Do 40% of new teachers in England leave within a year?

27 July 2015

"Four in 10 new teachers 'quit within a year', union warns", Daily Telegraph, 31 March 2015.

"I strongly refute the 40 per cent figure." Nicky Morgan MP, Secretary of State for Education quoted in the Daily Telegraph, 26 July 2015.

Four in 10 new teachers quit within a year. That was the story in the Guardian, Mail, Times, BBC, Independent as well as the Telegraph back in March. It was based on analysis by education union the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), mentioned in a speech at their annual conference.

There has been an increase in teachers not showing up in the pension records a year after qualifying (meaning that they've left within a year). But because this comes from a data source with known issues, the figure could overstate the problem of teachers leaving the profession.

Other data suggests that the proportion of teachers not teaching within six months of starting is the lowest it's been for nearly ten years. Without better data, it's impossible to know for sure.

Pensions data suggests more teachers are not entering the profession at all

The claim suggests that newly qualified teachers (NQTs) are getting their first job then quitting by the end of their first full year in teaching. According to the Department for Education (DfE), the proportion of teachers who've done this has remained at about 12-13% since 2010. So on this basis—the figures to which Ms Morgan refers in the Telegraph—it looks like this claim is just wrong.

But there's another way that new teachers can leave the profession: by simply not entering it. After qualifying, NQTs can apply for a job in a state school or they can 'leave' for a role in an independent school or a different career entirely. DfE figures suggest that the proportion of teachers leaving before getting their first job has increased from 12% in 2005 to 30% in 2012.

The figure of 40% comes from combining these two opportunities for teachers to leave the sector (and is based on previous data as the 2012 data had not been published). But the data this is based on comes from the database of teacher records (DTR), a record of individual teachers enrolled in the Teachers' Pension Scheme. It misses out teachers who opt out of the pension scheme, so it may underestimate the number of teachers still in the profession.

Teacher training data suggests fewer teachers are leaving within six months of starting

But this estimate may be too pessimistic, according to data from the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL), which gathers information about trainee teachers directly from their training providers. Their most recent figures, for 2012-13, suggest that up to 15% of teachers are not teaching in a state school within six months of starting.

The exact figure depends on how unknown results are treated, and could be as low as 8% when excluding them. This 8% is the lowest proportion seen since 2002/03, and represents a fall from a peak of 14% in 2010/11. These figures exclude trainees such as those on Teach First and those who are self-funded, so they don't give us the full picture.

ATL's figure suggests a different scale for the problem, but doesn't include those who leave between six months and one year after starting their first teaching job.

In response to Nicky Morgan's criticism of the claim, ATL director general Dr Mary Bousted said in the Telegraph that "Nicky Morgan can deny there is a teaching recruitment crisis as long as she likes but the fact is that headteachers up and down the country can't get teachers in the core subjects" and that "classes are being doubled up". See our articles on school places and unqualified teachers for more information on these issues.

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