Why lecturers get taken to the cleaners;Viewpoint;FE Focus;Opinion

19th June 1998 at 01:00
IT IS BECAUSE we both know we're well off with Wendy, our cleaning lady, that we value her so much. Duster at the ready, she waves us off every Friday morning, and when we get back in the evening the place is spotless.

No wonder we say to each other (and, occasionally, to Wendy) we don't know what we'd do without her. So we pay Wendy pound;4.50 per hour, plus as many cups of tea and biscuits as she can manage. At Christmas there's a present, and her annual holiday comes with our best wishes and a fortnight's pay.

If you want to hang on to someone like Wendy, you have to treat them well. Janice, one of dozens of part-time teachers at my college, has a good first degree and an MA. She has been in the job for three years, and teaches three hours of GCSE English language, three hours of GNVQ media studies a week at pound;15.72 per hour, plus four hours of A-level English literature at pound;21.42 per hour.

She shares a desk with four other part-timers, and she brings a flask of tea and her own biscuits to work. Eighteen pounds an hour average earnings, and she lugs a flask to work - a bit miserly, surely? Not when you look at the big picture.

For each hour spent in the classroom, Janice devotes about the same amount of time to lesson preparation. Then, of course, there's marking - again, roughly one hour for each hour's teaching. And this this is before attending training sessions, subject meetings and open evenings, let alone writing references and setting and marking exams.

To calculate Janice's real hourly rate, then, we should first divide her total weekly income by 10 (number of hours worked), then by at least three (preparation and marking, etc). The result is pound;6. And this is before paying tax. In sum, Janice earns little more per hour, if at all, than our cleaning lady. And not a hope of a Christmas present or holiday pay.

Conditions for part-time teachers in FE have gone from bad to worse since incorporation. Indeed, Janice might in some ways consider herself lucky. While many colleges no longer pay a nationally agreed hourly rate for different grades of work, ours at least continues to do so.

In other respects, though, Janice's work conditions are as wanting as those of most of her kind. Much of her timetable consists of the toughest classes in the worst rooms at times no-one else wants. Once she might have been paid travel expenses, but not today.

Each year she finishes work in the summer term with no idea as to what, if anything, she will be asked to teach the following September. Her prospects rest on unpredictable recruitment rates and the whim of her employers.

Some colleges, wary of European legislation intended to achieve parity for part-time employees, now avoid long-term commitment by dropping part-timers after brief periods of work.

As more and more full-time posts in further education are cut, Janice's prospects of a full-time post have been narrowed almost to nil. Not that she would particularly welcome such a position, at least in those colleges that now pay selected full-timers by the hour so as to reduce the wages bill. This is a terrible shame for, despite such dismal treatment, Janice obviously loves teaching.

Much of her spare time is spent trying to improve an already impressive teaching record. Her patience with less capable students puts many of us cynical veterans to shame. All this for around pound;6 per hour and the privilege of waiting by the telephone each September to hear if your contract has been renewed.

No more, however. Tired not so much of teaching as of a state of persistent semi-penury, Janice is set to take a job in industry that offers security, status and, not least, salary prospects that most teachers can only dream about. So the college can wave goodbye to a teacher who frequently embodied those goals of "excellence" and "quality" so freely invoked in the college brochure.

The moral is plain enough. People like Janice do not become teachers to clean up, but they do expect to be paid more than those whose best skills are with a mop.

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