When completing the Previous Employment section in application forms, one of the sections you may be asked to complete is your reason for leaving. You may also be asked this in interview.
Department for Education: Reasons for Leaving Teaching
In March 2018, the Department for Education published Factors affecting teacher retention: qualitative investigation. In that, the reasons given for leaving teaching were:
- Workload (Marking, Planning, Duties beyond their teaching role, Excessive number of hours spent working)
- Stress and ill health
- School leadership, policy and approaches (A perceived lack of support from the SLT, Issues with accountability and scrutiny, Ineffective school leadership, Ageism, Pupil behaviour issues, Bullying)
- Enforcement of inflexible teaching policies
- Government policy (Exams and data-driven ethos, Curriculum and exam changes)
- Professional development and pay (Effectiveness of teacher training routes, Pay and performance management, School funding)
How to answer this question
Many teachers worry about answering the question about why they left teaching. They don’t want to come across as “lazy” by talking about the increasing workload, or “weak” by saying that their health suffered due to stress, exhaustion and/or mental health issues. The following are responses shared with Thinking of Leaving Teaching? over the past few years:
Work Life Balance
“Better work life balance. That’s what I put and I got the job.”
“I was 100% honest and said I wanted a better work/life balance. I got the job.”
“I worried about this when I was interviewing. I decided to take advantage of Covid and the worsening mental health of teachers to say simply that I wanted a better life balance after teaching through the pandemic.”
“Teachers are leaving in droves it’s no secret, and workload is mentioned all the time as a reason. Work life balance is a really acceptable reason, any decent company would understand.”
“I said work/ life balance, it is doesn’t make you less credible to put your mental health first… exactly the opposite, and a decent employer will recognise that. Good luck 🙏🏾“
“Work life balance usually covers it, people know the demands of teaching are high. In fact in my last interview I think they answered the question for me giving me a chance to be very positive.”
“I was asked this at interview and said that the pandemic for me, like many others, made me reflect on my life and what was most important to me.”
“I just put change in career. I’ve found a lot of people know someone or are an ex teacher themselves and completely understand.”
“Career change, develop new skills, personal development.”
“I said that I felt I had stopped learning, and had hit a ceiling in terms of progression. (Also work life balance is the obvious one).”
“I just said that it was time for a change and I wanted new challenges and opportunities.”
“New opportunity whilst highlighting whatever transferable skill you had in teaching.”
“You could talk about wanting a new and different challenge. My real reason never goes over well, so that is what I plan to say.”
“I was advised to say why I wanted the new job not focus on why I wanted to leave teaching that way it’s all about the new role not about getting out.”
“I want the opportunity to spend more time/develop my skill of **** which I particularly enjoyed as part of my role as a teacher.”
“Definitely refer to the opportunities the new post provides, and definitely DO NOT mention anything negative about the job you’re in.”
“I said it was work life balance and mental health. And when they asked if I would cope because the job could be heavy and full on, I explained the issue was mental health and anxiety when not at work, always feeling guilty that I could be doing more work, or that I should be spending more family time, so it wouldn’t be an issue with no constant expectation of doing work at home.
To be fair though, it was easy to explain as the new job is also in a school so the headteacher knew what I was saying and said so to the governor who was also interviewing me.
I think it’s a good filter too. If they don’t respond helpfully to this, they’re probably not going to be great as employers when it comes to your well-being.
Recruitment agencies I always feel I can be more upfront with as well, and they normally know full well about teachers leaving the profession for these reasons.
As long as you also (and ideally primarily) say why you want the new job in particular, I don’t think it should be an issue.”
“When I went for my current job, I was asked exactly this. I looked at the panel (who looked super friendly) and said “I can give you the honest answer and I hope you will appreciate my honesty. When I went into teaching like they say, I was hoping to change the world one child at a time. I still absolutely love teaching but I have found that over the years it has become less about the children and more about targets and numbers which is not me. I was always a pupil-centred teacher who wanted to do what was best for my pupils but struggling with the pressure from above to perform in a way that hit targets dictated by the system. Teaching, for me was about the children and I lost the love when I felt the children became simply a cog in a much bigger wheel.”. Their reaction was phenomenal and since then I have spoken to the lady who interviewed me as she often works out of our local office and she has commented a few times that that answer could not have been more perfect. As it happens, we are an incredibly client-centred company and it is central to all our ethics and all we stand for. I didn’t know that at the time so I guess I got lucky by wearing my heart on my sleeve!”
“As others have said, depending on what the job role is, focus on the relevant transferable skill within teaching. For example, I have gone on to work in mental health so I talked about things like supporting with MH in the classroom, wanting to go back to my roots in my undergraduate degree, wanting to work on a 1:1 basis to see that individual impact more than a large group setting, etc. You get the drift, make it about their job and why you want it, and why you would be good at it 🙂 I wouldn’t really bash teaching because it’s something that I’m sure we’ve all learned a great deal from – I know I have – and that’s what they want to hear about in an interview.”