Teachers pay the penalty for global financial crisis

12th September 2014 at 01:00
Wages have plummeted by up to a quarter in four years

Teachers across the developed world suffered real-terms pay cuts as a result of the financial crisis, with the worst affected losing more than 25 per cent of their pay, a study published this week reveals.

The salaries of primary and lower-secondary teachers dropped between 2008 and 2012 in more than half the countries analysed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Teachers in Greece - where the public sector has been devastated by the country's struggle to stay in the Eurozone - were hardest hit, with their pay slashed by more than a quarter. Teachers in England suffered a 5.3 per cent drop and those in Scotland lost 5.7 per cent of their pay after inflation was taken into account.

The results, published in the OECD's Education at a Glance 2014 report, show that real-terms wages fell in 16 of the 30 countries where data was available.

"Salaries have suffered in the crisis," said Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's director for education and skills. "That is one of the areas where countries have cut money.

"In 2005, 2006, 2007, we used to keep paying teachers more and more and more and then [from 2009, it has been] turning down. That is quite a universal picture."

The study looks at the salaries of teachers with 15 years' experience and compares them according to their purchasing power in US dollars at 2012 prices.

It finds that, in those terms, the average annual pay for a Greek teacher fell from $35,573 to $26,617 between 2008 and 2012. Staff were hit by cuts to benefits and allowances for three years from 2010 to 2012 and by an additional "tax for solidarity" on their already shrunken salaries, the report says.

Teachers in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Iceland were the next biggest sufferers, with wage cuts of 23, 12.5 and 8 per cent respectively.

In Spain, another country hit by Eurozone pressures, teachers' salaries dropped by 6 per cent during 2008-12, but that was only slightly bigger than the falls suffered by teachers in England and Scotland. The study shows that the purchasing power of Spanish teachers with 15 years' experience actually overtook that of their English counterparts during 2005-12.

Nevertheless, Mr Schleicher said that England was doing the correct thing by choosing to prioritise teachers' pay over reducing class sizes, in line with the highest-performing countries. Teacher salaries in England had "become more competitive over the years", he said, but were still only "so-so".

"They are paid fairly but they are not paid particularly well," he added.

Luxembourg stands out for bucking the trend on teacher salaries, with primary staff receiving a 41 per cent boost in purchasing power, from $70,145 in 2008 to $98,788 in 2012.

By 2012, only seven countries in the study - South Korea, Spain, Luxembourg, Portugal, Turkey, New Zealand and Canada - paid lower-secondary teachers more than "comparably educated workers", the report says.

John Bangs, who chairs the education group of the OECD's trade union advisory committee, said: "Cutting teacher salaries is a very popular option for governments that want to make cuts.

"But it just instils in teachers not only a sense of despair about what is happening to them personally at home, but it also means they don't think they've got careers. It signifies whether a government values education or not."

Despite the salary cuts, Mr Schleicher said education spending had "generally fared really well in the economic crisis".

The data shows that only six countries in the analysis - the US, Russia, Iceland, Estonia, Italy and Hungary - cut public education spending during 2008-11.

The report also highlights the UK's 17 per cent increase in government education spending over that period, in the face of a 2.5 per cent fall in gross domestic product, which amounts to "the largest increase in expenditure as a percentage of GDP across OECD countries".

"No country has made a greater effort than the UK to invest more current wealth [GDP] into more future wealth [education]," Mr Schleicher said.


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