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?

Editor E gerard.kelly@tes.co.uk


The week started with a splash - the TES pre-election debate. What more could anyone want than Ed Balls, Michael Gove and David Laws on stage discussing and interrogating education policy? Nearly 400 audience members scrambled to central London to take in the fracas live, while thousands more watched it streamed on t'interweb. What this means is that throughout the country there was collective head scratching when the shadow secretary of state referenced "knuckle-dragging ramapithecans". What in God's name is a ramapithecan? Has the former Times man been spending too much time with fellow ex-journo Boris Johnson? If so, the teachers of England deserve to know - the impact on its education system could be felt for some time.

Talking of Bozza, oh to have been a fly on the wall last Wednesday when he gathered the capital's secondary heads to his City Hall bosom and held court on the benefits of re-introducing Latin to their curricula. Fun, certainly, but given that the mayor has no authority over pre-16 education, p'raps he ought to concentrate on something other than Catallus. Like roads, maybe.

Talking of posh, there can be no doubt that the heads of England's world-famous public schools are resurgent. One can hardly open a newspaper at the moment without coming across one headteacher or another passing judgment on some issue. Tuesday saw the turn of HMC chair (and St Albans School head) Andrew Grant. Speaking at the Independent Schools Council conference, he told private school parents that they should not be embarrassed by their education choices and then harangued the remaining rich families who chose the local comp. As a wind-up line it is second to none. Is that Chris Keates' head exploding with rage you can hear in the distance?

One thing that all headteachers must now agree on is upping the CCTV coverage in the school kitchens. News broke on Wednesday that will have struck fear into the hearts of everyone involved with school grub. According to reports a cook at Stowe, a boarding school in Buckinghamshire, was arrested for poisoning the carrot and coriander soup. While you're tinkering with the CCTV sightlines you may as well train one of your other cameras on the useful supply of polonium-210 in the chemistry lab. Don't want that getting in the SMT tea.

Ed Dorrell.

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