Why would anyone go into teaching? It’s a question frequently asked by people who haven’t stepped inside a classroom since they were pupils themselves decades previously, often fuelled by lurid notions that feral children are running wild, with teachers doing well simply to herd them in and out of the school building.
But when that same question is asked by one of the country’s most prominent organisations representing teachers, you know something serious really is up.
At the annual gathering of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) today, president Kevin Campbell is expected to utter these stark words: “If you are a graduate just leaving university and you’re considering your options, why would you choose teaching? Well, quite honestly, there isn’t much to convince you.”
Campbell will then reel off a litany of reasons why teaching is unlikely to appeal. “Fair enough, if you’re looking for even more debt, you can accrue another year’s worth of student loans to pay off over the next 30 years,” he says. “You can try to scrape together the cost of accommodation.
“Your pal has just got a job with a telecommunications company starting on £30,000 a year, rising every year thereafter. Your other pal has gone into computer programming – he’s looking at earning twice [that].
“You’re thinking about teaching, you’re looking at starting on £21,000 – after another year at university, mind – going up eventually to £35,000. Is it really that much of a prospect? … Why would you settle for £35,000?”
‘Physically and mentally draining’
Campbell, a biology teacher in Fife, also shares his personal experience. After five years at university and 15 in work, he says, “I can hardly pay my bills”.
He questions whether teacher pay compensates for “the stress, the workload and the constant updating of skills, the physical and mental drainage of doing the job”, and suggests that “the numbers fleeing the profession and the problems recruiting new blood” speak for themselves. He also criticises the “insulting” recent pay offer – near the end of March, teachers rejected a salary rise of between 2 and 3 per cent – and backs the push by the EIS teaching union for a 10 per cent rise for all teachers.
Campbell, whose speech is shot through with rueful sarcasm, underlines that the disincentives are not purely financial, saying: “Thanks to the [General Teaching Council for Scotland] and the providers of initial teacher education, you can be expected to travel an hour and a half to get to school placements.”
Despite many graduates not having cars, and many parts of Scotland not being well served by public transport, Campbell says that teachers are often placed in schools far from home and effectively told, “that’s your problem”.
Campbell says: “Once in school, you have all the support networks you need – except the teachers in the school are up to their eyebrows in their own workload and are stressed out of their minds. They’ve not got time to share their experience or support you.
“But you’ve got a mentor. Well, you may, but are they going to have the dedicated time in which to support you? Maybe, maybe not. What about support from your university tutors? Well, they do the best they can but there aren’t enough to cover the whole country or the numbers of students adequately.”
He adds: “It’s not good enough, not by a long shot. If we want to encourage people into teaching, we need to make it easier for them, we need to pay their costs, we need to subsidise accommodation and transport.”
SSTA general secretary Seamus Searson stresses that Mr Campbell’s comments are based on direct contact with many student and newly qualified teachers he has supported in Fife, where he was an official for the union even before becoming president in 2017.
Searson tells Tes Scotland: “If we are expecting these teachers to stay in the profession for 45 years, they can’t be treated as cheap fodder for schools. That’s what has happened in the English system, and now the profession there is struggling to hold on to teachers for more than a few years.”
A Scottish government spokesman says: “We value Scotland’s teachers highly and are providing the money needed so councils can maintain teacher numbers. Teachers received a higher pay award last year because we were the first in the UK to lift the 1 per cent public sector pay cap.
“Our ambitious reform agenda is aimed at making teaching an attractive career choice with varied opportunities to develop. We have also created new routes into the profession and there are £20,000 bursaries available for career changers to train in priority subjects.”
Education secretary John Swinney is expected to address the SSTA conference today.