The Great Resignation is here – but is it here to stay?

Teacher Tapp research shows concerns about headteacher resignations are well-founded but that the impacts may be mitigated in the short term, writes Iain Ford

Teacher Tapp research shows concerns about headteacher resignations are well-founded but that the impacts may be mitigated in the short term, writes Iain Ford

9 May 2022, 5:00

A trend is sweeping across the economy: people are leaving their jobs at higher rates than ever before. Dubbed ‘the Great Resignation’, research shows there’s cause for concern for schools too; the number of headteachers leaving their roles within five years of starting is on the rise.

The wider picture tells a story of post-Covid recovery, greater remote working opportunities and wage stagnation. And similar arguments are put forward to explain the observed increase in headteacher resignations (along with the ever-present workload factor).

It is difficult to say how long the Great Resignation will last. However, recent Teacher Tapp data can help shine a light on the matter.

A bleak outlook

Over the past four years, Teacher Tapp has been tracking teachers’ career intentions. At the most recent time of asking, 70 per cent said they would “most likely” still be teaching in three years ̶ lower than at any time pre-2022. And the picture is bleaker for headteachers, just 60 per cent of whom say they will “most likely” be in post in three years.

It’s not all that surprising. Throughout the pandemic, all teachers have reported an increase in the amount of time they’re working each week. For headteachers in particular, between eight and ten per cent now regularly work 70 or more hours a week.

The pressure on headteachers is also incredibly high, and has only increased over the past two years. In 2019, 47 per cent said the job’s stress levels were unacceptable. In 2021, it was 76 per cent of female and 45 per cent of male heads. It’s fairly clear to see that the nature of the job has become more intense.

Despite the hours and stress levels, headteachers are the most positive among the profession about the impact they’re having. And in any given week, two-thirds report enjoying their jobs that week – a greater percentage than any other post. Levels of satisfaction are similarly higher than others in education.

On balance then, it appears that a combination of the hours and pressure is what leads headteachers to say poor work-life balance will ultimately result in them wanting to leave their role.

But mind the gaps

The intention to leave is a very different prospect to actually leaving. In fact, many teachers choose to remain in post because they can’t match their salaries elsewhere. Fifty-nine per cent of heads say they will leave if they can find a role that matches their salary. (The same percentage of middle and senior leaders also say this.)

Many teachers in all positions have come to terms with the fact that they initially will have to take a pay cut. Eighty-four per cent don’t believe that they can get a higher wage outside of teaching than they are currently on – at least to start with.

This mixture of push and pull factors makes it difficult to predict how the Great Resignation will play out in education. But imagine the worst happens and all those headteachers thinking about leaving actually do: who fills the void?

Five per cent of teachers and middle leaders say that they definitely want to take up that lead role one day. A further 20 per cent don’t rule out the possibility. And while these numbers appear small, they are all that would be required.

However, there is a huge disparity between male and female teachers’ ambitions. Almost twice as many male teachers say they want the top job: 37 per cent of them against 20 per cent of their female colleagues.

So with working hours longer than ever before, and stress levels among the highest they’ve been, it’s reasonable to assume the Great Resignation will continue for some time. The saving grace – at least for now – is that there are people willing to fill the vacancies.

But this could have implications for gender representation (and potentially other forms too), and must surely affect the profession’s store of experienced leadership.

And given the latest teacher recruitment figures from NFER’s Jack Worth, it’s worth noting there is only so long this carousel can go on.

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