Thinking of Leaving Teaching?
Teacher - A Job for Life

Teaching – It’s No Longer A Job For Life

Today, more and more people are leaving teaching in their 40s and 50s; it is no longer a job for life. Data from the Department for Education, published June 2017 shows that there had been a large change in the percentage of FTE (full time equivalent) teachers aged between 50 and 60. In 2010, 21.7% per cent of FTE teachers were aged 50 to 60. By 2016, this had reduced to 15.6%.

Meme showing Bugsy Malone actors as SLT. "The atmosphere was electric as SLT discussed the latest strategy to get rid of the remaining UPS3s".

Decreasing number of older teachers

Data from the Department for Education, published June 2019 showed that, by 2018, the percentage of FTE (full time equivalent) teachers aged between 50 and 60 had reduced slightly to 15.3%. However, that percentage includes Heads, Deputy Heads and Assistant Heads. Looking at classroom teachers alone, the percentage drops to 11.5%.

UK School Workforce 2016
Age of school teachers in the UK School Workforce – 2016

In July 2019, a new teachers’ pay deal was announced that will increase pay for all teachers and school leaders by 2.75 per cent from September. However, only 0.75% of this would be funded, meaning that school leaders & Governors would have to find the other 2% themselves.

School budget cuts

School budget cuts since 2010 have meant that many schools are in difficult financial circumstances and some have already had to make redundancies. In some schools, experienced, but expensive, teachers have been made redundant or have been managed out. Unfortunately, this has had an impact on the retention of experienced teachers in the profession.

More recent statistics published by the Department for Education show that the number of teachers and support staff over the age of 45 has steadily decreased since 2011.

Ageism in Schools

Ageism is rife in teaching and, once you reach your 40s, you will be expensive. Many teachers over 45 have complained to me about being “managed out” of schools. These are not low-performing teachers. They are teachers who have usually been graded as Good/Outstanding teachers throughout their careers and consistently achieve excellent results from pupils.

How this happens is by observing the teacher and pointing out a few areas for improvement. They are placed on a “support plan” to improve which becomes all-consuming. Once they’ve demonstrated improvement in one area, the focus will shift to another area for improvement. This cycle will continue and will grind the teachers down until they feel they can’t stay anymore.

Reasons for leaving teaching

Reasons that teachers give for leaving teaching include workload and bureaucracy, stress and related health problems, and bullying from senior management. The problem is that if an experienced teacher on, say, UPS3 is suffering from bullying in a toxic school, it is very difficult to get out especially if they are looking for promotion elsewhere as Head of Department. This is because there are fewer Head of Department jobs than main scale jobs and ageism is rife in teaching.

I was invited for an interview for a Head of Department post for ICT. There were three other candidates; a man and a woman who, like me, were over 40 and a 23-year-old who was in his 2nd year of teaching. The day consisted of a lesson observation and an interview with a pupil panel. I wasn’t interviewed by any adults. The pupil panel consisted of a boy and girl from Year 7 and 3 girls from Years 8 to 10. The 23-year-old David Beckham lookalike got the job. In the debrief was that the pupils said they thought I looked strict and the non-ICT specialist who observed my 30-minute ICT lesson had fed back that there wasn’t enough differentiation. I got the idea for the lesson plan from ICT specialist, Matt Britland, who wrote for The Guardian! Other expensive teachers have complained to me that the same has happened to them on interviews.

I set up the Facebook page, “Thinking of Leaving Teaching“, in 2017 to help people who were thinking of leaving teaching but had no idea what to do next. The idea was that by sharing experiences of leaving teaching it would help unhappy teachers start to think about what else they could do. If you’ve had enough, need to escape from a toxic school, and are thinking of leaving teaching then the Thinking of Leaving Teaching Group might be a good place to get some ideas. It is a safe place for people to ask for help and advice, discuss topics and share opinions about jobs you can do if you leave teaching.