Blemishes on a face of contentment

6th April 2007 at 01:00
The good news is that nearly three-quarters of teachers in the TES online happiness survey say they are happy, and two-thirds are feeling more cheerful than they were 10 years ago. The bad news is that some of the nation's heads appear to be sadly deluded. While more than nine out of 10 of them think their schools are happy, nearly 40 per cent of their staff would like to wipe the smiles off their bosses' faces. A common complaint? Bad management.

Whatever the reason for teachers' contentment, it provides a good antidote to this week's teacher-union conferences. Union delegates are in the business of unhappiness. It is their job to complain in their members'

interests. They travel to Harrogate or Bournemouth to protest about workload, aggressive pupils, debt-ridden newly qualified teachers and privately sponsored academies.

Teacher unions remain a powerful force. They give teachers a voice in national education policy and have won some notable concessions for their members over such issues as raising the retirement age. It's a pity that their Easter conferences, heavily publicised at a time when other news is often scarce, display the unhappy face of the profession. They don't reflect teachers' enjoyment of their job and the belief of many that the rewards outweigh the hours of late-night marking, aggressive parents and unruly pupils. They don't even present a true picture of the unions, which today are about much more than a chance to moan: they are also responsible for some imaginative professional development courses.

Pay is again on union leaders' agenda as a clampdown on public-sector salarieslooms (see page 1). Teachers have fared reasonably well during the past decade as the Government has boosted their salaries in return for better performance.

Our survey shows that pay comes last in the list of factors that contribute to their happiness. But ministers should not take them for granted. In the past, when teachers' pay has caught up with that of comparable professions, it has too often fallen back. Teachers do expect a decent reward for a job that is more demanding than ever before.

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