Want to know what to pay a teacher? Ask the students

11th July 2008 at 01:00
What am I worth? It's a brave, or foolhardy, question to ask students - a bit like dropping a well-fed bather into a pool of piranhas

What am I worth? It's a brave, or foolhardy, question to ask students - a bit like dropping a well-fed bather into a pool of piranhas. The result will be interesting, but not without its perils.

I did tell mine right at the outset, though, that my value in this context was to be measured solely in monetary terms. So maybe "What do you think I should be paid?" was my real question.

My question was prompted by the news that a Swedish company with the almost unpronounceable name of Kunskapsskolan is hoping to take over the running of up to 30 state schools in England over the next 10 years.

The company already controls a large number of state-funded secondaries in Sweden and has an interesting approach to salaries. At one school in Uppsala, it is experimenting with giving pupils a say in their teachers' pay.

Being Swedish, it is naturally approaching this experiment with a certain amount of caution. As Anders Hultin, Kunskapsskolan's international managing director, told The TES: "It is a recent thing that we do very carefully, step by step. We think it will work because students will take it seriously. It has always been my view that they are the best evaluators of teachers."

So, if it works in Uppsala, why not in Upminster? And if it is a goer in one sector - secondary - why not in all of them, including FE? The most fun area would surely be with infants. People who are still trying to come to terms with the fact that Father Christmas might not exist would undoubtedly have some novel ideas as to the rewards their teachers should receive. The trouble is, would you really be able to pay your mortgage in gobstoppers?

The sector where you are most likely to get the students to play ball must surely be ours. OK, so we may be sent some of the livelier members of the 14 to 16 cohort, but that doesn't mean they can't tell whether a teacher is giving them the goods or not.

And quite a lot of our students have the epithet "mature" attached to them. If any one group can be trusted to objectively assess their tutors, wouldn't it be the over-19s?

That was my logic when I decided to ask the big question: if you held the educational purse strings, what would you give me each year?

Sadly, by the time I had decided on my opinion poll, classes were already drawing to a close for the year. But I did manage to get half a dozen of my students - all adults - to fill out a brief questionnaire.

In order not to prejudice their opinions, I didn't tell them my salary: pound;36,500 per annum, pro rata, given that these days I'm on a 0.5 contract. That is the salary for a lecturer at the top of the scale in my college, with inner London weighting.

First, I asked what they thought in principle of the idea of students having a say in teachers' salaries. The response was mixed. Brilliant, said two of them. It's always positive to hear a variety of opinions, said another. One of the "brilliants" added a comment that students are the most appropriate judges of the quality of teaching.

Not all of them, though, had quite such a positive view of their fellow students. One muttered darkly about students' negative dispositions, while a second thought that it could encourage favouritism, bribery and corruption. One called for a return to standardised national salaries, suggesting that some students may make judgements on superficial aspects of teaching.

So, what would they pay me? While there was no unanimity, there was no mention of gobstoppers. Suggestions ranged from pound;32,000 up to pound;60,000, although that was actually expressed as "between pound;50,000 and pound;60,000". To make some sense of it all, I took an average. Where a range was suggested, I took the mid point. In the end, the salary my students would award me was just over pound;39,000 a year, around 8 per cent more than I get. In the current round of pay talks, the employers want to give me 3 per cent. My union is asking for 6. So perhaps we can learn something from the Swedes after all.

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