Two cheers for the pay increase

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
London staff will benefit most from this year's pay round, but wages still won't reflect the high cost of living in the capital. Sarah Cassidy reports

In the affluent suburbs of north London teachers greeted the news of a 3.7 per cent pay rise with a reasonably satisfied shrug rather than by throwing their hats in the air.

Mill Hill county high is a successful technology college in the leafier outreaches of the London borough of Barnet.

Massively over-subscribed and with 77 per cent of pupils achieving good GCSE results, the school should be a much sought-after place to work.

But Mill Hill is struggling to fill two vacancies after the temporary staff who had been hired to cover the rest of the year were lured to other schools by more money and lower living costs.

Staff say the pay review body has failed to recognise that the problem of recruitment is not due to pay alone. Teaching conditions, contact time and school budgets must be addressed if the pay rise is to have the intended boost to morale, say teachers.

While a 30 per cent increase in London allowances may sound substantial, staff are underwhelmed. The pound;500 increase in outer London weighting will not go that far in one of the most expensive parts of north London.

They get pound;1,500 extra a year for working in outer London - which will rise to nearly pound;2,000 from April.

Headteacher Alan Davison said: "I am not personally unhappy with 3.7 per cent, as it's above inflation.

"The one part of the rise that is totally inadequate is the London weighting which does not go anyway towards meeting the costs of living and working here." Dr Davison also fears that, if the pay rise is not fully funded by central and local government, schools will be forced to cut teacher numbers.

He said: "If school budgets force cuts this will mean an increase in workload for the remaining teachers, even if they are paid more."

Ben See, 24, (see below, right) earns pound;17,500 as a first-year English teacher although he has debts of more than pound;8,000 from his teacher-training days, costing him pound;300 a month. No pay rise can remove his sense of frustration at having missed out on the raining salaries and golden hellos that his successors will enjoy.

He said: "It has been a huge knock to all newly qualified teachers of my year that I think everyone still feels very bitter about.

"While it is good that future NQTs will get more money, just chucking money at the recruitment problem isn't going to make it go away.

"I am glad of a pay rise but it does not amount to that much and will just be swallowed up by the enormous cost of living in London."

Ridouane Brisha, 42, has experienced life as a teacher on both sides of the Atlantic.

He is training as a modern languages teacher on Mill Hill county's school-based scheme.

Originally from Morocco, he worked in industry before becoming a science teacher at a private school in Dallas, Texas. He came to Britain with his British wife as she wanted to return home.

He said: "It was a huge financial sacrifice to stay in teaching and to move from the US to Britain. In the US I earned $36,000 (pound;24,000), admittedly in a specialist private school, whereas now I am managing on the pound;6,000 training salary.

"My wife tried to push me towards other careers because she had heard so much about British teachers being overworked and overstressed. But teaching is what I enjoy and I am very happy to be doing this even though it has meant giving up a lot."

Adel Shirbini, 38, works at least 60 hours a week, earns pound;33,500, and loves his job so much that he has chosen it twice.

He taught for four years at Mill Hill before leaving to work for furniture company MFI. When he left teaching, Mr Shirbini was on pound;14,000. After three years in industry he was earning pound;25,000. But he missed teaching and when a job was advertised at his old school he decided to go back to the classroom even though it meant a pound;7,000 pay cut.

He said: "I still see my old MFI colleagues. If I had continued up their career ladder I would be on pound;60,000 by now.

"I earn over pound;30,000 so the rise will bring me an extra pound;1,000. Over a 60-hour working week that works out at a pay rise of around 33 pence a hour." He laughs, then he looks at the floor and shakes his head. "That is ridiculous."

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