A few months ago, Tes Scotland carried an advert for a teaching post at a secondary school that serves one of Scotland’s most deprived housing estates. The salary was £26,895, a ridiculously paltry sum for what is one of the most important challenges in education: raising attainment in our most disadvantaged communities. Closing the education gap between rich and poor is, after all, the stated aim of the Scottish government. Teachers deserve more recognition and reward for the challenging work they undertake in this area.
I picked out the school because I taught there for 10 years and know the sort of difficulties confronting pupils, parents and teachers. Other jobs, which probably have much less impact on young peoples’ lives – and on society in general – command much higher salaries.
Even within education we have, at a time of mounting student debt and public sector wage-restraint, some of Scotland’s university administrators receiving annual salaries of £250,000 and more. The gap between those who teach and those who administer in education is widening significantly.
In our 32 local authorities, the highest salaries are also awarded to those who administer rather than to those who teach.
While not demeaning their work, it is questionable whether so much of our education budget should be allocated to paperwork and consultancy rather than increasing the rewards and incentives for teachers on the front line of delivering change. It is, after all, teachers who inspire our pupils and make such a difference to their lives.
Early in my career, I was promoted to principal teacher. I had more responsibilities, but remained largely in the classroom. One of the most retrograde steps Scottish education has taken in the past 20 years was to abolish principal teacher posts and bring in faculty heads.
In a typical secondary, five principal teacher posts were replaced by one faculty head. As well as removing crucial expertise for each subject, the change deprives many teachers of that crucial first step on the career ladder and takes some of our best teachers out of the classroom to deal with administrative duties.
The message, again, is that paperwork pays more than teaching pupils, which undervalues the importance of the latter. “You can’t get rich remaining in the classroom,” I often hear colleagues advising younger teachers.
Countries that excel in raising attainment recognise that great teachers will save us from mediocrity. During a recent trip to South Korea, I had the privilege of sitting in on a lesson with one of the country’s top teachers. Pupils and other teachers listened to every word he said – the reward for his excellence was the status of a national hero and an income of more than a million pounds a year. Recognition, in other words, of the value of great teaching.
John Greenlees is a secondary teacher