Why Do Teachers Leave Teaching?

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Why are teachers leaving the profession? And why do some choose to return?

In October 2014, the University of Nottingham was commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) to undertake research on Why Teachers Leave or Return. This report was published by the DfE on 17th December 2015.

I’m not sure if this report tells us anything about the reasons why teachers are leaving the profession, but at least it provides us with some data, and tells us that the DfE are trying to find out reasons. What I’d also like to say, is that we have a duty to communicate information to help address the issue. You will know why I say this once you have read through the findings below.


The first phase, from October 2014 to March 2015, was a pilot study to assess the feasibility of reaching leavers and returners via their schools. The study had endorsement of the major headteacher and teacher unions and associations in England; ASCL, ATL, NAHT, NASUWT, NUT, along with SSAT and the Teacher Support Network.

The feasibility study included four tasks:

  • i) literature review and design of survey and interview instruments;
  • ii) sampling of survey schools;
  • iii) pilot surveys; and
  • iv) interviews of a sub-sample of headteachers, leavers and returners.

Overall Aims:

  • identify the reasons why teachers leave the profession, why some teachers return, and whether reasons vary between different groups of teachers and types of schools;
  • identify the demographic and professional characteristics of teachers who leave and return …
  • assess the quality and effectiveness of teachers leaving and returning;
  • ascertain the destinations of teachers leaving the profession and occupations of returning teachers …
  • identify what challenges there are, if any, for teachers returning …
  • identify the relevant systemic and school level factors which are more likely to attract, retain or lose teachers.


A total of 83 schools out of 652 agreed to participate in the survey (13% of those invited). A total of 68 schools returned a headteacher survey, giving a response rate of 10%.

  • Should we question the number of schools responding to this research?
  • Is 68 responses a valid representation of our schools? And for something to be of value to the DfE?

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Image: Shutterstock

Table 2 below summarises the numbers of two types of schools that agreed to take part in the pilot survey:

DfE School Leavers Research

Table 10 shows a similar pattern in all four Ofsted categories, where only a minority of schools reported they had either a leaver or returner. However, proportionately more schools judged “requires improvement” reported having either a leaver or returner.

DfE School Leavers Research

Does this mean there is more turnover in schools that are judged to be ‘Requires Improvement’? It appears so, but not by any huge proportion (according to the sample).


For future research in this area:

  1. It is advisable to draw upon sampling strategies that facilitate direct access to leavers and returners rather than relying upon accessing headteachers and asking them to disseminate the surveys.
  2. An alternative strategy would be to access a national database on teachers who have left the profession …
  3. Failing this, it may be advisable to draw upon personal relations where possible.
  4. If targeting leavers via schools, it is important to survey them while they are still employed.
  5. The pilot allowed 9 weeks for completion of the survey. A longer survey window could be considered.
  6. The impact of resources might be maximised by targeting telephone and postal activity at those schools.

I think we should complete this research all over again. It tells us very little; schools and teachers have a duty to inform the DfE our genuine reasons for leaving teaching.


Click below to download the full report.

Download here.


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4 thoughts on “Why Do Teachers Leave Teaching?

  1. I left teaching after 7 years, returned 2 years later. A job that paid more money wasn’t emotionally rewarding and I realised that teaching was my calling. The best thing about returning was that I felt re-energized like a new entrant to the profession but I had 7 years worth of skills to call upon. I’m thankful that future employers saw the break from teaching as a strength and not a weakness. This year I will complete my 20th year of teaching.

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