Why We Should Give Teachers a Pay Rise

3 June 2009
The Guardian
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Teachers are demanding a 10% pay rise. To educate the country out of this recession, we should give it to them

I bet there were a few teacher-hating members of the public chucking their breakfast at their television sets this morning when they saw the moaning members of the National Union of Teachers asking for a 10% pay rise at their conference this week. Even as a teacher myself, I have a degree of sympathy with their frustration. With the economy going into meltdown, with public finances in such an awful state, the last thing this country needs is to give a bunch of whingeing, shirking, good-for-nothing teachers a whacking great pay rise.

Furthermore, there doesn’t appear to be any need to do this: applications for teacher training courses are up, with the Training and Development Agency for Schools reporting a 40% increase in inquiries. The TDA is now even running teaching recruitment drives in financial centres such as Canary Wharf, such is their confidence that previously well-paid city workers will want to pursue a career in the classroom.

The NUT wants a massive pay rise because union members feel that during the boom years for the economy in the early 2000s teachers’ salaries were left behind by those of bankers, MPs, lawyers, doctors and other public officials. One NUT member said young teachers were being forced to leave the profession because they could not afford to live. The overall feeling at the conference was that teachers had been “betrayed” by the School Teachers’ Review Body, which negotiated the 2.3% deal.

I think these arguments are a bit of a distraction. The main thing we all want is good teachers to teach our children. According to Sir Cyril Taylor, former chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, there are 17,000 sub-standard teachers in England, with 400,000 children attending sink schools; 75,000 leave schools at 16 with hardly any qualifications at all; five million adults are functionally illiterate. He’s definitely got a point: look behind the TDA’s figure quoted above and you’ll find that it’s just that more people are showing an interest in teaching; they’re not actually applying in droves.

Even in these recession-hit times, the school where I teach is finding it fiendishly difficult to find good candidates to fill key teaching posts in English, Maths and Science. This is experience is borne out throughout the country. At the last count, there were 1,000 schools without permanent headteachers, and state schools as a whole needed 5,000 teachers to fill key vacancies. Scratch behind the headline statistics and all the puffery about bankers fighting to get jobs in inner-city schools, and you’ll find a profession in crisis – and our children being short-changed. Too many of our pupils are being taught by supply teachers who, as significant research by Ofsted shows, make our worst teachers.

There are no such things as good schools, only good teachers. If we are going to fill our classrooms with the most talented, creative and forward-thinking graduates, we have to be willing to pay for them as a society. Furthermore, as Ashley Seager’s article yesterday showed, if we are going to lift our society out of this recession, we need to educate our young people off the dole queue. Good teaching is the main route out of the mess we are in: our society desperately needs to invest in it. That’s why the NUT’s call for a 10% pay rise is fully justified.

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