How can we encourage people to join and stay in the teaching profession?

With an upcoming increase in the school age population, and statistics showing that rising workloads are driving teachers away from the profession, it is crucial to understand what will attract teachers to – and keep them in – the profession.

Compiled in partnership by ‘think and action-tank’ LKMco and education company Pearson, ‘Why Teach’ explores why people choose to go into teaching and remain there.

The findings are based on a YouGov survey of over 1,000 current teachers in England (from those in Early Years though to Further Education), focus groups and interviews with over 40 teachers and school leaders and an international literature review of existing research on the topic.

What attracts teachers to the profession?

Belief in their ability, making a difference, working with young people, subject interest

The most common reason for going in to teaching, for those surveyed, is that people think they will be good at it, with 93% saying it was an important reason for choosing teaching.

A desire to make a difference in pupils’ lives and to work with young people also plays a critical role – with 60% and 51% respectively saying these factors were very important reasons. Conversely, only 17% said the longer holidays were.

Primary teachers surveyed are particularly motivated by the desire to work with young people (94% of primary teachers compared to 87% of secondary teachers), while secondary teachers are more motivated to join the profession through an interest in their subject (95% of Secondary teachers compared to 83% of Primary teachers).

The role of subject interest also varies across subjects – it plays a very important role in the motivations of the vast majority of History (86%), MFL (79%) and Music (81%) teachers, but is often less important for STEM teachers (eg Maths (59%), ICT (48%), Science (63%)).

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What motivates teachers to stay in the profession?

Having an impact, making a difference, practical concerns like holidays and pay

Teachers surveyed primarily stay in teaching when they feel they are having an impact, with 92% saying the opportunity to make a difference in pupils’ lives was an important motivation. Teachers spoke about the power of ‘lightbulb moments’ and the ‘daily challenge’, which kept the role a ‘living job’ and meant they could see their impact.

Practical concerns like holidays and pay became far more important for respondents once they entered the profession, with 65% saying it was an important factor for them staying in teaching, compared to just 52% who said it was important on their initial decision to choose teaching.

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Why do teachers consider leaving the profession?

Workload, poor leadership and insufficient pay

More than half (59%) of teachers surveyed have considered leaving in the past 6 months.

Workload is the primary reason for this, with 76% citing this as a reason.

Being unhappy with the quality of leadership and management (43%) and insufficient pay (43%) are also important reasons.

Poor pupil behaviour is an issue for more than a quarter (27%) of respondents who considered leaving – and this is the case for primary teachers, not just secondary teachers.

Much-needed science teachers are most likely to have considered leaving teaching and Maths teachers are the least likely (67% compared to 49%).

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What factors affect where teachers decide to teach?

Practical concerns such as commutability and family location

Teachers generally stay in the region where they grew up, with 52% of those surveyed saying it was important to be near family.

When asked what may encourage them to move, school culture and ethos, commutability and quality of life are the most important factors considered (with 76%, 76% and 75% respectively citing these factors).




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There are many different types of teacher

Policies that target the teacher labour market should take into account the fact that the profession is not homogenous. The research identifies four broad and overlapping teacher types which we hope will ensure policy makers, educationalists and school leaders better understand the school workforce:

  • PRACTITIONERS:These teachers are particularly motivated by a desire to teach and to work with children
  • MODERATES:These teachers are moderately influenced by a broad range of factors
  • IDEALISTS:These teachers want to make a difference to society
  • RATIONALISTS:These teachers tend to carefully weigh up a combination of pragmatic, personal and social-justice related factors
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LKMco report co-author Dr Meenakshi Parameshwaran explains more about teacher types and the data behind them.

What type of teacher are you? Take our short quiz to find out!

At the Sunday Times Festival of Education this year we asked over 20 teachers what motivated them to join the profession - see what they said:


About Pearson

Pearson is the world’s leading learning company, with 40,000 employees in more than 80 countries working to help people of all ages to make measurable progress in their lives through learning.

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About LKMco

LKMco is an education and youth development ‘think and action tank’. We believe society has a duty to ensure children and young people receive the support they need in order to make a fulfilling transition to adulthood.

We work towards this vision by helping education and youth organisations develop, evaluate and improve their work with young people. We then carry out academic and policy research and advocacy that is grounded in our experience.