Cecil Rhodes may have believed that the English had won first prize in life's lottery. But as far as teachers are concerned, it is the Swiss who appear to have drawn the lucky ticket.
The 3.5 per cent pay rise for most classroom teachers recommended by the School Teachers' Review Body may seem reasonable in comparison with recent salary awards. But it still leaves the English and Welsh a long way behind Swiss teachers. Not only are they fortunate enough to work in a country with a high GDP - they get a far larger share of it than teachers in other developed nations.
Statistics produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show that Swiss secondary teachers earn almost twice as much on average as their counterparts in other countries - in 1996 their starting salary was no less than US$ 38,100 (pound;23,800), compared with an OECD average of $19,305. And those with l5 years' teaching service who had reached the top of the salary scale were averaging an impressive pound;36,500. Secondary teachers in the UK, however, had to make do with a starting salary of only pound;12,040 and a top-of-scale income of pound;18,700.
The discrepancy between Swiss primary teachers' salaries and those in other countries was also huge. They started on pound;20,300, rather than the pound;11,500 OECD average, and after 15 years could be earning pound;31,300, compared with the international figure of pound;19,500.
Unlike their secondary colleagues, UK primary teachers' starting pay (pound;12,146) was above the OECD average, but their top-of-scale salary (pound;18,700) was lower than the international rate and minuscule by comparison with the earning power of the most experienced Korean teachers. They were paid pound;42,100 - only a fraction less than their secondary colleagues (pound;42,155).
One of the few consolations is that UK teachers reach the top of their pay scale faster than teachers in almost any other country apart from New Zealand. They take eight years to get there, compared to 40 years in Korea and Spain.
The British can also consider themselves fortunate not to be teaching in Turkey - the one OECD country where teachers are paid a pittance. Its starting salary for primary and secondary teachers in l996 was a miserly pound;500 and the maximum salary was not much higher at pound;700.
Source: Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators 1998