Posts Tagged ‘deprivation’

Novices and Veterans: What new data tells us about teacher turnover and school deprivation

September 20, 2012 1 comment

Rebecca Allen and Simon Burgess

A new school year has just started, new students have just arrived – what about new teachers? Are there a lot of new faces in the staffrooms? One of the stories frequently told about schools serving poor communities is that they suffer from very high and damaging staff turnover. Few teachers stay a long time, and, relative to schools in the affluent suburbs, there is a constant ‘churn’ of staff. This lack of experienced teachers reduces the chances of new teachers learning the trade on the job, and means that both students and school leaders are forever coping with new names, personalities and teaching styles.

Is this true or urban myth? For the first time, we can start to answer this question systematically, moving beyond a collection of local anecdotes. New data collected from all schools about their workforce has the potential to hugely improve our understanding of teachers and teacher labour markets.

We use this data to analyse the length of time that teachers stay in schools, i.e. their job tenure in a particular school. This is the form in which the problem faces headteachers: how many novices do they have, how many veterans and so on. While there is a good deal of research on teachers leaving the profession as a whole, the issue here is how long teachers stay in a specific school.

Like many urban myths, there is a hint of truth in this view that deprived schools experience greater teacher turnover, but not much.

Overall, it seems that teaching is not a low turnover profession. In a typical school, about a fifth of teachers have been there for less than 2 years, and over half of the teachers have been in that school for less than 5 years. On the other hand, nearly a fifth have been there at least ten years, and in fact over 5 percent have stayed over 20 years. Of course, teachers vary and we compare different groups in Table 1. There is very little difference in tenure between female and male teachers, nor between primary and secondary schools. More detail still is available here

Table 1: Years in current school (%)


All teachers





0-2 years






2-5 years






5-10 years






10 years or more












Note: classroom teachers only, excluding assistant, deputy and headteachers

Averaging over all teachers, the mean time in a school is 6.7 years. Here we need to introduce a technical issue.  The data come from teachers in schools, so this is job tenure so far, elapsed tenure. Obviously, a teacher who has just arrived at a school may go on to spend the rest of her career there. Under certain circumstances, the statistical model implies that the average completed tenure is double the average elapsed tenure.

That is the overall picture, what of the differences between disadvantaged and affluent neighbourhoods? We find systematic and statistically significant differences in turnover: schools with many poor pupils do have more short-tenure teachers and fewer experienced teachers. However, on average the differences are small: 18% of teachers in the least disadvantaged schools have tenure of 0-2 years, compared to 22% in the most disadvantaged. At the other end of the scale, 20% of teachers in schools in the most affluent neighbourhoods have tenure of at least 10 years, whereas the figure in the most deprived neighbourhoods is 17%.

Figure 1: Distribution of teacher tenure by school deprivation

Distribution of teacher tenure by school deprivation

Figure 1 gives a flavour of the results. It shows the 10th percentile of tenure in school in days (the lowest line in the figure), across the full range of communities in England, from the richest 2% in the far left-hand side point to the poorest 2% in the far right-hand point. The 10th percentile comes out at somewhat less than two years, but more interestingly, is flat. The number barely changes across the entire distribution.  There is a very slight slope in the 25th percentile and in the median values, reinforcing the point that there are systematic differences but that they are quantitatively small. There is a more noticeable difference in the 75th percentile: in schools serving poor communities, there are slightly fewer experienced teachers.

We also use the richness of the data to decompose the relationship between turnover and poverty. We show that part can be accounted for by pupil characteristics, perhaps because students in schools in more deprived areas are harder to teach. Part also is accounted for by differences in the local teacher labour market around each school. Controlling for school, student and teacher labour market factors reduces the association between school poverty and turnover, but does not eliminate it.

The remaining association between teacher turnover and poverty is largely accounted for by teacher characteristics, with the poorer schools hiring much younger teachers on average. How should we understand this?

We interpret this as either deriving from the preferences of young teachers, or as reflecting the low market attractiveness of disadvantaged schools.  There are a number of possibilities. First, it could be that this is a desired career path for young teachers. New teachers may look for their first jobs near to where they trained, which implies predominantly urban and therefore on average deprived, schools. Alternatively it could be a desired career path deriving from younger teachers possibly having more idealistic preferences, and welcoming the opportunity to work in deprived schools. Under these interpretations, the allocation reflects the desire of younger teachers to work in deprived schools, and the higher turnover in such schools derives from this.

The alternative interpretation is a matching story in which the more effective teachers sort on average into the more affluent schools, and the disproportionate number of inexperienced teachers in the poorer urban schools reflects the realities of the market that these schools face. Distinguishing between these interpretations is a task for future work; it will need further sweeps of the data and possibly attitudinal data from teachers as well.

It is now widely acknowledged that teacher effectiveness is the single most important factor in raising attainment. Attainment gaps arise in part from students’ exposure to teachers of differing effectiveness. The process by which different teachers end up at different schools in front of different children is little understood. We intend to spend the next few years utilising this new data to address this research programme.

The Work Capability Assessment and helping the disabled back to work

April 11, 2011 1 comment

Paul Gregg


In 2008 the previous Labour government introduced a new benefit for the sick and disabled called the Employment Support Allowance (ESA). The new benefit replaced two existing benefits for new claims on its introduction but at its heart were two major differences. First, was a new test called the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), to determine eligibility for the benefit and for the majority of claimants, called the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) there was to be a new regime of personalised support and engagement to help people back to work (which I designed). The new regime initially applied only to new claimants but this week existing claimants are starting to be re-tested under the new WCA test and may potentially be reclassified as Fit for Work.

There are two major reasons why getting this transition process right is critical. First, this is a large and vulnerable group and thus the introduction of the new benefit eligibility test has the potential to cause huge anxiety and distress to people. Many, especially those with mental health problems, may well fall into the sizable crack between ESA and JSA (unemployment benefit) and end up destitute, homeless or worse. Second, those denied access to the benefit are likely to end up on unemployment benefits which are not designed to help sick people back to work. Under the new Work Programme providers are paid to get claimants into sustained work are divided into three groups, the first are mainly adult unemployed who receive help after 12 months claiming benefits. Here the payment to a provider for getting them into work for a year will be of the order of £3500. Those “being found fit for work” and hence signing on as unemployed rather than disabled  will normally be allocated to this group, although if they were previously claiming Incapacity Benefit they will get the help after 3 months. For those on ESA the package of support starts immediately and providers will be paid about £14,000 if they get someone into work for two years. Getting the sick and disabled in the right category thus matters greatly in terms of the chances of helping them into work. Those on unemployment benefits with significant barriers to work may well be ignored by providers as offering little hope of a pay off given the high investment needed to get them back to work.

Given the imperative of getting people into the right category, common sense would suggest the Government should move slowly and check at each stage that any changes were working. So starting with new claimants makes sense and a five year review process was specified in the original legislation I believe. Yet the developments so far have been deeply flawed. Concerns with the WCA test emerged in late 2009/early 2010 with strong reports of major problems, especially around individuals with cancer, mental health problems and variable conditions. It also emerged that a huge number of cases were going to appeal, jamming the system, and often being overturned. The Government responded with changes to address these issues, but there were no subsequent checks that the problems had been dealt with. In fact, the cries of anguish continued unabated. In the summer of 2010, Prof. Malcolm Harrington was commissioned to undertake the first major review and it was quickly apparent that he saw the need for extensive changes to the process of the decision making after the test was undertaken. Furthermore, the DWP was also internally reviewing the medical test. Yet the first trial of the WCA test on existing disability claimants went ahead in Burnley and Aberdeen on the old test and the old decision process. So now as the medical test goes national the new regime outlined by Harrington and the DWP internal review is being implemented with no prior testing. The Government claims these changes have fixed the earlier problem and undoubtedly the Harrington Review will have made a difference, but surely it should be tested and checked before being applied nationally. It is baffling why the trials in Burnley and Aberdeen were not delayed just 4 months to test run the new regime. Likewise it is clearly essential to track the progress of those denied access to the new benefit, especially among those previously claiming Incapacity Benefits, to study what is happening to them. Are they moving to JSA, getting jobs or suffering acute deprivation without any financial support?  By tracking people according to what conditions they are presenting with, we can assess which conditions are not being picked up well, if groups fail to move into work. But again no such research or tracking is apparently being undertaken.

The process seems to have been characterised by undue haste, a lack of testing and immediate assessment. It may be that this derives from a view that those denied benefit will be healthy and undeserving of support, rather than emphasising the risk of vulnerable people being treated inappropriately. This has become an interactive process of changes being followed by a chorus of complaints, revision, a wait to see if complaints diminish, and further revision when they don’t. The current national roll out will not be the end regime but just the latest iteration in my view. This is no way to introduce such a fundamental reform affecting so many vulnerable people.