More measures needed to attract people to teaching

Teachers are often stereotyped as complaining about their job. Research shows, however, that they are relatively satisfied with their job. Moreover, the number of teachers who quit their job is relatively low. Nevertheless, the education sector has found it difficult to attract new people to the teaching profession. These are among the results of a comprehensive study on the teaching profession, based on focus group interviews and secondary analysis of data.

The initial results of a comprehensive study (in Dutch, 398Kb PDF) on teaching as a career have been published. The study was undertaken by the Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB) and the University of Antwerp (Universiteit Antwerpen), and was commissioned by the Flemish Minister of Work, Education and Training, Frank Vandenbroucke. Education is part of the regional policy domain in Belgium.

About the study

The study is based on secondary analysis of administrative data and existing quantitative survey material on working conditions of teachers. It also draws on focus group interviews with sample groups of teachers or ex-teachers.

The surveys used as part of the study included the Flemish data from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP), the SONAR survey on peoples’ transition from school to the labour market, the TOR time budget study and the Labour Force Survey (LFS). With regard to each survey, data relating to teachers were compared with other occupational groups. Eight focus groups were organised: one group of people with a teaching qualification who never entered the profession; two groups of teachers who have never done another job; two groups of ex-teachers who now carry out another job; two groups comprising people who came into the profession at a later age without a teaching qualification; and one mixed group.

Job satisfaction

The study shows that a teacher is on average slightly more satisfied with their work than the average worker. Proof of this relatively high job satisfaction also lies in the fact that only a mere 12% of teachers have left the profession between 1991 and 2001. This does not include any natural outflow of teachers from the profession, such as retirees. In general, the rate at which teachers quit their job in Flanders is 29%, which is comparable to the 24% of workers leaving their jobs in the health sector. However, an inflow of workers from other sectors of the economy is rare. Few people from other professions choose to take up a teaching career, while departure from the profession is prevalent among young teachers within the first five years of graduating from university.

Extrinsic working conditions

Teachers earn about the same wage as the average worker, but less than the average highly-skilled worker. Nevertheless, the household income of a teacher is on average higher, probably because the working time flexibility of the teaching job facilitates a two-earner job situation in the household. Only the contact hours (or teaching hours) are counted as the official working time of teachers, ranging from 20 to 32 hours a week. Other working time can be organised to a large extent autonomously. Teachers’ working time and children’s school hours are also synchronised.

Self-reported working time in education is lower than in other jobs. However, teachers have to perform a lot of ‘unpaid’ hours. Flanders is one of the few regions in Europe that only counts the class teaching hours as actual working time. However, it is inevitable that many teachers work additional hours over and above their actual class or teaching time. Teachers have more regular working hours than other workers. This allows for a smoother reconciliation of work and family life. A consequence of this situation is that male teachers on average conduct more household tasks than the average male worker.

The education sector does not attract the average type of Flemish employee: 60% of teachers are female, compared with 45% of workers in the overall economy. Moreover, few teachers are of foreign origin.

Intrinsic working conditions

With regard to intrinsic job motivations, 50% of teachers accept that they will never be promoted. Promotion and competition are not considered highly important by teachers. On the contrary, values such as reconciling work and family life, creativity, job security and independence take priority.

Finally, teachers are on average less chauvinistic, individualistic and ethnocentric than other occupational groups. Therefore, they are well placed to disseminate a sense of civic responsibility and democratic tolerance to young people, the study concludes.

Key policy issues

Based on the study, the researchers pinpoint the following policy issues:

  • to restore the gender balance in the teaching profession and increase diversity management, additional measures will be needed;
  • an inflow of teachers into the profession at a later age and an outflow of teachers out of the job at a young age are two problems that have to be solved in order to tackle the growing labour shortages in the education sector;
  • apart from wages, a key element in making the teaching profession more attractive are the first years of doing the job. The early years in teaching are often characterised by a lot of temporary appointments in different schools. This situation is in sharp contrast with the later years in teaching, when teachers obtain a permanent employment statute and have more options for career breaks;
  • the ‘flat’ career is not a problem for the majority of teachers, but changing the possibilities of promotion could be an added value to attract more and other people to the job;
  • the negative self-appreciation of the job (in the media and other channels) is another problem that has to be addressed.

Commentary

As a first result, and as part of a new general collective agreement in the sector, new measures have been agreed to facilitate the inflow of teachers at a later age into the profession.

References

Elchardus M., Huyge, E., Kavadias, D., Siongers, J. and Vangoidsenhoven, G., Leraars: Profiel van een beroepsgroep [Teachers: Profile of an occupational group], Leuven, Lannoo Campus, 2009.

Huyge, E., Siongers, J., Vangoidsenhoven, G., Elchardus, M., Kavadias, D. and Glorieux, I., Het beroep leraar doorgelicht. Een cross-sectionele en longitudinale studie naar het profiel en de loopbaan van leraren in vergelijking met andere beroepsgroepen (in Dutch, 398Kb PDF) [A review of the teaching profession. A cross-sectional and longitudinal study of the profile and career of teachers in comparison with other occupational groups], Brussels-Antwerp, Vrije Universiteit Brussels and University of Antwerp, 2009.

Articles in De Standaard newspaper on 4 and 5 June 2009.

Guy Van Gyes, Higher Institute of Labour Studies (HIVA), Catholic University of Leuven (KUL)

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