Award fails to placate sceptics
Teachers at Park View community school in Chester-le-Street are profoundly sceptical about the Government's pay award.
Overlooked by ancient Lumley Castle and the rolling countryside of County Durham, Park View school borders the urban conurbation of Tyne and Wear. It is an oversubscribed 11-18 school of 1,300 pupils. With its relatively affluent catchment area and higher-than-average exam results, it is an attractive proposition for teachers seeking posts.
Nevertheless the school has only been able to avoid teacher redundancies in recent years by paring back resources and increasing class sizes, and pay is not the overriding issue of concern. Teachers are mostly exercised about security and conditions of service and a pay award which the Government has failed to fund fully has served to irritate rather than placate. For staff at Park View the level of the award by no means compensates for the worsening of conditions they are certain will ensue.
Tony Mann, a head of year, said: "The profession is becoming stagnant. Although pay is a factor, conditions of service are more important. Prospective teachers are being put off."
Although County Durham has attempted to maintain its budgets for frontline services, it underfunded last year's teachers' pay settlement by 1.5 per cent. This year it will probably make up 3 of the 3.75 per cent proposed by the School Teachers' Review Body on pay, leaving schools to find the rest.
Park View's popularity means it has been able to admit more pupils and increase class sizes rather than lose teachers but headteacher Alan Thompson, the local convenor for the Secondary Heads Association, is unsure where else he can make cutbacks to make up this year's shortfall.
He said: "We are better off than most schools. We have a Pounds 30,000 contingency fund, but that's very little compared to an overall budget of Pounds 2.5 million."
He predicts that buying books, replacing information technology and doing general maintenance will all become increasingly difficult. Peter Brewis, a senior chemistry teacher, has been working in a laboratory without a gas supply since October to save money.
Although the award is weighted towards new entrants as a way of attracting graduates, Mr Thompson believes that the low status of the profession and poor resources will turn quality applicants away, especially is there is an upturn in the economy. He is already aware of a shortfall of good graduates, especially in maths, science, languages and music. "We make all of our students in Years 8 and 9 study both French and German . . . we have to recruit dual linguists,' he said. "I know from the numbers coming out of postgraduate teacher training courses that we are going to have real difficulties further down the road."
David Short, deputy head, said the overall quality of applicants for posts had fallen: "We are a popular school, but where we might have been getting eight applicants who could have done the job we are now getting three or four. If the consequence of our pay settlement is to increase job insecurity then that will have a detrimental effect."
Posts tend to attract only regional applicants, he added, because schools can no longer meet the cost of moving and the housing market is stagnant.
Teresa Knight, an English and drama teacher at Park View, is exceptional in being prepared to undergo the upheaval of moving from Surrey to the North-east for her second teaching post. She has already taken a 50 per cent pay cut by giving up her previous career in advertising. She moved to Park View because she could not live on Pounds 18,000 a year in Surrey. "Up here the money definitely goes further. I think the pay settlement is an irrelevance, in terms of what we are getting and because of the strings attached."
She wants better appreciation for what teachers achieve, apart from success in exam league tables. "I gave up one selling culture and find myself in another. I have quite a few friends who have given up jobs in industry to go into teaching and they have not done it for the money. However, it is now dawning on them that they have become society's scapegoats."
Neal Stothard, a former quality engineer in the Tyneside shipyards, entered teaching after being made redundant because it seemed to offer better job security than other jobs in engineering. He has been a maths teacher at Park View for six years; it took him four years to get back to his level of pay in the shipyards.
"I enjoy the job and this is a good school," he said. "But this a harder job than anything I've done before and you don't earn respect for it. In my last job when you had finished at the end of the day you had really finished, In this job you go home and start work again.' Although Mr Thompson welcomes the increased flexibility offered through the award with the introduction of half points on the pay spine, he believes there is little room for discretion.
The theory that a teacher can earn up to Pounds 33,375 under the new award (through points for excellence and responsibility) is, he says, "a total fiction.
"The majority of teachers in this school have been on a ceiling of Pounds 20,900. I agree with rewarding excellence, but you have to put money on the table to do it. I have many excellent teachers in this school. I would want an awful lot more money to start rewarding excellence in any meaningful way.
"I don't think many headteachers in the North-east would be prepared to go down the road of only rewarding one or two for excellence which is all this settlement allows under present conditions. That would be totally demoralising. "