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Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 13:30 GMT
'Myth' that teachers are quitting
ralph tabberer forum
BBC News Online users quizzed Ralph Tabberer
Click here to watch the Forum.
Click here for a transcript.

The head of the Teacher Training Agency has said it is "a bit of a myth" that teachers are quitting any more than people in any other profession.

Sometimes we beat ourselves up as if there are some special things about teaching which are dreadful

Answering e-mails from BBC News Online users, Ralph Tabberer said the profession's retention rate was "very high" compared with other professions.

Many e-mails had made the point that although pay was an issue, teachers' workload was one of the biggest drains on their morale.

Mr Tabberer said he had "a lot of sympathy" with this: People often told him that they did not mind working hard but wanted to play hard, too - and have the time to do so.

'Free teachers to teach'

He said efforts had been made to reduce the bureaucratic burden on teachers, such as by employing more classroom and administrative assistants.

That wonderful sense at the end of every day that you did something to affect somebody's life

"It is very important. We want to free our teachers to teach," he said.

But he also said it was "a bit of a myth" that teachers tended to quit any more than people in other professions.

When they did leave it was very often down to poor management, as in any line of work.

"Sometimes we beat ourselves up as if there are some special things about teaching which are dreadful," he said.

But there were positive and negative sides in any job.

'Think of the positive'

"Fewer people leave teaching so probably we've got the balance about right."

So was he saying, in effect, that teachers were a bunch of whingers?

"I have heard that expression used sometimes," he said.

"Again I get to see maybe a lot of people who are more positive. The press presentation always picks up the bad news stories - it is bound to happen.

"Most people who know their local school are proud of their school, they like the teachers, they like the environment and I would ask them to think about that when they are thinking of coming into teaching because that is a better representation of the real status and the real enjoyment that there is within the career."

To a maths and English teacher who had left for a more lucrative job, Mr Tabberer said there were things which made teaching special.

'Making a difference'

"The thing you are going to find when you move out of teaching is you lose that wonderful sense at the end of every day that you did something to affect somebody's life.

"There's a sense in teaching that you don't get anywhere else."

He said he was pleased with the government's latest initiative - writing off the student loans of those who train in shortage subjects.

The plan is that those who become teachers of English, maths, science, modern languages and technology will see 10% of their loans cancelled for each year they stay in teaching.

To users who had suggested that the scheme should apply to all trainee teachers, Mr Tabberer pointed out that it was a matter for consultation.

"It's an exciting idea and a very welcome idea, and it will be very interesting to see whether other people suggest it should be broadened," he said.

Pensions idea

He confirmed that the government is considering letting retired teachers keep their pensions yet return to the classroom full time.

The idea was being "actively considered" as one way of tackling the teacher shortage.

We're not complacent, there's a lot more we've got to do, but I think we are turning a corner

One News Online user from Durham observed that thousands of experienced teachers were "forcibly retired" in the 1990s when the number of children in school dropped.

"Many of us are working for part of the year as supply teachers," he wrote.

"If we work full time our pensions are stopped.

"I work from January to June but I'd love to work full time again.

"There are many teachers in their late 50s who would work full time if they could keep their pensions."


In reply, Ralph Tabberer referred to the large pool of people who were "potential returners to teaching".

"We do a lot at the moment to work with the government and local authorities to try and create new incentives for returners to come back in," he said.

"I think your correspondent has a good idea about something we might do about these pension arrangements in order to make it more possible for them to come in.

"These things are being actively considered, because there are three ways really that we can keep up teacher supply: Good recruitment, good retention, and getting the returners back.

"And at the moment we are keen to use every method we can in order to make sure that we have a good supply across the country."

He said inquiries from people considering teaching had doubled during the current "Those who can, teach" advertising campaign.

"We're not complacent, there's a lot more we've got to do, but I think we are turning a corner."

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See also:

12 Feb 01 | Education
Loans deal to lure new teachers
07 Feb 01 | Education
Teacher applications up on last year
13 Jan 01 | Correspondents
Truth about teacher shortages
20 Nov 00 | Education
More teachers but shortages remain
30 Oct 00 | Education
New drive for more teachers
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