by Charlotte Warren-Gash, British Science Association Media Fellow funded by Society for Applied Microbiology


Half of teachers and social workers want to leave their jobs in the next 18 months, according to new research presented at the British Science Festival.

Around 16,000 participants took part in a study into the effect of working conditions on stress, job satisfaction and intention to quit. In a series of surveys, Dr Jermaine Ravalier, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Bath Spa University, showed that high job demands, low levels of control and poor managerial support were fuelling stress and a desire to leave among teachers and social workers.

“If only half of those who said they’d leave actually do so in the next 18 months, our public services are about to be hit with a huge exodus of staff”, Dr Ravalier commented. “The role played by social workers and teachers is vital for the whole of society, so the findings of this work should be a catalyst for greater investment in our public services”, he added.

By comparing survey responses to publicly available data from public and private sector employees, Dr Ravalier concluded that stress levels for both teachers and social workers were higher than the English average. Respondents believed that a lack of staff in both professions has contributed to work stress through placing greater demands on existing workers. 

In the survey – the largest of its kind – teachers reported exceeding their contracted hours on average by 17 hours per week, with social workers working an additional 11 unpaid hours per week. Red tape, a lack of support staff and lack of preparation time contributed to teachers’ stress. Forty percent of teachers also reported receiving negative comments or behaviours from parents within the last year. 

Stress is the leading cause of sickness absence lasting four or more weeks among public sector employees. It has detrimental effects on workers’ physical as well as mental health, and is linked to ‘presenteeism’ (attending work while sick) and increased staff turnover.

The survey’s findings are supported by figures from the Department for Education, showing that of teachers who joined the profession in 2011, only 69% were still teaching five years later.

Dr Ravalier, who is independent of any union, warns that additional funding is critical to maintain an effective public sector workforce. “While it is clear that social workers and teachers find the nature of their jobs deeply fulfilling, this is no longer enough to outweigh the impact that governmental cuts are having on their jobs”, he said.