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Why do teachers quit and what could help them to stay?

Georgina Newton

I recently conducted a study on the reported “national scandal” of teachers leaving the profession. For example, 40% of teachers are found to leave within their first five years (Wilshaw, 2014). My study sought to understand not only what makes teachers quit but also what can be done to encourage them to stay in the profession.

A mixed methods research design was used, with 238 online survey respondents and 5 semi-structured interviews to gain individuals’ perspectives on their choices to remain in teaching or choose an alternative career path. The presence of “push” factors out of the teaching profession as well as “pull” factors towards seemingly more lucrative or attractive careers was acknowledged. Comparisons with the USA were unavoidable, since the shortage of teachers there has been well-documented over the last 20 years and the work of Ingersoll (2002), Faber (2010) and Day (2013) was used to further understand aspects of teachers’ working lives. It was noted that “pull” factors are more prevalent in the USA, but that they are on the increase in the UK possibly due to the stagnation of teacher pay.

My study examined policy factors, school factors and personal factors which contribute to attrition and asked how these can be mitigated to maintain a positive professional identity and sustained career commitment. Conclusions were drawn which have implications for teacher education, institutional policies and national education policy.

I found in my 2016 study that teachers in the UK are equally likely to quit, whether in years 2-5, 6-10 or 11-15 of teaching.


Teachers appeared to be able to identify when they are ‘losing their touch’ in the classroom, or, in the case of early career teachers, where they have not developed the art of teaching sufficiently. Participants in my study suggested they were increasingly willing to consider alternatives to teaching at all stages of their career. This finding should begin to dispel the accepted norm that teachers usually face their biggest career crossroads after around 12 years in the profession (Day, 2007). My study suggests that the group of teachers most likely to quit in the next two years comprises females between the ages of 30 and 39. Workload and disillusionment were the biggest “push” factors but one of the most cited factors that they would like to see improved about their working lives is being able to work more flexibly. Other improvement factors identified were better relationships with their leadership teams and experiencing a greater sense of appreciation and value. These were even noted to reduce the negative effect of high workload.

At school level, this means leadership teams would be well advised to develop:

  • sustainable patterns of working for part time staff and those with caring responsibilities outside of school. If developed well, this could lead to over 84% remaining for an additional 2 years and over 34% for more than 7 more years. This will be prioritised in a discussion with the All Party Parliamentary Group for the teaching profession in November 2016.
  • a caring and value-centred approach to staff (Myatt, 2015) with praise and recognition being important factors for effective retention strategies.

For policy makers there should be:

  • development of a system which uses the Teacher Registration Number (TRN) to track which schools are losing the most teachers from the education system
  • reluctance to enter into policy shift which could cause an increase of “pull” factors away from teaching, for example a move to expansion of grammar schools, which could either cause teachers to migrate to the selective sector or to private 11+ tuition.



Day, C. (2007). Variations in the Conditions for Teachers’ Professional Learning and Development: Sustaining Commitment and Effectiveness over a Career. Oxford Review of Education, 423-443.

Day, C. (2007). Sustaining Resilience. London: Sage.

Day, C. (2013). Challenges to Teacher Resilience. British Educational Research Journal Vol. 39, No.1, 22-44.

Faber, K. (2010). Why Great Teachers Quit and How We Might Stop the Exodus. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Ingersoll, R. (2002). The Teacher Shortage: A Case of Wrong Diagnosis and Wrong Prescription. American Educational Research Journal, 16-26.

Myatt, M. (2015, Dec 31). Mary Myatt. Retrieved Oct 10, 2016, from Mary Myatt Blog – Radical Candour:

Wilshaw, M. (2014). North of England Education Conference 2014. Nottingham.