Don't sign your life away

7th May 2004 at 01:00
You've got the job. Now comes the hard part: making sure you understand the small print regarding tax benefits. John Howson offers advice

There are strict rules about what you should be paid as a teacher, but there are also clearly defined extras you may be able to negotiate.

Check your contract As soon as you get it, examine your contract carefully. Check that it states that you are to be employed as a qualified teacher. The term "qualified" may be important in the future as there is a growing tendency to use "teacher" to describe a range of people who work in schools.

Assuming that you have secured a full-time post as a "qualified teacher" in a state school, you will be placed on the first point of the Teachers' Pay Scale. This scale has six points and you will progress by one increment (a point) a year unless your progress is deemed unsatisfactory by the school.

In this case, increments will be discretionary. This is not an issue for the majority of teachers - it's not automatic, although it's unlikely that you won't qualify.

Extra pay points

In certain cases you may be paid more than one increment. If you have any experience prior to teaching, for example, which is considered of value to your performance as a classroom teacher, such as being a parent or childcare worker, or if you have had another career, a school is allowed to offer to pay you more. From September 2004, schools may also make additional payments or offer other benefits to you as a form of recruitment incentive.

Schools can now decide how much they want to pay, but this supplement can only be paid for a maximum of three years. After that, it may be transformed into a retention supplement if the school can make a good case.

This payment could be made in the form of a travel season ticket loan, a laptop computer or even rent-free accommodation rather than a straightforward cash addition to your salary.

Check with your professional association and find out about the most tax efficient way to receive such a payment.

Golden hello and fast track

If you are a secondary teacher who qualifies for a golden hello payment, or you are a fast track teacher, you will automatically receive additional money during your first year of teaching. But schools can still offer more money as a recruitment incentive if they really want you.

Miscellaneous extras that could be for you

You could be offered a discretionary allowance for attending a professional development course outside school hours - for example, on a Saturday - and you will be paid the salary supplement that is equal to your registration fee with the General Teaching Council. This is paid directly into your salary and you are expected to register with the Council (it's your professional body) and pay the fee to them.

From what date do your employers pay you?

Check the starting date on your contract. Many authorities now offer a starting date before the beginning of the autumn term. This is reasonable as you will be expected to prepare over the summer and there is no reason why you should do it in your own time. The same applies to visiting the school after you have accepted the job.

You can point out that teachers who are changing jobs are normally paid if they visit their new school, and nowadays you should expect to be paid as well. Some schools might say that their budget no longer allows them to pay for these visits, but there is no reason you should subsidise them.

How much will you get paid?

That all depends on where your school is. From September, there are effectively four different regional pay scales for teachers. The four areas are inner-London, outer-London, a complex area called the Fringe, which is another ring around London, and the remainder of England and Wales.

There is a difference of nearly pound;4,000 between the starting salary for a teacher in an inner-London school and one in, for example, Birmingham or Manchester. In the future, if house prices in London and the South East rise sharply, this differential may continue to widen each year, but then the cost of living is different, too.

Can your employer sub you to start with?

Budgeting to survive for the first month can be difficult, so some authorities might allow you to receive part of the first month's pay after two weeks to help you to get through the month. This may not be advertised, so ask.

You can't claim tax benefits

As an employee, you won't have many tax benefits. Your annual subscription to a professional association and any subject association are likely to be the only extra allowances you can claim for (your car parking space is not tax deductible yet), so even if you have to buy a completely different set of clothes from the ones you have been used to wearing as a student, the taxman is totally unsympathetic and won't entertain a claim. Neither will you be eligible to claim for travelling to or from school, even if you use your own car to carry the marking. And you cannot claim for childcare.

Don't forget your pension

If you're full-time, your pension contributions are made automatically from your pay by your employer. Don't resent it - it's quite a good scheme and you'll appreciate it in years to come. If you're a bit older, think about making additional voluntary contributions (ask the Prudential about AVCs).

Even if you are part-time, it may be worth signing on with the pension scheme and making contributions. If you leave teaching after a couple of years, think hard before taking any contributions out of the scheme. You may regret it later. If in doubt, seek professional advice.

More advice

Your union should be able to give you more detailed advice, and the TES Extra newsletter for new teachers has a personal finance expert on hand to help with financial problems.

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