Better part-time opportunities needed for secondary school teachers

24 October 2017

The Government and stakeholders in the secondary sector need to urgently look at identifying ways in which more and better part-time working can be accommodated in secondary schools, a new report funded by the Nuffield Foundation recommends.

Researchers at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) found that secondary teachers who are employed part-time tend to have higher rates of leaving the profession than part-time primary teachers, as well as full-time teachers.

The Teacher Retention and Turnover Research: Interim Report also found that primary schools seem to be better able to accommodate part-time employment than secondary schools. There is a considerably higher proportion of part-time teachers in the primary sector compared to secondary schools. This gap persists when comparing teachers by age, gender and the number and age of their children. One in four teachers in the primary sector is part-time compared to about one in seven in the secondary sector.

Additional teachers will be needed to cope with the rising number of secondary school pupils, at a time when retaining teachers is one of the top challenges faced by schools. With workload cited as one of the reasons for teachers leaving the profession, greater flexibility over working patterns may incentivise former teachers to return to work part-time. Part-time opportunities may also encourage current teachers who are at risk of leaving the profession to stay.

NFER Chief Executive, Carole Willis, said of NFER’s findings: “For many teachers, balancing a demanding work environment with a personal life can be challenging. As our report suggests, one solution to this issue is greater flexibility. Identifying ways in which more and better part-time working can be accommodated in secondary schools could help to alleviate teacher supply challenges in England. Offering part-time opportunities to teachers may not only improve work-life balance but also attract back former teachers into the profession.

“We recognise there could be logistical challenges faced by schools in accommodating more part-time teachers, but finding a way to overcome these difficulties may provide a major boost to teacher supply.”

Using data from the School Workforce Census, the report explores factors associated with teacher retention and turnover and offers recommendations for policymakers with an emphasis on retention. It is the latest paper in a programme of major research funded by the Nuffield Foundation to gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics within the teaching workforce in England. Other key findings with recommendations from the report include:

  • The Government should explore why the rate at which older teachers have been leaving the profession increased between 2010 and 2015 and explore whether they could be incentivised to stay in the profession longer, particularly in subjects with specialist teacher shortages.
  • There appears to be little evidence to date that multi-academy trusts (MATs) are better able to retain teachers by providing opportunities to move within their structure. Leaders of MATs should do more to promote the benefits of working in their organisation to their teachers; for example, by raising the profile of the MAT as the structure that teachers belong to.
  • The teacher supply challenge in London is particularly acute when compared to other geographic areas. Policymakers should look at how policy interventions, such as housing subsidies, could help to retain teachers in high-cost areas.

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation said: “The shortage of teachers and the fact that they are increasingly likely to leave the profession is one of the most serious problems facing our education system, particularly in a context of rising numbers of pupils. We welcome government plans to offer more financial incentives for teachers in shortage subjects, but this new evidence from NFER shows that non-financial benefits, such as part-time and flexible working are also important for retaining good teachers in our schools.”

This research is already having an influence. NFER’s first working paper of this series reported that some subjects are more affected than others by teachers leaving the profession, with science and modern foreign language (MFL) teachers most likely to leave. This report suggested that bursary payments may be more effective if they are restructured to explicitly incentivise retention in the teaching profession during the first few years after training. In line with this recommendation, the Government recently announced a pilot to reimburse student loans for science and MFL teachers and introduce bursaries for maths teachers that include retention payments.