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How you grin and bear it

Many teachers cannot stand the Government's policies but, despite everything, they still like the job, reports William Stewart

Teachers may not be satisfied with the way the Government is handling schools but a TES-commissioned poll has found that the vast majority are happy in their jobs.

The survey of a representative sample of 984 teachers conducted by Mori found that while just 30 per cent were happy with New Labour on education, 89 per cent were satisfied with their present job with almost half (48 per cent) "very satisfied".

However there was more bad news for ministers when The TES asked about the Government's boast that teachers are better paid than ever.

Only 43 per cent of respondents agreed that they were fairly rewarded for the work they did with fewer than one in 10, or 8 per cent, agreeing strongly.

They were outnumbered by the 47 per cent who felt they were not paid fairly, including nearly a quarter who "strongly" disagreed.

The poll also suggests that the upper pay scale - which has been the focus of much dispute and is currently the subject of crunch talks between unions and the Department for Education and Skills - is crucial to maintaining teacher morale.

The majority of newly-qualified teachers (51 per cent) enter the profession agreeing that they are fairly rewarded. With 45 per cent disagreeing this gives new teachers what pollsters call a "net agreement" rating of 6 per cent(51 per cent minus 45 per cent). But that initial sunny view soon darkens with net agreement dropping to minus-24 per cent for those with one to five years' teaching experience.

Crossing the performance threshold into the upper pay scale after six years on the main scale appears to make more teachers happy with their pay: 49 per cent with 6 to 10 years experience think it a fair reward and 40 per cent don't.

The five-point upper scale was introduced in 2000 as part of a government attempt to bring in performance-related pay. But more than 90 per cent of candidates jumped the performance hurdles to win the first two points on the scale.

The DfES has argued that continuing to grant merit rises to so many teachers is untenable. This year it attempted to introduce a quota system - saying only 30 per cent on point two of the upper scale would be allowed to move to point three. This was rejected by the School Teachers' Review Body, which has sent all sides into the ongoing talks to try to find a new solution by January 5.

The poll seems to back union fears that attempts severely to limit progression on the upper pay scale would hit morale.

The survey also uncovered two major regional differences on pay: teachers in Wales and London were significantly less happy with their pay than colleagues elsewhere. The net percentage agreeing they were fairly rewarded in the two areas was minus-26 per cent and minus-25 per cent respectively compared to minus-3 per cent for England as a whole.

The findings suggest the introduction of separate scales for inner and outer London has yet to make a difference to perception of pay in the capital. Teachers in the South-east, some of whom will benefit from the new London fringe scales next year, were a lot happier about pay than those in London with a net agreement rating of minus-5 per cent.

The poll also indicated that Welsh teachers were less happy with their jobs than their English counterparts with 13 per cent expressing dissatisfaction compared with 5 per cent of English staff.

Staff do seem to become more jaded with experience. The net job satisfaction rating (percentage satisfied with job minus percentage who are not) drops from an initial 96 per cent for NQTs to 83 per cent for teachers with 11-15 years' experience, 80 per cent for 16-25 years' and 78 per cent for those who have served more than 25 years.

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