Editorial - High pay may rankle, but the profession wins

19th March 2010 at 00:00
Big salaries are an encouraging indication of the value society now places on teachers

Let's be honest. The TES, like other publications, publishes salary surveys not only because it is right that the public should realise what it is paying its pre-eminent servants, but also because everyone likes to know what important people are earning. It is a happy marriage of principle and sheer nosiness.

Curiosity is usually followed by outrage. It is unlikely the reaction to our pay survey will be any different (Magazine, pages 10-17). Percentage increases at the top of the salary scale always outpace those lower down the ladder. Justifications for the rises are often unconvincing, but especially so in times of recession. Few of the great and good have followed Ofsted chief executive Christine Gilbert's example and actually declined part of the salary due them. Cue widespread resentment.

A teaching assistant struggling along on a salary of #163;10,402 a year is hardly going to applaud the news that the pay packets of heads in the state sector are catching up with those in the most prestigious public schools (page 1). Why would they if, as reported, a fifth of them are struggling with debts equal to their annual wage? On the other hand, does anyone in education benefit if salaries at any grade are modest?

This year The TES is 100. For almost all of that century teaching has been a low-paid profession. For all of those 100 years the profession has been overwhelmingly female. Those two facts are, unfortunately, not unrelated. But if some things do not change, others do. Thirty-five years ago the salaries of staff in London were so meagre that The TES ran articles on teachers who were forced to live in illegal squats because they could not afford to rent, let alone buy. Happily, such extra curricula scrimping is rare today.

It is to the eternal credit of this Government - and in particular to the foresight of former education secretary Estelle Morris - that teachers' pay has risen significantly in real terms over the past decade. Wallets may not have swollen as much as doctors' - but average salaries for teachers, in particular for newly qualified graduates, compare favourably with other sectors, especially when likely pensions are taken into account.

It is frequently said that teachers are not motivated primarily by money. That is true. It is equally true that with the possible exception of St Francis a miserly wage never inspired anyone. Decent remuneration is an important indicator of the value society places on an occupation. What is usually and conveniently overlooked in the debate over high-performing school systems abroad is the relatively high wages those countries pay their teachers.

A six-figure salary is not an outrageous amount to pay a headteacher responsible for the education and potential of thousands of children and the well-being of dozens of staff. If colleagues lower down the pay scale can't quite bring themselves to cheer that, then perhaps they will quietly ask themselves if a profession without high earners, whatever society says about its worth, is really valued?

Gerard Kelly

Editor E gerard.kelly@tes.co.uk.

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