Secondary teacher retention is higher in Wales than England, but lower among primary

Press Release

Wednesday 21 September 2022

New research investigating the extent to which teacher attrition (leaving) rates differ between England and Wales finds the retention rate among secondary school teachers is higher in Wales, but it is the reverse for primary school teachers.

According to the analysis, the leaving rate among secondary school classroom teachers is 0.6 percentage points higher in England compared to in Wales, while among primary school classroom teachers, there is a difference of 0.6 percentage points in leaving rates with a lower leaving rate in England. For context, the leaving rate in Wales in 2020 was 6.7 per cent among both primary and secondary teachers. Leaving rates were lower in 2020 compared to previous years in both countries, due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Twenty years of devolved education policymaking in Wales has led to a significant divergence in approaches to policy in England and Wales. This approach in Wales has been characterised by academics as being more supportive of the teaching profession, especially on curriculum development and the use of school accountability.    

The study, conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, aims to test the hypothesis that teacher retention rates are higher in Wales than in England as a result of the different education policy approaches taken. However, the research suggests that the different approaches to education policymaking taken in England and Wales since devolution do not appear to be associated with a significant uniform effect on teacher retention rates.   

Using newly available teacher census data to make robust teacher retention rate comparisons between the two countries, the study compares the retention rates of teachers in Wales with the retention rates of teachers in schools in areas of England that have similar economic and contextual characteristics to Wales, such as unemployment rates, wage levels outside of teaching and levels of pupil disadvantage.

The research highlights that there are some groups of teachers for whom retention rates are higher in Wales than in similar schools in England, but equally, there are groups for whom retention rates are lower. 

The research also finds:

  • Retention rates for teachers with more than 20 years of experience in Wales are higher compared to their counterparts in comparator primary and secondary schools in England.
  • Comparable data on teacher working hours and perceptions of working hours in the two countries show that teachers in Wales work fewer working hours per week on average and have slightly better perceptions of their working hours compared to England. However, it is important to note that teachers in both countries report high working hours and many teachers in both countries report preferring to work shorter hours.
  • Part-time teachers have significantly higher retention rates in Wales compared to comparator schools in England, and the fact that substantially more of the teaching workforce in Wales works part-time suggests that greater attention is paid in Wales to making part-time working opportunities available for teachers. Recent policy work in England aimed at encouraging part-time and flexible working in schools may benefit from exploring and understanding further why part-time working appears to be more widespread and better supported in schools in Wales.

 Co-author of the report and NFER School Workforce Lead, Jack Worth, said:

"Given the different approaches taken by education policy makers in England and Wales since devolution, we might reasonably think that teacher retention rates could be higher in Wales compared to England. However, newly available data that allows us to make robust comparisons of retention rates seems to show that it is a lot more complex than that.”

Josh Hillman, Education Director at the Nuffield Foundation, said:

“With ongoing challenges with teacher recruitment and retention issues, this new research gives policy-makers food for thought. By comparing England and Wales, the research also offers a valuable contribution to our understanding of the different approaches to teacher recruitment and retention across the UK.”