Better pay will boost economy: ex-Tesco chief

25th March 2011 at 00:00
Good salaries raise public perceptions of the profession, he argues

Teachers should receive bigger paypackets, according to one of Britain's most influential businessmen, who argues that increasing their salaries would be good for the economy.

Sir Terry Leahy, the former Tesco chief executive and the man largely credited with the rocketing growth of the supermarket chain in the past decade, has told The TES that better paid teachers were essential to improving the profession's standing.

The businessman made national headlines attacking "woefully low" school standards in 2009.

But in an interview this week he said he was now keen to drive up the perception of teachers.

"We want the profession to have higher standing in society," Mr Leahy said. "It is more than just pay, but pay is part of it. You want it to be a profession that the best and the brightest want to go into."

The Coalition government has said it will freeze teachers' pay from September. But Sir Terry said that even with a big budget deficit ministers should make "good pay" for teachers a public-spending priority.

He said it was realistic for teachers to be paid more in the current economic circumstances.

"The potential for schools to improve skills in society is there all the time. Actually it is a very good return on investment.

"In terms of the economy, it is one of the best things you could do, one of the best investments you could make."

Sir Terry declined to put a figure on how much extra pay teachers should receive.

This month he helped to launch a business that offers online lessons to GCSE pupils, his first investment since stepping down as head of Britain's biggest retailer earlier this month. allows subscribers to view a video of Rebecca Johnson, head of maths at Colston's School in Bristol, delivering the entire GCSE maths curriculum broken down into 200 three-minute segments.

Sir Terry said around a quarter of GCSE maths teachers did not have a degree in the subject.

He believes they would welcome the extra tuition the site, which plans to expand to other subjects, offered pupils.

The businesses' founders said Ms Johnson had received a daily TV presenter's rate for her teaching which "she was very happy with".

Sir Terry, who sent his sons to independent schools, said he had no regrets about saying "standards are still woefully low in too many schools" in 2009.

"That was a correct observation as an employer and as a member of society and a parent," he told The TES.

Asked about his spell advising Gordon Brown's Labour government on education policy, he said: "It was easy to give advice on education because unlike other areas of social policy the answers are relatively straightforward.

"Perhaps they (the Government) knew those things but focused rather too much on target-setting and there were perhaps too many central bodies seeking to impose performance standards rather than actually working on simpler first principles that empowered schools to teach."

Sir Terry added that the abolition of some education quangos by the current government was a "step in the right direction".

"I think those things were clearly well intended and people worked very hard," he said.

"But my experience of business is it is much better to put authority in the hands of the people on the ground that have to do the job."

Sir Terry in his own words

Employer's tale: October 2009

As the largest private employer in the country, we depend on high standards in our schools. Sadly, despite all the money that has been spent, standards are still woefully low in too many schools. Employers like us are often left to pick up the pieces.

From my perspective there are too many agencies and bodies, often issuing reams of instructions to teachers, who then get distracted from the task at hand: teaching children."

This week, on improving education performance:

"It boils down to better schools and better paid and better supported teachers in class.

Original headline: Every little helps: better teacher pay will boost economy, says ex-Tesco chief

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