Are record numbers of teachers leaving the profession?

Published: 30th May 2012


"The number of teachers quitting before reaching retirement age has reached a record high"

The Independent on Sunday, 27 May 2012

This weekend the Independent on Sunday reported that the number of teachers leaving work before they reach the official retirement agehad hit a record high of 8,880 in 2010/11, as "thousands of staff are driven out by plummeting morale and stiffer pension rules".

This followed stories that surfaced earlier this year the Independent, Daily Mail and the Telegraph reporting a similar phenomenon. So what are the facts?


The Independent claimed that in 2010-11 there were 9,370 'early retirements' due to ill health and teachers choosing to retire before they reach official retirement age, known as 'premature retirements'. This figure accounted for almost half the total numbers of those retiring in that year.

The paper also claimed that between 1998-99 and 2010-11 the number of teachers retiring due to sickness fell from 2,280 to 490 and the number of premature retirements rose from 2,370 to 8,880.

When we got in touch with the Independent over the source of these figures they kindly provided us with tables from the Department of Education.

These do indeed show that in 2010/11 the number of teachers who retired prematurely was 8,880 and that 490 retired due to ill health. The combined total of 9,370 is just under half the number of retirements, which stood at 20,450.

The graph below represents the number of teachers retiring due to ill health.

As you can see between 1998/9 and 2010/11 the number of teachers retiring due to ill health did fall from 2,280 to 490 as the Independent claims.

However it is worth noting that on 1 April 1997 new regulations were introduced that made changes to the way that teachers could retire on health grounds. As we can see from the graph, the steepest reductions took place around this period.

The graph below represents the number of premature retirements, those where a teacher retires before reaching retirement age.

As you can see the number of premature retirements has risen from 2,370 in 1998/99 to 8,880 in 2010-11 as the Independent claimed.

However, this figure is not a "record high" as reported in the paper. In both 1996/97 and 1997/98 more teachers retired prematurely: 10,210 and 11,350 respectively.

Again, a factor in play here is changes that were made to the Teachers' Pensions scheme in 1997. This may have both artificially inflated the number of retirements preceding the change, and deflated the number choosing to hang up their mortarboards in the subsequent years.

It is also worth noting that the figures for 2010/11 may be affected by the fact that since 2007/08 the figure for premature retirement has included the number of 'phased retirements'. This means that since that year figures on the number of teachers retiring prematurely may include teachers who are still drawing their pensions while still working. This was not mentioned by the Independent, and may mean that recent data isn't comparable to earlier figures.


The Independent on Sunday has accurately reported the number of premature retirements and retirements due to ill health in 2010/11 and in 1997/98.

However, there are a number of problems associated with the sort of comparisons it goes on to make.

Firstly it isn't inaccurate to say that the figure 2010-11 was a "record high" as both the figures for 1996-97 and 1997-98 were higher due to changes to the Teacher Pension Scheme in 1997.

But even leaving this aside, the data could well be distorted both by the impact of the 1997 changes to the Teachers' Pensions scheme, and the inclusion of phased retirements into the figures in 2007/08.


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