Tired of London, tired of an expensive life

Teachers across the country now have wildly different standards of living. Adi Bloom finds compelling reasons for moving to Hull

The teacher's salary that can comfortably support a family of five in Cornwall will barely keep a single Londoner solvent.

The TES spoke to five teachers, living in different regions of the country. All earn between pound;22,000 and pound;26,000 per annum, but their standard of living varies greatly. One major cause of these differences is house prices.

The average price of a house in Yorkshire and Humberside is pound;70,166, while an average house in London costs more than double that, at pound;171,692. Spending on household goods also varies. Average weekly expenditure on food and drink is pound;53.70 in the North, while in London it is pound;69.40.

A recent study, conducted by CACI, the data analysis firm, established that teachers in London, the Home Counties and Manchester are significantly lower down the pay pecking order in their areas than their counterparts elsewhere.

Despite London weighting, teachers in greater London and the Home Counties earn only 50-70 per cent of the average household income for their area.

In more rural areas, such as Cornwall, Norfolk and the Welsh coast, teachers' salaries do buy a good quality of life, as the cost of living is comfortably covered by their salary.

For many young teachers in London and the Home Counties, the only way to step on to the property ladder is to move to a more affordable part of the country, or join a more lucrative profession.

The consequent one-way flow of teachers from greater London is reflected in vacancy rates. The figures for 2001 show there are 5.2 vacancies for every 100 teachers in the inner-city London borough of Camden. In less affluent areas, where the average salary is lower, there are far fewer vacancies: Hull has a vacancy rate of 0.4 per cent, while Cornwall has no shortages.

Teachers' unions are demanding an immediate increase in the additional allowance for teachers in London and the South-east. They want the pound;3,105 living allowance to be raised to pound;6,000, which would put teachers on a par with police officers in the capital.

"Teachers have to pay the same mortgage rates and travel costs that the police do," said a spokeswoman for the NUT. "There can be no justification for this discrepancy."

The Government is currently reviewing its system of funding local education authorities, and there are likely to be changes in the way more expensive areas of the country receive extra cash.

Civil servants favour using house prices in the calculation of council budgets, reflecting the fact that house prices in the South-east are seen as one of the biggest contributors to shortages. This would mean that areas of the country outside London could receive extra payments for the first time.

Leader, 18

BIRMINGHAM

Even given unlimited resources, Emma Sly says she would continue to make her daily 52-mile round-trip journey.

The 25-year-old special needs and science teacher is happy to sacrifice two hours each day commuting from her home near Tamworth to Bishop Challoner school in Birmingham.

"House prices in the city are something to do with it - they're at least double what we paid - but we live here because we like it. It's out in the country," she says. Ms Sly and her husband paid pound;58,500 for their three-bedroom house 18 months ago. They are both on similar salaries - around pound;22,000 and had no trouble getting a 100 per cent mortgage.

She drives an R-registration Ford Escort, which she bought second-hand for pound;4,500. As a special-needs teacher, she is contracted to work unusual hours: 11am to 6.30pm Monday to Thursday, and 9am to 4pm on Friday. But school meetings, which are usually held first thing in the morning, often mean that she is in school earlier.

"Money-wise, I'm probably not compensated as much as I would like," she said. "But satisfaction-wise I am."

She does not feel that she can be extravagant, but goes out regularly. She visits the pub once a week, spending pound;2.40 on a pint of beer. A trip to the cinema two or three times a month, costs about pound;5. She also goes out regularly for meals. "It depends what time of the month it is - if it's near pay day, I spend about pound;30 on a meal. If it's the end of the month, I spend pound;10 on a cheap curry," she said. "You live within your means, don't you? I would be happy to have more, but everyone would, even if they were on pound;70,000."

WARWICK

Living so close to Stratford-upon-Avon, Janet Perry wishes that she could afford to go to the theatre more often. "But it's very expensive," she says. I'd also like to go to the theatre in London, which you can do on a summer evening from here."

She would prefer to eat out more often, and when she does treat herself to more than a pizza. A decent meal for two, she says, can set her back as much as pound;80. "I don't go out a lot," she says. "Most teachers have alcohol at home, rather than go out. That's because of the finances."

Ms Perry, 51, lives in Warwick, where she has taught primary children since 1972. She moved there because she felt that it would be a pleasant place to live: "I was born in Scunthorpe, so was bound to want to be somewhere else." She earns some pound;25,000 a year at Newburgh school, a convenient 10-minute commute from her home. She drives there in her three-year-old second-hand Fiat Punto. But despite living five minutes from Warwick town centre, Ms Perry claims one of the first things she would do, given a larger salary, would be to move house. "I'd like to be slightly nearer my children's school, in Leamington," she said. "It's about 20 minutes walk at the moment. If we lived near their school, we'd be near Leamington town centre. It's a much bigger town - better for teenagers."

She and her freelance musician husband - formerly a teacher - bought their house 14 years ago. They paid pound;60,000 for the three-bedroom property, and have converted the loft into an extra bedroom. Three of her four children live at home; the fourth is at Middlesex University.

Since her husband gave up salaried work, Ms Perry says, she has not been able to offer her student son everything she would have liked. She works hard, often going into school on weekends and holidays, but still feels that she buys her children fewer clothes than they need.

She has also become increasingly disillusioned with teaching: regretting the move away from a child-centred approach.

But at least she benefits from being on the property ladder: "Warwick is an expensive place to buy property... It's very difficult for young teachers starting out."

HULL

Though she usually buys half-price meals and cheap cinema tickets, Helen Foster does not need to count pennies.

When the Hull geography teacher and her partner go out to eat, they head to one of several local pubs that offer discount deals. "They're good value, and I like the food," Ms Foster says. "But we would still go out, even if there wasn't the offer." In Hull you can still find a meal for one for about pound;10. Ms Foster will occasionally have a few drinks with the meal, paying pound;1.80 for a pint of beer.

Value for money in this city does not stop there: when Ms Foster and her partner go to a film, about once a month, they visit a new cinema where tickets are just pound;3.60, admittedly less than elsewhere in the area. But, Ms Foster, 28, says they do not need cut-price deals: she can live comfortably on her salary of around pound;25,000 anyway.

"Hull is a very cheap place to live. We can afford to do the things we want," she says. She and her partner, who sells building supplies, bought a three-bedroom house four-and-a-half years ago. They put a pound;2,000 deposit on the pound;39,000 property, and had no problem getting a mortgage for the rest. "We live near the edge of town," she said. "It's a nicer area: the houses are bigger and have gardens." Kelvin Hall school is a 10-minute ride away in her L-registration Toyota Carina - which was given to her. She does not worry about the cost of running it.

Work takes some nine hours a day. Having taken on extra responsibilities - gifted and talented pupils, literacy and numeracy and co-ordination of key stage 3 - she often takes work home. "It's good for the extra money," she says. "But I went into teaching because I like working with kids. wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it."

LONDON

Kate Goldsmith realises that she will eventually have to face a difficult decision: should she stay in London and face giving up teaching, or should she move somewhere more affordable?

Ms Goldsmith lives in a one-bedroom flat in east London. She was only able to buy the pound;57,500 property after her brother lent her pound;3,500 for a deposit. "I'm from Nottingham, and I could buy my mum's house with what my flat is worth," she says. "I can't see myself affording a house in London." Ms Goldsmith has been teaching English for four years and is at Parliament Hill school, north London, where she earns pound;22,125.

She and friends used to rent a flat near work, but she is now faced with a 40-minute daily commute. A monthly pass for the overland train journey costs pound;45. The journey is also inconvenient: she tries to juggle her workload to avoid having to carry heavy exercise books back and forth.

"You work hard to make the school good, but in doing so you raise house prices in the area and price yourself out," she says. "I'm building a community I'd like to be a part of, but I can't afford it."

Her non-teacher friends all earn at least pound;10,000 more than she does. Ms Goldsmith often struggles to keep up with their lifestyle. She goes out regularly for dinner, paying pound;15 to pound;25 for two courses and wine. But she rarely goes to the cinema, partly because tickets in central London at pound;10 are pricey, and partly because she would rather chat with friends over food.

Despite being careful with money, Ms Goldsmith finds herself living on an overdraft. She feels obliged to take on extra responsibility, to boost her income. She is deputy head of Year 10, a position taken for financial reasons. Her job involves a lot of marking, and she works 50 to 60 hours a week and during holidays. But she refuses to do exam-marking: "It's horrible. It doesn't really pay and it takes up so much time. I'd rather take in washing."

"I do have a reasonable standard of living, but I don't feel it's commensurate with the work I put in. At the moment I don't have any plans to leave teaching - I love it. But if I thought I would have to leave London, I would reconsider, because that's not something I want to do."

CORNWALL

Living in Cornwall, says David Reardon, is affordable as long as you do not want a quaint village port on your doorstep.

The 38-year-old primary teacher says: "If you want to live somewhere picturesque, you pay a lot more in house prices."

Mr Reardon lives in Launceston, where a lack of rail links and infrequent bus service mean property is cheaper. He and his wife paid pound;118,000 for their five-bedroom house in 1998, when they decided to bring up their young family in the country.

He owns a three-year-old Rover, bought second-hand, which means that the 10-mile journey to work at Altarnun primary can be done easily.

Mr Reardon works 45 hours a week, occasionally taking work home. He and his wife, a full-time mother, rarely go out on their own in the evening: he is not prepared to trust his three young children to a babysitter. They will occasionally go out to an Indian restaurant, where three courses for the adults and two for the children comes to a total of just pound;35. When he and his wife go for dinner alone, a three-course meal with alcohol will cost pound;20. A pint of beer is pound;1.80. "There are plenty of pubs, restaurants and cafes considering that it's a small town," he says. "But if we wanted to go to the cinema, skating or 10-pin bowling, we would need to travel to Plymouth or Exeter."

Exeter is nearer at three-quarters of an hour away. More often, though, the family spend evenings watching videos rented for under pound;2. Generally, he says, his family survives well on his pound;24,843 salary alone. "Part of the reason I went into teaching is that it felt more secure than the private sector. We've not been extravagant, buying that much in luxury goods. But we've managed - the children always get plenty for birthdays and Christmas."

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