Debt and overwork swamp new teachers

But three-quarters say they have no regrets about joining the profession as Alan Johnson considers higher starting salaries

Student and newly qualified teachers are so overwhelmed by work and debt that many are considering dropping out of the profession, unions say.

Delegates gathering for the annual teaching union Easter conferences are suggesting solutions such as more affordable housing.

Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, last week asked the teachers' pay body to consider higher starting salaries for teachers to compensate them for their higher tuition fees. A survey of 847 newly qualified teachers by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers found that a fifth were considering leaving because of money worries, though three-quarters had no regrets about becoming teachers.

Student teachers are also feeling the pinch, with many putting in long hours working in shops or offices to support themselves, the union found in a survey of 2,769.

The plight of the younger end of the profession was one of the most popular subjects on the agenda as the teaching conference season kicked off in Bournemouth this week. The NUT is also highlighting the issue with a motion due to be discussed in Harrogate tomorrow, saying that new teachers in London are paying up to half of their wages in rent.

Both unions say student top-up fees are leading to increasing debt among teachers.

Mary Bousted, the ATL general secretary, is calling for an end to the fees for PGCE courses. Her union found 10 per cent of student teachers said they were working more than 21 hours extra a week on top of teaching practice and assignments. More than two thirds said their paid work affected their studies.

But Graham Holley, chief executive of the Training and Development Agency for Schools, said he had seen no evidence that tuition fees were a barrier to new teachers. "Since September 2006, increased financial support has been made available for trainee teachers to ensure that teaching remains a top career choice for graduates," he said.

Carla Powell, 23, is studying a two-year full-time PGCE course in design and technology at Sunderland university. In addition to assignments and teaching practice she works five evenings a week as a gym instructor. Her fees are paid by her local council, but she still has pound;10,000 debt.

"I didn't realise how hard the workload and finances would be," she said.

"I am working constantly. It is completely exhausting."

Richard Marshall, 20, who is studying for a BA in early years and primary teaching at Northumbria University, works 20 hours a week in a Newcastle airport shop, with 4am starts. "It's hard," he said. "Thirty people have dropped out of my course, many because of financial reasons."

About 40 per cent of those who took part in the ATL survey were more than pound;10,000 in the red.

Cheryl Bucci, 42, an NQT at Easthampstead Park school in Bracknell, Berkshire, said it would take the next 20 years to pay off her student debts. "I'll still be paying when I retire," she said.

As usual, behaviour problems feature prominently in the big three classroom union agendas, behind only pay, the curriculum and workload. In the week that school staff were given a clear legal right to discipline, an ATL survey revealed that more than a third of teachers had experienced "physical aggression" from pupils. The union blamed the influence of TV shows such as the Catherine Tate Show and Little Britain.

Delegates are equally concerned about the growth in classroom observation and its role in performance management. NUT members propose cutting the limit on formal observations by heads or line managers from three times to once a year. NASUWT members propose strike action in schools that abuse the regime.

The ATL passed a motion demanding that the Government scraps its plan to double the number of academies to 400. Hank Roberts, the union's representative for Brent, said it was "outrageous" that tax exile Andrew Rosenfield was allowed to sponsor an academy in Wembley.

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