We all know that now infamous McKinsey line that “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”. Some argue that it should be “teaching”, not “teachers”. Be that as it may, but you certainly can’t have one without the other.
It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that the expression originated with a government official from South Korea, where the teaching profession is highly regarded, according to the Global Teacher Status Index.
And it was the results of that index that led the Varkey Foundation to launch a $1 million Global Teacher Prize in an attempt to raise the status of teaching worldwide and restore “teachers to their rightful position in society”.
Three years on, it’s still an admirable aim and a great global initiative, but as a nation if you really want to honour and respect your teachers, there’s no better place to start than by paying them properly for the job that they do.
In this country, it has been seven long years since teachers received an overall pay increase that exceeded 1 per cent, the amount capped by government for public sector pay. And there were two years in which pay was frozen altogether.
Pressure to lift the pay cap
Since the election, the prime minister and chancellor have come under pressure from cabinet members to lift that cap. But the latest recommendations from the School Teachers’ Review Body are key in setting teachers’ pay and it made those before the election when austerity felt more of an inevitability.
The review body filed its report to the Department for Education in the spring, leading the NASUWT teaching union to call for a new remit to produce another set of recommendations free from the constraints of that cap.
Any increase could not come soon enough for many. The unions are reporting that teachers are now joining nurses in having to use food banks and relying on support grants to survive, as well as taking second jobs – no mean feat when you take workload into consideration.
Accommodation and travel costs are a particular problem, especially in London and the South East. Inner London heads have complained of losing experienced teachers to areas where housing is cheaper. (On the plus side, it’s certainly one way of spreading the so-called London effect to other parts of the country.)
And they can no longer be sure of getting the NQTs lured by the attractions of a capital city, because there’s no point being in London if after rent, food and student loan repayments you can’t afford to go out and enjoy what it has to offer.
So can we expect to see a pay rise for teachers? We know that education secretary Justine Greening wants the pay cap lifted. But she may see securing an increase to school budgets as an even bigger priority.
Last weekend she was said to be demanding that the government publicly commit to giving schools an extra £1.2 billion in funding before they break for the summer (bit.ly/GreeningFunding).
Her strategy is correct, not only because it’s wise to fight on a single front, but when some 80 per cent of a school’s budget goes on staffing, you can’t give teachers a pay rise without an increase in funding. You can’t have one without the other.
If we want a quality education system, we must value our teachers. So let’s give them the respect they deserve as professionals by paying them a decent wage. It won’t be a million dollars, but it’s a small step to making them feel that way.