The State of Education: Workload is out of control and driving people out of profession.

The poll, conducted by the National Education Union, surveyed over 8,000 teachers, school leaders and support staff, and found 18% expect to leave the profession in the next two years, while a huge 40% intended to quit in the next five years.

When quizzed on their reasons for leaving, heavy workload was cited by 62% of respondents, and an ‘excessive’ accountability culture by 40%. The survey also found that 56% of school staff felt their work-life balance has deteriorated in the past year, when just 12% thought it had improved.

Baljinder Kuller, Managing Director, The Supply Register, has urged schools and academies to put a greater focus on strategic workforce planning as a solution to the strains causing teachers to quit:

"Unfortunately, while the results of this latest poll do not make for pleasant reading – they don’t come as a surprise. Pressure on teachers has been growing for a long time now and we are now seeing the results of continued inaction around the subject.

"The fact that so many teachers are ready to say goodbye to the profession in the middle of a staffing crisis should not be taken lightly, and will only make the problems facing current teachers even greater.

"At a time when staff are being forced into crowdfunding to pay for their own lessons and teaching equipment – the situation is dire. Without urgent, targeted action aimed at boosting retention, this is unlikely to change.

"While commitments from the department of education to expand flexible working and tackle excessive workload are encouraging, something that is often overlooked, and could alleviate the burden on teachers, is effective workforce planning.

"With a dedicated people strategy, where a comprehensive assessment of resources, spending and effectiveness of recruitment suppliers is examined, schools can begin to deploy existing skills effectively, lessen teacher workload, and pipeline talent for the future.

"This will make tackling the key factors causing teachers to leave far easier, not to mention improving the lives of staff and pupil attainment."

mary bousted

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“Workload in schools remains a significant problem, posing a major threat to schools’ effectiveness and pupils’ learning and is driving the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.

“The workload problem is across the workforce, affecting leaders, teachers and support staff. There is no greater challenge in the teacher recruitment and retention crisis than that of reducing workload and improving the nature of teachers’ work, and the high stakes, low quality accountability system is a huge barrier to achieving this.


“In the National Education Union’s latest survey on workload, released today (16 Apr), there are clear messages from our members about both the quantity of work and the quality of their working lives. Appropriate professional autonomy, application of pedagogy, and use of their knowledge, skills and experience has been eroded by excessive national policy reform and an accountability system that drives bureaucratic evidencing of work rather than prioritising that which makes the biggest impact on teaching and learning. The downward pressure from a national level – Government, and agencies such as Ofsted and Ofqual – must be addressed.

“The linked issues of workload and accountability are the main reasons education professionals don't see themselves working in the sector in the near future: some 40% expecting to depart within 5 years, and 18% think they’ll have left in the next 2 years. Without actually using national policy to drive down workload, the DfE's recruitment and retention strategy won't succeed.

“The Secretary of State’s commitment to addressing the workload problem is a good start but to date government action has been fiddling around the edges as opposed to the bold action that is required. Workload won't come down until the accountability regime is reset and rebalanced so that it can provide reliable assurance that children's education is in safe hands without the detrimental effects on both pupils and teachers of teaching to the test and prioritising tasks, paperwork and data analysis for inspectors above those which support learners.

“No education system can exceed the quality of its teachers: government needs to stop deprofessionalising, demoralising and burning teachers out. We are losing highly committed and highly qualified staff and children are losing out on the education they need.”

“Teachers are becoming increasingly angry about their pay, given the Government’s continuing failure to deliver on workload. The effect of years of cumulative pay cuts is mounting up.  Pay is down by some 15% in real terms since 2010 and continues to fall further behind other professions. 

"A retention crisis is developing in all phases of teaching from newly qualified teachers, through mid-career, to school leaders – 1 in 3 of whom leave their jobs within 3 years of being appointed. The Government’s unprecedented decision to reject the STRB’s recommendations last year and impose a lower pay rise on half the profession was totally misguided. We cannot let that happen again.”

PETER FINEGOLD100X100Regarding the problem of teacher retention, Peter Finegold, Head of Educations & Skills at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers said:

“The problem of teacher retention is especially challenging for engineering related subjects such as science and maths. Analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research shows how those qualified in physics or engineering were 87% more likely to leave teaching within five years than their non-STEM colleagues.

"We believe that offering financial incentives through rewarding early career teachers at key pinch-points will help increase numbers of these vital STEM teachers.

"But it isn’t all about salary incentives. There needs to be greater acknowledgement that teaching in an environment where subject CPD is seen as an intrinsic part of the job – and not a luxury – boosts professional self-esteem and resilience.  

"While we welcome the Government’s Early Careers framework, which will give new teachers an additional year of the kind of professional support they currently only receive in their first year, we should encourage this approach throughout a teacher’s career.”

A DfE spokesperson said:

“The Education Secretary has set out his determination to help teachers and school leaders reduce their workload and we have taken a range of actions to do this. It is an important element of our recently published recruitment and retention strategy.

“We have worked with school leaders and teachers to create a workload reduction toolkit, which provides practical advice and resources that schools can use rather than creating new ones from scratch.

"The workload reduction toolkit has been collectively downloaded over 120,000 times since publication last July.

“We are also tackling excessive data burdens in schools; simplifying the accountability system to target the associated burdens and working with Ofsted to ensure staff workload is considered as part of a school’s inspection judgement.”

Survey of NEU members shows workload is out of control and driving people out of profession.

In advance of the National Education Union’s annual conference, held in Liverpool this week, more than 8,000 teachers, school leaders and support staff from across the UK have made clear their views on the State of Education and the conditions they are having to work under.

Results will be released over the course of conference. Today we focus on the survey findings connected to workload.

Whilst government has been slow to acknowledge the recruitment and retention crisis, the situation has worsened: work-life balance is worse than a year ago and the linked issues of workload and accountability are the main reasons education professionals don’t see themselves working in the sector in the near future.

Should I stay, or should I go?

Two fifths of respondents (40%) predict they will no longer be working in education by 2024, and almost one fifth of all respondents to the survey (18%) expect to be gone within two years.

Where do you see yourself…

In two years’ time?

In five years’ time?

In the same role



Looking for promotion in the same workplace



Looking for promotion elsewhere



Changing role or setting but remaining in education



No longer working in education



Don't know




This is broadly consistent across sectors and job type. However, when broken down by levels of experience (i.e. years worked in education), there is much to concern Government about the plight of recently qualified teachers.

According to our results

  • a startling 26% of those with between 2-5 years’ experience intend to leave education in the next five years.
  • For those with less than 2 years’ experience, this drops to a still significant 15%.

When asked why they would be leaving, workload (62%) and the accountability regime (40%) were the main reasons given. These answers are noticeably more pronounced amongst those respondents with less than 5 years’ experience; workload and accountability rise to 77% and 45% respectively.

“My job is no longer about children. It’s just a 60-hour week with pressure to push children’s achievement data through.”

“Exhausted and fed up with the hours I have to maintain in order to keep abreast of paperwork demands. I love the teaching but have grown tired of how relentless the job has become.”

“With a young family, and despite working part-time, I have come to realise that a job in education is not conducive to family life.”

“Working 70 hours a week for many years has meant my health and family life have suffered.  I am getting out before the job kills me.”

When asked what would make their job better in the next 12 months, many respondents referred to being micro-managed:

“To be trusted more as a professional and scrutinised less.  The amount of monitoring in our school is excessive.”

Work-Life Balance

“I am so tired.”

  • 56% of respondents believe their work-life balance has got worse or much worse in the past year.
  • 31% believe it has stayed the same, while just 12% think it has got better or much better.

The worsening was broadly consistent regardless of time spent in schools/colleges – e.g. those who have worked in education for less than two years reported very similarly (57%) to those with two decades or more professional experience (56%).

Work life balance

When broken down by job type, the deterioration is noticeably worse for senior leadership (66%) and heads of department/middle leaders (66%). 38% of support staff report being worse off, with a further 52% - higher than any other job type – reporting a work-life balance consistent with two years ago.

Work life balance2

According to sector, college staff report a slightly worse overall picture than those working in other phases.

When asked “what would be the one thing that would make your job better in the next 12 months?” the individual responses were dominated by calls for a reduction in workload. Common were the complaints about the heavy marking and reporting and assessment workload. Many of the responses reflected a concern that the accountability regime both from Whitehall and within schools was damaging learning. One wrote:

“Less assessment for pupils, it creates too much pressure on pupils and creates too much marking for teaching, which is taking away from valuable lesson planning, which would be much more beneficial for pupils.”

Another said: “Trust being given back to the teachers. Less paper pushing and more focus on the children. Less emphasis on SATs results.”

Workload won't come down until the accountability regime is reset and rebalanced so that it can provide reliable assurance that children's education is in safe hands without the detrimental effects on both pupils and teachers of teaching to the test and prioritising tasks, paperwork and data analysis for inspectors above those to support learners.


When asked what caused them stress, respondents identified very strongly with workload and workload-related issues in their multiple-choice answers.

Causes of Stress

There is some variation across the results when broken down by job type, but for senior staff and classroom teachers the top four issues remain the same. Support staff are more likely to be stressed by personal finances.

“Teaching is a subtle skill. Not everything can be evidenced. Teaching has been reduced to a set of tasks and of evidencing the carrying out of tasks.”

“There is just a constant adding to the load and half of it really doesn’t make you a better teacher or give the children a better education…”

“My personal life doesn’t exist anymore.”

“I stopped class teaching and returned to a supporting role because of an horrendous work-life balance of stresses and pressures of teaching, planning, assessing and marking – I was working 12-15 hours a day at least 6 days a week.”

“These are what prevent me going back into full-time headship with a young family. I used to love the job apart from the above…”

     Commenting on the survey results, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“It is clear from our survey that the Government is doing a far better job of driving teachers out of the profession than they are solving the issue of excessive workload. Damian Hinds has made many of the right noises about fixing the problem, but he and his predecessors have achieved very little.

“The fundamental problem, as the results of our survey shows, is one of excessive accountability brought on by the DfE and Ofsted. The blame is at their door. So long as the main drivers of a performance-based system are still in place, schools will continue to be in the grip of a culture of fear, over-regulation, and a lack of trust.

“We need drastic action and a major rethink from Government if we are to stop the haemorrhaging of good teachers from the profession. Action so far – including clarification documents endorsed by the NEU – has not made the difference. It continues to be a case of fiddling at the edges.”

Our survey of 8,674 members in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland was conducted between 28 March and 3 April 2019. Over half of the respondents (53%) are classroom teachers and around a quarter (26%) are in head of department or leadership roles, including head teachers. The sample works in a range of school and college settings, including primary (37%) and secondary (42%).

Fair Pay for Teachers

NEU members have voted to reject the Government’s policy on teachers’ pay, including its unprecedented decision to reject the recommendations of the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) on the 2018 pay increase, its attempt to constrain the STRB in its recommendations this year, and its continuing push to restrict pay progression and even deny the right to a cost of living pay increase.

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