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Teaching can be a rewarding career choice. Great teachers have the chance to inspire children and young people to work hard, practise new skills and develop a lifelong passion for learning. Being a teacher is also a big responsibility and it can be a tiring, highly pressured and stressful job, leaving many teachers looking for career fulfilment elsewhere.
Within the education sector, there has been a supply and demand issue since 2011, with the number of available teachers not reflecting the number of pupils in schools. This has led to an increase in the pupil to teacher ratio from 17.8:1 in 2011 to 18.5:1 in 2020.
The number of vacancies within schools has also continued to rise, with the Department for Education (DfE) spending around £13 million in the year 2019/20 on marketing and advertising to try to tempt graduates to join the profession and become trainee teachers.
Changing career after being a teacher
The education sector accounts for around 11% of the workforce in Britain. According to the School Workforce Census, 34,100 qualified teachers left the teaching profession in 2020, with the majority of these (87%) leaving due to a change of career.
The same census revealed that 85% of teachers who became qualified in 2019 remained in their teaching jobs one year after qualification, with only three out of five teachers who qualified ten years ago continuing to teach today.
The average (FTE) salary calculated based on the pay of all teachers in state funded schools was reported to be £41,799 in 2020, a 3.1% increase on the previous year. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), median annual pay for full-time workers in the UK was £31,461 for tax year 2019/20.
This places the average teaching salary well above the salary of the average UK worker. Add in the fact that schools are closed for around 13 weeks of the year, and it might seem surprising that the retention level is not higher within the teaching profession.
For a number of reasons, teachers are choosing to leave their teaching posts and seek out alternative careers. Their high levels of education and skills learned on the job provide an excellent foundation for teachers who wish to branch out and find work elsewhere.
Why teachers may stop teaching
To become a teacher, you require at least a 2:2 bachelor’s degree and must gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) by completing teacher training or studying for a PGCE. There are also minimum requirements for GCSE Maths and English (also Science for primary and early years teachers).
Teachers cite many reasons for deciding on a career change. Some simply lose passion for the job, but often, it is the desire for a more tenable work/life balance that drives a teacher’s desire to look elsewhere.
Teaching has long since been considered a failsafe career as it is a profession that is constantly in demand; however 50-hour working weeks, excessive paperwork and high stress levels mean more and more teachers are walking away to begin alternative careers.
Five reasons that inspire teachers to change career:
- Long working hours – A typical school day in the UK usually starts around 9am and finishes between 3:00pm and 3:30pm for pupils. Teachers, however, are routinely expected to be in school for considerably longer than this, often arriving early to prep for lessons or attend staff meetings and staying behind long after the bell rings to signify the end of the school day. They are also required to attend training days when the school is closed for holidays.
- Marking – A big part of being a teacher involves reading through, assessing and grading their pupils’ work. This includes their coursework, tests and exams. It is unlikely that teachers have time to do this during the school day as they are busy giving lessons. For many teachers, their evenings and weekends get taken over with marking their students’ work. The time they have to spend either staying late at school, or bringing work home to mark, means less time for themselves. Being a dedicated teacher might mean sacrificing your social life, time with friends and family, time to do your housework or simply time for yourself.
- Incompatibility with family life – With the six-week summer break, time off for Christmas and Easter as well as several half term holidays, people often assume teaching is a job that will fit in well with family life. However, teachers who become parents themselves often realise that once their children are of school age, their classroom hours make it difficult for them to be there for morning drop-offs or afternoon pick-ups. This might mean the additional expense of wrap-around childcare or relying on the help of friends and relatives to get the children to and from school.
- Stress – Many people report that teaching is a stressful job, a constant balancing act with a lot of responsibility and sometimes little thanks. For some teachers, especially those who work in disadvantaged areas, they may find themselves being expected to take on the roles that other public services should be providing. Stress can also be compounded by pressure to achieve targets and perform well under inspections from governing bodies, such as Ofsted. According to HSE statistics, out of 140,000 work related ill health cases in education, more than half (55%) were related to stress, depression or anxiety.
- Class sizes – The secondary school pupil population has been increasing since 2016 and this is predicted to continue until 2024. This rise is supposed to have been balanced out by an increase in teachers, but with so many staff entering and exiting the profession each year, this offset is not always felt by individuals. Currently the Pupil Teacher Ratio (PTR) stands at 16.6:1 in secondary education and 20.6:1 for figures collected from nursery and primary schools. Some teachers find these numbers unrealistic and difficult to manage.
Transferable skills you develop as a teacher
Teachers are often highly educated individuals, which means once they opt for a change of career, they already have the benefit of a university education behind them.
Due to the nature of the job, teachers usually have good spelling and grammar skills and the ability to communicate clearly in writing and in person. This should put them at an advantage during the interview and assessment stage of job applications. It should also mean that teachers are able to put together a coherent and professional CV and written application which will help them to stand out during the selection process.
In addition to their work experience and educational qualifications, teachers might want to include some of the transferable skills they have acquired during their teaching career.
Transferable skills that teachers develop might include:
- The ability to multitask.
- Organisational skills, record keeping and the ability to meet deadlines.
- Interpersonal skills.
- Ability to communicate information on different levels.
- Staying calm under pressure.
- Working to strict guidelines and following rules.
- Being able to function on own initiative as well as being part of a team.
- Understanding how to give and receive feedback.
- Public speaking and the confidence to give presentations.
- Knowledge of the importance of diversity, inclusivity and safeguarding.
Your transferable skills are an important facet of what you can offer to your new job role and should not be underestimated. Even if your work experience is limited only to teaching, you should have acquired the skills to succeed in a range of careers.
How to switch careers
If you are considering changing careers, it is helpful to plan ahead and be strategic so you can make the best moves possible towards achieving job satisfaction. Acting with haste or spontaneity might mean that in the near future, you are once again having to look for a new job or retrain.
Whatever it is that is motivating you to leave your teaching career, your goal should be job satisfaction in your new role. You will need to be able to think clearly about your career goals, finances, personal circumstances and what you will be most fulfilled by.
To help make your career change go as smoothly as possible:
- Make a plan – This will help with focus and staying motivated. Give yourself a realistic timeframe and set small, achievable goals.
- Decide what you want – Is it a change from a classroom environment or a step away from education entirely? Are you looking for full- or part-time employment? Would you consider being self-employed?
- Do some research – Look online and browse through job sites for matches and have a read of some relevant blogs on changing career or life after teaching.
- Appraise your finances – It is important to consider your finances when contemplating a change of career. Can you afford to be out of work, and if so for how long? What are your outgoings – could you reduce them if needed? Are you in a position to take time out to study?
- Think about your individual circumstances – Your personal circumstances will inform some of the career choices that you make. Are you in a position to relocate aboard? Have you got childcare options to consider or are you nearing retirement age?
- Consult a career coach – A professional career coach can help you to identify your goals and support you through your career change. Their insight and wisdom will come at a price (upwards of £50 per hour), but if you are feeling confused a third-party perspective may help.
- Evaluate – Think about your skillset and qualifications and other roles that these might satisfy if you cannot or do not want to retrain.
- Diversify – If you are able to find time alongside your teaching job, you could try out some other options during evenings or weekends before you make the definite decision to leave. Jobs such as tutoring can easily be done online. Freelance work such as writing or editing can be done from home. Museums, libraries or art galleries may offer a few hours to volunteers.
If you are unhappy or unfulfilled within a teaching role, it is easy to become complacent and find excuses to stay rather than reasons to leave. Changing career can be a huge upheaval; however, finding a job that you love or being able to prioritise family time, your mental health and stress levels should compensate for a brief period of uncertainty and disruption.
Alternative careers in education
For teachers who wish to step away from their current role but still wish to continue working within education in some capacity, they might want to consider careers such as:
- Childminder or early years practitioner.
- Textbook writer or writer specialising in education.
- Lecturer / adult education.
- Teaching English abroad.
Schools, colleges and universities are usually large operations with multiple functionalities; teachers who no longer wish to have any kind of role as an educator but who wish to remain employed within the education sector, might consider applying for a job within administration or student support.
This could include:
- Office manager.
- Office assistant.
- P.A. to the Principal/Head.
- Student services manager.
- Student services administrator.
- Student support officer.
- School finance officer.
Alternative careers outside of education
If you are willing to undergo some further training to complement your teaching experience and qualifications (in some cases this could even be done online or part time while you are still in your teaching role), this will open up a range of job roles to those wanting to step away from education.
Those who would like to continue in a career that satisfies their passion for helping children and young people might want to consider looking into roles including:
- Social worker.
- Youth worker.
- Probation officer.
- Child psychologist/therapist.
- Children’s charity worker/non-profit worker.
For those who would like to step away from working with young people or in school or university settings, but would still like to be able to teach, there are various roles within the world of business that require the ability to teach necessary skills to adults.
These kinds of roles will require information to be broken down into manageable pieces and delivered clearly, the ability to keep up to date with legislation and best practice and great organisational skills.
These jobs also offer some diversity as they require working regularly with new businesses, individuals or groups of people and may require some travel.
Jobs to consider include:
- Business coach.
- Health and safety adviser.
- Financial adviser.
- Policy adviser.
- Project manager.
To be successful in these areas will require former teachers to invest in acquiring some new skills and qualifications themselves but will also draw on many of the skills and attributes they already have.
There are also a selection of jobs that teachers may be able to step right in to, with little or no extra study required. Most of these roles will simply require some on the job training, enthusiasm and the use of the transferable skills that teachers have already acquired during their former career.
Some roles for former teachers to consider include:
- Art gallery or museum guide.
- Freelance writer or blogger.
- Life coach.
- Administration (secretary / P.A. / general administration work).
- Local government/local council employee.
- HR manager.
The job roles that most suit former teachers will also vary depending on their original specialism. For example, primary school teachers might demonstrate more of an interest for early years care; former English teachers would likely be drawn to roles within publishing and writing or in libraries; and those with a more scientific background might consider working as a scientific researcher, laboratory technician or even branching out into engineering.
There are a wide range of career choices available to former teachers with an equally wide range of salaries available.
For some jobs, such as a museum guide or office administrator, it may be necessary to take a pay cut, although these roles offer the advantage of significantly less stress and responsibility.
Freelance work such as writing or coaching offers limited stability with no guarantee of regular work; however, freelancers can choose their own hours and work on their own terms.
Social work and careers with the probation service offer a comparable salary to teaching, although with some of the same drawbacks: an abundance of red tape, long hours and a heavy workload. Understanding how valuable this type of work is, may be enough of a motivation for teachers who have lost their passion for the education sector but who still wish to make a difference in the lives of young people.
When teachers decide to step away from their careers it is important for them to decide exactly what has motivated the decision and what they want to get out of their new career, as well as just how many job opportunities there are out there for them.