13th April 2001 at 01:00
In 1999, when I decided to give up a well-paid job in London for a PGCE in secondary English, I didn't stop to think what might be on offer financially if I waited a few more months. I just wanted to teach.

But then came incentives for PGCE students, including, from 2001, the alluring prospect of having student loans from your first degree paid off.

Who could resist? But I feel more than a little stung by the realisation that I've missed out on up to pound;10,000 by just a few months.

After hours whining about the injustice of it all, I realised I had to do something positive. I had to make people aware of why we should be allowed to present our case for financial aid.

Teaching has a lot to offer. Not much can match the feeling of winning round an unruly and resentful student, or watching as the shy mouse who never utters a word presents a speech to the class - and you know it's down to you. There are difficult times, as with any job, but few places of work have such a ready-made network of support.

But satisfaction, enjoyment and teamwork do not pay your bills. Many people are severely in debt. I owe around pound;7,000 - not including my enormous graduate loan. Many NQT colleagues are in similar positions. We all chose to work in education for one reason - to teach. I, and many others, did not foresee the huge debt we would be facing on the other side of the PGCE. A little naive perhaps, but when you're a student you don't equate loans with debt. You consider it "free" money that you don't have to pay back for a long, long time.

As we hurtle through our qualifying year, looking forward to our pay rise in April and our first point up the scale in September, it suddenly dawns that the first pay rise will push us over the limit and means we have to start paying back our student loans. Consequently, after this April, we will be worse off financially than we are nw. This September's new quota of NQTs will have no debt and possibly, due to another incentive, be on the same wage or more than us.

There are several issues floating around about "golden hellos" and extra money to be awarded at the school's discretion, but I don't want to dwell on those. After all, it's hardly the fault of the 2001 NQTs that they have benefited from appropriate government incentives, is it?

But some NQT colleagues and I have decided to act. After a brief meeting at the end of school one day, I composed a letter to David Blunkett expressing concerns about NQT debt. The letter is posted, along with a petition form on the NQT forum of The TES website (

Our head is understanding and supportive. He can see that we are not berating the profession, school, students or working conditions. We just need financial help.

Equally, our LEA (Kirklees) is staffed by open-minded, encouraging people, and allowed us to test the water and present our protest to a recent NQT conference.

We had already agreed that if people showed interest we would continue; if not, we would come up with another plan. We presented our petition and every NQT present signed it. We now need to ensure we have something valuable to say and that there is enough support to take this campaign nationwide. But we are just at the start of what could be a long and arduous task. We need as many people as possible to take part.

Download copies of the petition and letter, get them signed and send them back to me. My address is at the top of the Blunkett letter.

It is appropriate that the teacher crisis is sorted, but existing teachers and NQTs should not be forgotten. We should not be financially punished for choosing to teach when we did.

Sarah Huntingdon

Sarah Huntingdon is an NQT at Royds Hall high school, Huddersfield. email:

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