Despite apparent future “flexibility” on teacher salaries, they remain capped at a 1 per cent rise year-on-year (apart from those at the top and bottom of the scale, who will get 2 per cent). Teachers have suffered a relative pay drop of around 12 per cent between 2005 and 2015 due to inflationary measures. Despite wage increases being stilted at best and static at worst, the average teacher salary still remains a pull factor for those who stay in teaching long enough, with the impact of increments and moving up the pay scales meaning the average fulltime classroom teacher can earn around £30,000. In the era of wage depreciation across the board, these numbers are still attractive enough to retain some teachers at that salary level. Nevertheless, NQTs outside of London can expect a salary of £22,000, which, considering the hours of work, is a truly measly sum. Teachers in the first five years, the most vulnerable group, can expect low levels of remuneration unless they gain promotion into leadership and management roles.
When you consider that the graduate scheme at Aldi guarantees a starting salary of £44,000 with increments rising up to £73,000 after four years, as well as the comfort of an Audi A4 thrown in, you can see why many graduates boasting top degrees leave teaching after a few years to pursue other goals with labels such as “social philanthropist” attached – Teach First graduates, I'm looking at you. It’s worth adding that doctors, under Jeremy Hunt's much-maligned wage changes, will still start on around £40,000 (including salary supplements). Army officers on the graduate scheme start on £31,000, with the potential to earn up to £40,000 within the first 5 years. When I left my head of department role in 2015, I realised my hourly wage was in the region of £9 an hour, a wage almost attainable in a supermarket working the shelves.
VERDICT – If your goal is a cash cow, look elsewhere. It's not only the low starting salaries but wage stagnation that can make teaching wholly unattractive.
Now, when I’ve discussed teacher hours on social media, I’ve often been met with, “But my friend in the city of London works beyond those hours.” Yes, there are other careers with equally long working hours, there’s no doubt about that, but what makes teaching nearly unique is how those hours are both unpaid and unrewarded. A 2017 study revealed that more than half (51.8 per cent) of the teaching profession is working excessive hours for free: a higher proportion than any other occupational group except financial institution managers who toiled an extra 57.7 per cent. All-in-all, the average classroom teacher works 54 hours a week and the average senior leader 60. To put that into context, a (better paid) 9-5 job might account for 35 hours. The intensity of work also needs to be taken into account. A survey of 7,500 teachers by the Association of American Educators in 2015 found many had little time to go to the toilet. You can’t leave children alone for two minutes and pop to the toilet in the same way you can with a computer in an office. Within those 54 hours, there’s little time to breathe. Lunchbreaks are often forfeited, after-school activities often cancelled due to fatigue and even weekend breaks put on hold for the sake of keeping up. These traits are not as prevalent in many other jobs, where lunchtimes are more sacrosanct and there are fewer after-hours tasks to be completed.
There has been some talk more recently that teachers bring some of this on themselves and that by working smarter, those 54 hours can be cut down. I certainly think there is some truth in that. With some cute changes to marking and assessment routines and by cutting out unnecessary planning and preparation practises, teachers can save some time. I recently presented on this; you can download the full presentation if you're interested.
VERDICT – However you want to dress it up, teachers work more hours than most, often in a high-pressure environment.
A survey by the Cabinet Office in 2014 said that teachers were the least bored of all the professions. Some 81 per cent of teachers questioned said it was “the challenge of the role”, 81 per cent because “no two days are the same”, and 86 per cent said they “enjoy the interaction with people”. Sixty-four per cent also mentioned the opportunity to be creative. Of 15 professions, teaching came out as the “least boring”, with sales, administration and manufacturing jobs coming out as more tedious.
There’s no doubt that teaching offers a unique blend of challenge and fulfilment that other jobs would struggle to match. The opportunity to make a difference that working with children can bring is often the defining factor in teachers staying put, coupled with the importance to them of their relationships with different students. I’ve often heard teachers stay “I want to at least stay until I’ve taken my Year 10s through to their GCSEs, I love them!”. It would be difficult to replicate the nature of the student-teacher bond when trying to hit sales targets. Often, it’s the main reason that many switch careers to teaching in later life, much to the surprise of those already within the profession, who often question the new teacher's sanity. But once a ten-year career involving number crunching and the niceties of countless business lunches have played out, humans are often left asking for more. Teaching can undoubtedly provide more.
VERDICT – When it comes for the quest for a meaningful career, you can't get better than teaching.
A common fear of those considering quitting is what they have to offer in another career. Well, plenty. Employers do generally love teachers – they know they will be hard-working, reliable, conscientious and committed. They know they will be good organisers and managers. Although there is little research data on what teachers go on to do after teaching, there is plenty on what they could do.
Entering another career from scratch doesn’t have to be out of the question, but that will probably involve retraining, something many can’t afford. A friend of mine left her job as a secondary biology teacher and is now retraining to be a midwife. She loves it.
Staying in the education sector can also work. Think museum educator, online or face-to-face tutoring (which can be particularly lucrative), education publishing: there are myriad possibilities.
Teachers are usually pretty innovative types. Setting up your own business can be an interesting proposition. Grants are available for start-up companies through the national chamber of commerce. I know people who have successfully started their own gardening, building and cleaning businesses post teaching. I also know teachers who run businesses alongside their day job, including me. Going part-time while setting up a business is another option.
VERDICT – There is plenty to choose from both inside and outside of education.
For more columns by Tom, view his back catalogue