One of the last remaining taboo subjects, if not the single most contentious discussion points in working life, is that we never seem to speak openly about our salaries with our colleagues, friends or even our immediate families. Whatever your personal feelings on this topic, one important question needs to be addressed; are teachers being paid enough?
In the not so distant past, teachers’ salaries were linked to structured pay scales with automatic increases as they progressed through their careers. However, with the introduction of performance-related pay (PRP) in 2013, schools were given the power to decide whether individual teachers should progress based on their performance. No doubt this policy was brought in to try and push through improvements in schools, although teachers are questioning the merits of the policy and beginning to wonder if it was merely a tactic to reduce expenditure within schools.
A recent survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) found that one in 12 teachers had been denied a salary increase since performance-related pay was introduced. Nearly half of teachers think their school’s pay policy is unfair, regardless of whether they have received an increase or not. The impact of this on motivation levels in the profession could be significant, with Christine Blower, the former NUT general secretary, saying: ‘the biggest risk of all is that by removing the right to pay progression and making pay prospects so uncertain, the government is going to make the teacher recruitment crises worse.’
Recognition and rewards
Teaching isn’t an easy vocation and should be rewarded accordingly. As rumblings about a funding crisis in schools grows louder and concerns over teachers’ workloads increase, the pressures on the teaching profession are set to get worse. Teachers are vital for the future of our country, contributing a lot more to the fabric of everyday life than they get credit for. The profession possibly has an identity crisis, and needs to be seen as a more attractive option that ranks up there with the most respected jobs in the country.
We don’t want or expect people coming to work in classrooms solely due to the financial rewards available, although we need to accept that financial benefits ensure stability, acting not only as a key reason to join the profession but also offering an effective reason to stay. However, financial incentives are only part of the picture, with one teacher suggesting that she ‘wouldn’t go to work in a school where the culture isn’t right, just because they pay a bit more money. So it would be low down on a list of factors that would influence me.’
Take home pay
According to a report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which looked at the state of education around the world. Teachers pay in the UK compares favourably to salaries available around the world. The average starting salary of teachers in England is relatively modest at £22,000 but after 10 years’ service this rises on average to above £35,000. Whereas across the Channel, starting salaries in France are marginally higher, but after 10 years are significantly lower falling within the range of £26,000 – £28,000.
Times are hard
The picture in reality is not that pretty, with one of the researchers observing that ‘England and Scotland are among the third of countries where salaries of teachers consistently decreased in real terms between 2010 and 2014′. This view was shared by the School Teachers Review Body (STRB), who warned that ‘the relative position of teachers’ earnings has deteriorated further this year and continue to trail those of other professional occupations in most regions’. The review group put forward recommendations of a mere 1% increase in teacher pay from September this year, but suggested that far higher increases would be needed in the future. ‘The value of their incomes isn’t keeping pace with the cost of living’ says Andrew Morris, head of pay at the National Union of Teachers, ‘or with salaries elsewhere.’
Being left behind
At a time when we need to attract more teachers in to the classroom, the salaries available to NQTs are a lot lower than other careers available to graduates. The OECD found teacher salaries were 10-16% lower than starting salaries of other entry level graduate jobs. In order to remain more competitive and offer a more attractive proposition for new teachers, schools need to try and find extra money from somewhere. But with squeezes being placed on already stretched school budgets, they’re finding that they are struggling to compete. Sara Ford, a pay and employment specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, says that there is ‘a real need for pay to go up because you’re competing in a graduate market and we’re falling behind. But we can’t afford to because schools budgets are diminishing.’
The issue of pay is already causing teachers to leave the profession, citing workloads and salaries as the main reasons for their departure from the classroom. To offer the best education we need to ensure that there’s a suitable pool of qualified teachers who possess the necessary skills to guide students towards reaching their potential. Since the abandonment of the national pay system for teachers with fixed pay scale points, schools are now able to choose what to pay their teachers. A lot of schools are still following the same pay structure as before, but with further funding constraints there could be large regional variations between pay leading to noticeable disparities between teachers doing effectively the same jobs. This could lead to big problems for teachers, and Morris concludes that ‘while schools continue to have their funding restricted, the temptation will be to pay teachers less.’
Let us have your thoughts
Everyone must recognise the importance of having a highly motivated workforce of teachers in classrooms. What are your experiences and views on the current state of pay and conditions in schools? Do you believe teachers are paid enough? What suggestions do you have to improve salaries within the existing financial constraints? We’d love to see your thoughts below…