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London Callings

By Jack Worth and Louis Coiffait

Although the proportions of teachers joining and leaving the profession in London is largely balanced, as in the rest of the country, both occur at higher levels in the capital. New NFER analysis finds that, relative to the rest of England, London faces the greatest challenges retaining its school teachers and leaders. A higher share of working-age staff are leaving to teach elsewhere in England or in other London education jobs, or are becoming unemployed.

Recruitment and retention tops the agenda

The teaching workforce is the biggest issue currently facing the education system according to sources as diverse as ATL, Teaching Leaders, Surrey Headteachers and the National Audit Office. The issue is particularly worrying given the rise in new school places that will be needed as pupil numbers increase.

Last November, NFER published ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’ an analysis of teaching staff (including school leaders and all education phases) joining and leaving the profession in England, including where they go. The analysis was based on Labour Force Survey (LFS) data for 2001–14 and attracted attention, including from the Education Select Committee. In September of this year, the DfE published regional school workforce data for 2010–15 and NFER published follow-up research on retention: Engaging Teachers.

As NFER is providing evidence to the GLA, we looked at what these three sources together might tell us about teachers in one region, London. There is only a sample of 75 London teachers in the LFS who left the profession in that time, so results should be treated as indicative only.

Understanding London’s teacher workforce

The DfE data shows that London schools are relatively well staffed, with some of the lowest pupil-teacher ratios, especially in primary schools, which saw the biggest fall nationwide from 2010 to 2015. It also shows there are more than twice as many unqualified teachers in London primary schools (seven per cent) than England (three per cent) as a whole, and eight per cent versus six per cent in secondaries.

Our earlier research already highlighted the overall rate of teachers leaving the profession (ten per cent), but inner London has the highest rate (over 12 per cent). Combined with London having the smallest proportion of teachers retiring, this finding means more working-age teachers are leaving. Although our follow-up research on retention had no region-specific analysis, it did find some worrying national trends, with a recent increase in teachers considering leaving (from 17 to 23 per cent).

Recruitment is also a challenge for London, especially for primaries, where there are more than twice as many schools with vacancies or temporary staff (15 per cent) compared to England (seven per cent). However, more teachers join the profession in London (14 per cent) than the rest of the country (11 per cent), a smaller proportion of whom are former teachers returning. London is also a net exporter of teachers to the rest of the country, with  ten per cent of London teachers leaving the capital for other schools and eight per cent coming in to London.

This finding suggests London is particularly attractive to new teachers but that many then drift away to teach elsewhere, or away from teaching all together. The Chief Executive of the Ark Academy chain described this in her evidence to the GLA: “We find that we are getting the young teachers who are prepared to come and live like sardines in flat shares and tiny spaces. We can keep those, and they come drawn by the magnet that is London. Our problem is retention”.

The GLA’s ‘Getting Ahead’ programme develops new school leaders and is poised to start its second year. Our research found that nationwide, school leaders are less likely to consider leaving, whereas experienced male teachers are more likely to leave. It also explored the factors that help to retain staff – such as engagement.


We looked at the LFS, to see what London teachers who leave do next. We found that those who left teaching (excluding retirees) were ten percentage points more likely to get a job in the wider London education sector compared to the rest of England, in particular in non-teaching roles, at private schools and as teaching assistants.

By contrast, a smaller proportion took jobs outside education, which is surprising given such a large, lucrative and diverse job market. Although similar proportions of leavers became economically inactive overall, London teachers were more than three times as likely to be unemployed, at 19 per cent versus six per cent nationally.


At the other end of the teacher career journey, we found that new joiners in London (excluding students) were more likely to come from outside education. Again, a similar proportion were economically inactive, but more than twice as many were previously unemployed (14 per cent vs six per cent). This might suggest unemployment is higher in the capital, yet it is currently 1.5 per cent below the national average. This requires further research over the periods in question.

If they leave, teachers work fewer hours but get paid less

When trying to understand why teachers leave, it seems to be about reducing the hours they work rather than getting more money. On average, teachers reduced their hours by 13 per cent compared to those who stayed in the profession. We found a ten per cent drop in wages overall for teachers leaving the profession both in London and the nation, even when accounting for characteristics such as salary, responsibilities, education phase and age.

So what does this initial analysis tell us about the London workforce? That the London workforce has unique features, that the flow of staff joining and leaving the profession in the capital  is higher, that London exports staff elsewhere, and that the leavers who do stay in town tend to stay within the sector. It also highlights some potential risks, with lower retention in London and more leavers becoming unemployed. It’s clear that if London schools are to continue to be international success story, they have to both attract and to retain the staff they need.

First published on the NFER blog November 17 2016


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Learning to love the challenge of teaching

If you believe teaching is a cushy career with long holidays, that particular patch of grass might not be as green as you think. Being a teacher can be a tough job at times and if you only looked in the media, you might miss why nearly half a million people around the country get up each morning to work in our schools. For many of them, it’s not only about helping their students or fellow colleagues but also having a positive impact across the whole school and beyond. I spoke to two teachers and looked at research to learn more about what it means to be both a teacher and a leader in a school these days.

Being that unforgettable teacher for some students
You’ll probably have at least one favourite teacher from your own time at school; somebody who inspired or guided you at a key point in your life. It’s that almost magical feeling of opening young peoples’ eyes to the wonders of the world around them and seeing your students throw themselves into learning that can make teaching so rewarding at times. Conor Heaven, a class teacher and maths subject leader at an infant school in Essex, explains how he was inspired by his year three teacher, Mr Brown, and wanted to be that passionate about learning himself, so others could find those light bulb moments as he did. For some teachers, it’s this feeling alone that keeps them doing what they love, with our research showing that teaching children was the most popular aspect of the job. But for others, as they get more experienced and learn how to have a positive impact on their students, they feel a growing responsibility to share their knowledge and this includes helping their colleagues to become better teachers too. Joanne Gray, head of whole school pastoral care at a special school in Northern Ireland for four to 18-year-olds, talks about the mentoring and support she received from senior colleagues and how she now hopes to pass this on to others.

Keeping on learning yourself
Of course, it’s not all plain sailing. As with other professions, you’ll not only have to work hard to qualify but also to stay on top of the latest evidence and teaching practice. This type of lifelong learning is essential nowadays. Nobody wants to be treated by a doctor with out-of-date knowledge, and the same applies to somebody who teaches your child. This ongoing quest to learn is another motivating aspect of the job for many teachers: learning how best to help different children and to pass that knowledge on to other staff. Joanne describes how satisfying it can be to help colleagues teach those children facing the greatest challenges, such as those coming from a poor household who also have a disability. Similarly, Conor talks about his belief that all children can achieve great things if teachers can help them overcome the particular barriers they face. Our research highlights the importance of school leaders creating dedicated time for all school staff to develop themselves, so they can stay on top of the latest thinking and reflect on their own practice. A teacher is an expert in learning; many of the principles that apply to helping children learn can be applied to adults too.

Knowing your community
There’s growing evidence that the best learning is personalised to an individual’s needs. This is something that can usually only happen if the teacher knows the student, the student’s parents, their colleagues and the wider community. It’s this understanding of the unique context and needs that allows the best teachers to respond accordingly. Conor speaks of the deep relationships a teacher can form with those around them and how these relationships focusing on getting each child to succeed can build up trust. For him, this isn’t just about exam results. It’s also about helping the children to develop human qualities, such as independence, tolerance and respect. Teachers and school leaders are key figures in every local community, with the scope to be positive role models for others.

Experiencing a modern school first-hand
If you’ve not been inside a school since you finished your own education, you’d be amazed how much has changed. There’s lots of information online about getting into teaching and the various routes into the profession. But you can’t beat first-hand experience, so ask your teacher friends how they got into it and what they wish they knew before they took up the role, or contact your local school to find out if they’d be willing to let you visit. You may also consider volunteering as a school governor. Teaching is an amazing career. And who knows, you may end up like Conor and Joanne – the next generation of school leaders. You don’t know until you try.

(a version of this blog first appeared through my former day-job, for the Total Jobs site)

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#CollegeofTeaching (part one): what might the college of teaching mean for middle leaders?

Many of the middle leaders I’ve spoken to recently are uncertain about what’s happening with the college of teaching, what it means for them and how they might get involved. There have been various announcements by government, including some start-up funding and a front-runner group to set it up. There’s also a lively debate happening via blogs, Twitter and beyond.

To set the scene and encourage discussion, I’ve listed 10 questions below for you to answer about what the college of teaching may look like in time and the benefits it could bring to the profession.

  1. What would encourage you to join such a voluntary association of teachers?
  2. Are there useful approaches that work in other countries or walks of life?
  3. How could the college of teaching include both middle and senior leaders without being dominated by them?
  4. What would create a genuine grassroots movement that’s authentic and accessible to teachers everywhere and not just to those in the Westminster bubble? TeachMeets, ResearchED and the various Twitter chats are good examples of how this could be done
  5. Who would ensure the college of teaching is independent of any particular organisational interests, including government, unions and others?
  6. How could it be as transparent and consultative as possible, and engaged with and answerable to a broad membership base across the profession?
  7. How could it be funded in time and would this create the right incentives?
  8. Should it be focused first and foremost on classroom practice and explore leading teaching and learning in time?
  9. What would ensure it’s informed but not dominated by research, data and other forms of evidence? [What gives doctors and their colleges clout is an unassailable grasp of the evidence about what works in their profession. This doesn’t mean they know everything, but it does mean they know best (and certainly more than politicians) .]
  10. How could it raise the standards and capacity of the whole teaching profession?

(a version of this blog first appeared through my former day-job)

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