Fair pay is less pay

10th June 2005 at 01:00
Based on his own experience in the supply pool, Gordon Cairns argues that it's a far easier life than that of hard-pressed classroom staff

Even the most hopeless Standard grade economics student understands the law of supply and demand. But when it comes to supply teachers, it is time this fundamental principle of economics is broken. Schools may consider them to be as rare as gold-dust, but I don't think the supply pool can justify picking up the same wage as a permanent member of staff.

As councils across Scotland look at different ways to cut spiralling wage bills, from early retirement packages to faculty heads replacing principal teachers (regardless of how it affects the quality of education), it can only be a matter of time before they slice into the supply budget.

Teaching and football are alike in that you can bring on a substitute if someone has to go off. But in teaching, the substitute earns the same pay as the first team regulars and as a supply teacher doing general cover I find this harder and harder to justify.

Councils are also looking for different ways of making cuts to fund the teachers' agreement, and I wonder how long before they come to the same conclusion as me and give the expensive number 12s the chop.

It is no secret that general cover is known as babysitting and it is one lucky babysitter who can clear more than pound;100 a day. Not only is there no marking to take home, the classroom teacher will generally have prepared the work so there is no preparation and, on quite a few occasions, there is no teaching either.

Teachers who choose to do supply work often do so to free themselves up to do other things, and for many actors, musicians, poets and writers it certainly pays a lot better than working in a call centre. But I think this lack of commitment to the vocation should be reflected in the wage packet.

Even the most committed supply teachers can enter a parallel world of word searches, videos and copying out of books, all with the aim of keeping children occupied rather than taught.

For teachers on general cover, the school day can be one long, slow countdown towards 3.30pm, while harassed, overworked teachers look at them and wonder why it is they both earn the same.

I am surprised that there is not more resentment in the staffroom towards the responsibility-free supply teacher who is able to leave school with the pupils at the end of the day. As a former permanent English teacher, I know that I would get annoyed with the supply cover if they couldn't even be bothered to read the class novel aloud to the pupils.

But it is when you compare the pay of classroom assistants that the ridiculousness of the situation becomes stark. Assistants earn a fraction of what the supply teacher is getting while, on many occasions, doing ostensibly the same job - placating the children and giving out work. I don't think a qualification to teach a different subject really justifies earning five times more for simply being there.

If a supply teacher is teaching their own subject, there may be a stronger argument for picking up a full salary. But if they are not taking home marking perhaps they, too, should be earning less.

Of course, supply teachers would be horrified if their wages were cut when doing general cover. I know of some who think they should be paid more because of the discipline difficulties that surround the job. One headteacher I spoke to even envisioned a future where reliable supply teachers could choose the school that paid them the most, such is their rarity. This on a day when she employed the last available supply teacher in Glasgow, who turned up drunk at 9.30am.

For newly qualified teachers, general cover should be seen as a stepping-stone to full-time in their own subject. Being paid less should not be an issue if they are committed to their profession.

Gordon Cairns is a supply teacher.

Nof- ife coaching? Isn't that for miserable gits who hate their jobs, or ambitious go-getters who need a hand go-getting?

Last summer, I answered an ad offering a free introductory session with a life coach. I was trying to decide whether to go for the chartered teacher programme and wanted someone to tell me what to do. The coach, Lynda Benham, didn't do that, but did help me to decide for myself. I gave up the idea, and didn't feel guilty or a failure for doing so.

However, I did find myself fascinated by what she had said. "Coaching is about helping you access your courage, and overcome fears that potential change can trigger. It's about having dreams, thinking big, and stepping outside your comfort zone." I decided that life coaching cost way less than a chartered teacher module and would probably do me a lot more good.

It began with an intensely delving intake pack. The "wheel of life" asked me to score various aspects of my life out of 10 - money (8), health (8), spiritual growth (7), significant other (cat - 1!). I then had to see how closely that matched what I really wanted. The cat tried to look cute.

It also involved a personality assessment questionnaire which was so accurate that I felt stripped bare. I had to identify goals, and then my values. We mostly interacted by phone, or used e-mail when I needed to think something through and bounce the ideas off her. She usually invited me to look at the bigger picture if I had got bogged down by detail.

Over the few months, I began to notice changes at work, and at home. I was frightened that I might get so carried away that I handed in my notice in order to follow a dream or two - but it stayed real. If anything, it left me more committed, and far more able to recognise what I could influence, and what I just had to accept.

At the end of the coaching, I redid the wheel of life. The good things had stayed pretty good, but my social life had improved vastly. My motivation to pursue other interests had grown to the point where the furry friend decamped to my son's bed.

Life coaching would be helpful if you were unhappy at work, or facing any life crisis. In my case, I realised I actually liked my life, and just needed minor adjustments to make a big difference.

I also think that Lynda worked with me in a very individualised way - recognising and meeting my needs and reflecting my preferred approach. I doubt if any two clients are ever the same.

We only have one life and, for some of us, it isn't all we would want it to be. Lynda helped establish what I wanted and valued. (She's happy for you to contact her: 0845 458 9934, or e-mail lynda.benham@btinternet.com.)

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