: A qualitative study exploring why teachers and headteachers stay in challenging London primary schools.

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


For some time in England, concerns have been expressed about high levels of teacher turnover. In response, a great deal of research has focussed on what compels teachers to leave the teaching profession (Bubb and Earley, 2007; Smithers and Robinson, 2003, 2005). However, much less is known about why teachers choose to stay. This thesis examines teacher retention from an alternative perspective by exploring how long-serving teachers, or ‘stayers’, account for why they choose to stay teaching in challenging London primary schools. Identity and motivation theory are utilised as analytical tools to illuminate the reasons why a group of London primary teachers and headteachers stay and what it is about who they are that influences their decisions to stay.
The study adopts a qualitative approach to explore the professional lives and career decisions of 24 London primary school stayers using in-depth semi-structured interviews. While the concept of a ‘stayer’ is contested, this study interprets the stayer as a teacher who has taught in the same school for five or more years. Participants consist of serving class teachers and headteachers who work in disadvantaged London primary schools. A small number of former stayers, who have now left their London primary schools, have also been interviewed in order to invite a retrospective discussion of stayers’ motivations.
The findings indicate that because staying is contingent on a number of personal, professional and situational factors related to identity and motivations, staying is a multi-layered process. Most stayers express a firm commitment to stay in the future, but some ‘unsettled’ stayers voice doubts about staying in the years to come. The study concludes that closer attention should be paid to the reasons why teachers stay in challenging schools to counterbalance the focus on teacher turnover. This is so that, at the very least, supportive structures can be put in place to encourage more teachers to stay and contribute to the success and wellbeing of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJane Jones (Supervisor) & Meg Maguire (Supervisor)

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