Using a discrete choice experiment to measure teacher retention in England

Young high school teacher helping students, photo by Monkey Business Images/Adobe Stock

Monkey Business Images/Adobe Stock

Results of a quantitative survey of teachers in England show which job characteristics matter most to them and the trade-offs they would be willing to make between pay and other characteristics of the work environment.

What is the issue?

Maintaining an adequate supply of teachers in England is a challenge in the education sector and an area of significant concern. Of the teachers who qualified in 2013, 67.7 per cent remained in service after five years. The number of secondary school teachers has been falling since 2010 and the number of teachers leaving for reasons other than retirement has been increasing since 2012. Coupled with the fact that the number of secondary pupils is increasing, and is expected to keep rising, this has placed intense pressure on teacher supply and is an area of significant concern.

Previous evidence shows that pay is deemed to be one of the most important factors influencing a teacher’s decision to stay in a role, together with the workload and flexibility of working hours. However, up until now, no study has measured the relative importance of the different factors that could influence teacher retention or quantified the impact that changes to these factors could have. Therefore, RAND Europe was commissioned by the UK Office of Manpower Economics (OME) to measure the impact of pay, rewards and other working conditions on the retention of teachers.

How did we help?

Researchers developed an innovative approach which had at its core a quantitative survey containing two embedded discrete choice experiments (DCEs). The DCEs were specifically designed to quantify the relative importance of a range of key factors that influence staff retention and how they interact with each other. The information provided from the DCEs was supplemented with other background information collected in the survey. Over 2,200 teachers in England participated in the survey.

Using the DCE model outputs, an accompanying forecasting model provides unique insights into the relative effectiveness of different policy interventions which could be used to strengthen or highlight relevant characteristics of the employment environment that are valued by teachers.

What did we find?

  1. Teachers would be willing to trade-off higher pay/rewards with better working conditions (such as work in supportive environments with fewer challenges from pupil behaviour).

  2. Respondents were significantly averse to losses in pay and rewards, but they are not the only factors that shape teachers’ retention choices.

  3. Respondents preferred larger pay scale steps, and a quicker rate of progression when their performance was rated as excellent.

  4. Respondents preferred workplaces with the following characteristics:

    • A reasonable workload: The level of workload impacts significantly on teachers’ retention choices
    • Career support: Teachers valued greater investment in their professional development
    • Schedule flexibility: They valued the option of having the flexibility to access part-time arrangements
    • Supportive colleagues: Teachers preferred situations where they receive support from school leadership and peers
    • A positive academic environment: They have shown a strong disinclination towards poor teaching environments

What can be done?

No single intervention will effectively resolve teacher workforce shortages. Policies seeking to improve retention rates of teachers will need to be multi-faceted. Therefore, a set of interventions, developed to target the preferences and expectations of specific groups of teachers, are likely to be necessary.

Our study shows which job characteristics matter most to teachers in England and the trade-offs they would be willing to make between pay and other characteristics of the work environment, and provides knowledge into subgroups of teachers who may be more or less responsive to different changes.

Policy implications from the study relevant to stakeholders within and outside of OME include that:

  • Supporting schools to improve current working conditions, such as reducing workload, and offering the flexibility of moving to part-time working, could assist in improving teacher retention.
  • The levels of support within the school environment and levels of student behaviour are highly valued by teachers.
  • Our study found that teachers preferred a quicker rate of progression when their performance was rated as excellent. The policy focus might therefore be on how to ensure this is applied in a way that is fair and consistent.
  • While pay levels are clearly important, this research suggests that investment in non-pay aspects could be highly effective in improving retention, and there could be benefits from undertaking a fuller cost-benefit analysis of different options.