Jealous of your friends in the private sector and their bulging pay packets? Madeleine Brettingham looks at why teaching could be a better deal than you think
You know you're not in high finance, considering your second-hand underpants." Ah, the immortal words of Flight of the Conchords, the comedy double act. They could have been coined for every teacher at the lower end of the pay scale who's ever dreamt of jacking it all in for a gold-plated career in business.
An unlimited expense account, a constantly refilled gin cabinet and a working day that finishes at 6pm on the dot are just some of the advantages teachers dream of when they cash in their chips for a white-collar job.
But are the alternative careers out there really so enticing? Or are the mammoth pay and perks just a mirage that will evaporate as soon as you quit the classroom and sign on the dotted line?
The fact that 250,000 qualified teaching staff in England have chosen to leave education, with 100,000 quitting between 2000 and 2005, suggests few teachers think so. And the prospect of a 2.45 per cent pay rise has prompted unions to ballot their members for strike action. "I'm constantly trying to decide whether to quit," says one newly qualified teacher, aged 23. "I see my friends from university swanning about in well-paid jobs and think: 'why can't that be me?'"
But one marketing executive-turned-teacher gave The TES Magazine a different perspective. "Some of my colleagues in teaching are living in a dream world," he says. "They believe they could leave education and walk into a pound;50,000-a-year job, but that's not the reality. I worked in marketing for years, and put up with lower pay and worse hours than I get in the classroom.
"Teaching offers a much better package than many other professions. And the pay isn't that bad, either."
It's true that teachers' pay packets have increased greatly since the morale-sapping 1980s, growing by 15 per cent in real terms between 1997 and 2005.
Throw in the prospect of paid training, bursaries of up to pound;9,000, golden hellos of up to pound;5,000 in shortage subjects, and the introduction of the upper pay scale, which gives classroom teachers the option of achieving management-style salaries of nearly pound;40,000, and the situation starts to look reasonable.
All in all, the average salary is now more than pound;31,000 for a secondary school teacher and nearly pound;28,000 for staff in a primary school, compared with a national average salary of just under pound;25,000.
Plus, the teachers' pension is one of the great unsung benefits of life at the chalk face, guaranteeing an income commensurate with your final salary until the day you depart to the great staffroom in the sky. It's an investment that would turn most office drudges bilious with envy.
"The first thing you should say when you get your first teaching job is, 'where's the pension form? I want to sign,'" says Nigel Callaghan, a pension analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. "It's a good deal for teachers, and fair play to them. They work hard."
He points out that in return for a contribution of 6.4 per cent of your salary, your employer will put the equivalent of 14.1 per cent - that result would need contributions of about 30 per cent of your pay in a private scheme.
Astonishingly, that would mean sacrificing more than pound;9,000 of a typical pound;31,000 salary.
Its value is partly due to the fact that teachers are guaranteed a final salary, no matter what happens to the stock market. "It's especially pertinent given the present turbulence in the financial markets," says Nigel.
Risky pension schemes aren't the only downside of life in the private sector. Studying to degree level is costly, and in most jobs the expense is rarely softened by a golden hello or bursary. Starting salaries can fall well below the pound;20,133 enjoyed by junior teachers. Redundancies are more common, as companies respond to shifting demand (there were more than twice as many lay-offs in the service industry as in the public sector last summer).
Pay structures can be opaque or non-existent, meaning not everyone gets their just reward - perhaps accounting for the fact men rake in 12.2 per cent more than women for top business jobs, according to a recent survey for the Chartered Management Institute. And, as we discovered when we surveyed employers in five alternative careers (see panel, left) that's before you've even mentioned a holiday allowance of 20 days, minimum.
Denise Taylor, a careers counsellor at Amazing People, says it's important to realise that a big pay rise won't necessarily make you happy. "We all need a certain amount of money, but it isn't what drives us to get out of bed in the morning," she says.
Plenty of successful private-sector employees come to her on a pound;50,000 salary, but unable to cope with the hassle, stress and gruelling tedium of life in middle management, she says. And some of them turn to teaching to perk them up.
"It's important to do something you enjoy, that fits in with your values and the lifestyle you want." That's not to say that if you're feeling jaded with your classroom career, a change isn't in order. But remember that life at the end of the private-sector rainbow isn't all its cracked up to be.
HOW JOBS COMPARE
Average salary: pound;31,000 for a secondary teacher and pound;28,000 for a primary teacher.
Salary range: Classroom staff can earn from pound;21,000 to pound;60,000 depending on their expertise. Heads can earn up to six figures.
Hours: An average of 27 (primary) and 29 (secondary) paid hours a week, but surveys indicate that with marking, it is more like 50.
Holiday: 13 weeks a year, although some sacrificed to lesson planning and preparation.
Training: The three-year BEd with means-tested grant, or the one-year PGCE, with a bursary of up to pound;9,000.
Pension: Government-backed final salary scheme, with employee contributions at 6.4 per cent.
What's it like? Adam Gale, 41, earns pound;21,000 as a primary NQT. "It's not the best-paid job in the world but when I walk into a classroom I can't take the smile off my face. It's great to see the lightbulb go on in pupils' heads."
Source: Office for National Statistics, School Teachers Review Body.
Average salary: pound;37,000
Salary range: From pound;16,000 in small companies to pound;200,000 and upwards in the corporate sector.
Average paid hours: 35
Holiday: 4-6 weeks
Training: 3-5 years' training and 14 compulsory exams.
Pension: Company pension scheme.
What's it like? Graham Darbourn, 27, earns pound;34,000 as an audit manager at Ryecroft Glenton. He started training seven years ago on pound;12,000, after obtaining a 2:1 in accounting and statistics from Newcastle University. He works between 40 and 45 hours a week. "You have to be professional at all times, and able to meet deadlines. There'll be times when you're rushed off your feet. As well as being intellectually demanding, it's about managing time."
Source: Office for National Statistics, Institute of Chartered Accountants.
Average salary: pound;25,000
Salary range: From pound;10,000 as a newly qualified plumber to pound;29,000 after five years. More if you run a business.
Average paid hours: 41, plus some weekends and evenings.
Holiday: 4 weeks.
Training: A Level 3 NVQ in plumbing and three years' experience.
Pension: The industry standard pension in return for 3.75 per cent of your salary and 7.5 per cent from your employer.
What's it like? Ian Pattle, 50, has run his own company, HeatPlumb Supplies Ltd, for more than 25 years. He started plumbing at 15 and now works 50 hours a week for around pound;36,000 a year. "You sacrifice your life working 247, and you don't earn anything like what people think. But fixing blockages, floods and breakdowns is satisfying."
Source: Office for National Statistics, Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors.
Average salary: pound;39,000
Salary range: Typically between pound;30,000 and pound;60,000.
Hours: 37, with some out-of-hours work.
Training: A degree plus continuous training in new software.
Pension: Company pension.
What's it like? Ashley Stopforth, 39, earns pound;39,000 as IT services delivery manager at the British Computer Society. He has a 2:1 in geography and biology, and spent two years completing a post-graduate diploma in IT. He works 35 hours a week and manages three people. "We deal with issues from problems with software to broken laptops. When key services such as email go down, that's stressful. People knock on your door asking what's wrong."
Source: Office for National Statistics, British Computer Society.
Average salary: pound;23,000
Salary range: From pound;12,000 to pound;75,000 for senior jobs.
Average paid hours: 32, with some nights.
Holiday: 4 weeks minimum.
Training: A degree or diploma lasting three years, with possible bursary of up to pound;3,225 pa.
Pension: Government-backed final salary scheme. Employee pays 5-8 per cent of salary; NHS pays 14 per cent.
What's it like? Paula Carter, 42, earns pound;24,450 working 30 hours a week as a heart failure nurse at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon. She quit her job in a bank to retrain at the age of 33. "It can be stressful at times. The responsibility weighs heavy on you. On the wards, a lot of nurses will be working three nights a week, and there is pressure to cut down waiting times because of staff shortages. But it's a lovely job. There is a lot of camaraderie and it's good when you know you've made a difference."
Source: Office for National Statistics, Royal College of Nursing.
Average salary: pound;29,000
Salary range: From pound;15,000 to pound;50,000 upwards. Most sales people work on commission, which can add an extra pound;2,000-pound;15,000.
Average paid hours: 38. From 20 hours on a slow week to 80 on a heavy one.
Holiday: 4-6 weeks.
Training: None. Only 5 per cent have sales qualifications.
Pension: Company pension.
What's it like? David Taylor-Evans, 42, works more than 50 hours a week as sales director at The Economist. He started in sales 21 years ago, after graduating from Staffordshire Polytechnic with a 2:1 in English and history. "I've travelled to South Africa and the Middle East in the past year as part of my job. In sales, if you're good, you get on. But if you don't hit your targets, you don't expect to keep your job."
Source: Office for National Statistics, Chartered Institute of Marketing.