too few STEM graduates (as to meet teacher targets, schools would need 1 in 25 history graduates but for maths and physics they would 1 in every 5 graduates). There have been a number of incentives which will be assessed for their effectiveness next year, such as enhanced bursaries for specialist shortage subjects.

Although I unfortunately contribute to the statistic for the number of teachers leaving the profession – 10% of teachers leave within one year of qualifying and 30% within five years – I am confident that building on the insight of teachers we can ensure teaching is fit for current teachers, future graduates, and the projected growth of pupil numbers. This is time to consolidate government efforts and trust teachers to teach. 

William Wragg is Conservative MP for Hazel Grove