Teacher attrition numbers don’t add up

There are all sorts of opinions but not much evidence on attrition rates among early career teachers, as Paul Weldon discovered when he looked for a definitive figure.

The idea that beginning teachers are not up to the job is convenient for critics of teacher education faculties and opponents of the demand driven system (remember that?) who claim universities bolster budgets by enrolling too many people who will not make good teachers. High attrition rates among new teachers appear to make their case.

But in a new article for the Australian Journal of Education, Dr Weldon demonstrates there are no definitive data to support oft-repeated claims that 30 per cent to 50 per cent of teachers leave the profession in their first five years. He searched but did not find evidence for such claims, concluding, “ all mention of a 25% attrition rate in over a decade appears to be based on a submission of anecdotal evidence by one state department” to a government review in 2003. There are no national figures for 17 years, he writes.

Nor are all teacher resignations a reflection of failure or evidence of a permanent departure from the profession.

“Movement between schools, systems, and sectors can be positive. No one expects teachers to stay in the same position for a lifetime. A promotion, a fresh environment, different colleagues, different challenges, different ways of doing things can be important for the health and career progression of employees in most industries. Leaving teaching for career or family reasons is also not necessarily negative for the individual. It may also be the case that some who leave teaching early in their career have found themselves unsuited to it.”

Without reliable baseline data and ongoing measurement, this field will continue to rely on international figures and continue to attract an emotive and negative commentary that, in itself, is unlikely to create change,” he warns.


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