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Tired of London, tired of life on a shoestring

Teachers in east London's Malmesbury junior school are unimpressed with their 3.75 per cent pay award and would rather the money went towards improving their classroom conditions.

Sarah Harvey, 26, who took up her first teaching post at the Tower Hamlets school four months ago, finds it difficult to make ends meet on her Pounds 15,300 salary which includes London weighting. And she believes the extra cash - after tax - will buy her little more than a weekly cinema ticket or round of drinks in the pub on a Friday night.

"I come from a family of teachers so I knew what to expect when I entered the profession. I certainly didn't do it for the cash," says Ms Harvey. "But I feel undervalued in terms of facilities. I have 10 special needs children in my class of 30. I'd rather have full-time, qualified classroom support than a few extra pounds."

Helen Evans, 26, who has been at the grim-looking, Victorian school since Christmas, agrees. "I find it difficult to cope on my Pounds 20,000 salary because living costs in London are so high. But I feel more aggrieved about conditions. I have to take work home every night and I'd like more non-contact time to plan, mark and assess."

Michael Russell, Malmesbury's headteacher, believes the pay award will do nothing to ease the problem of recruiting and retaining teachers, the majority of whom are newcomers to the profession when they arrive at his 300-pupil school and stay less than four years.

Two full-time teachers are leaving at Easter, and he will be surprised if there is more than one external applicant for each post. The school currently has 12 full-time staff, excluding the head, and 1.4 language support teachers. "It doesn't take us long to produce an excellent, committed teacher out of a newcomer. The problem is, we end up training them for other schools," he says.

"Because London is so expensive they have to live in bedsits, often on the other side of the city, and soon move away to buy their own homes with a bit of garden.

"The rise appears quite generous but when all the sums are done, it will probably do little more than keep pace with inflation."

Mr Russell believes the Government's decision to publish tables of national test results at key stage 2 will only add to his problems.

Teachers, feeling under scrutiny, will opt not to work in a school like Malmesbury where around 70 per cent of pupils are eligible for free meals. Some 35 per cent of children are Bangladeshi or Somali and speak English as a second language and around 55 per cent come from working-class backgrounds.

"Teachers will know it's harder to get some of these children up to the required standard for national tests so they'll decide not to bother." He would have liked to see a no-strings increase of at least 5 per cent and more recognition of the recruitment and retention problems in deprived parts of London and the South-east. "I think the Government is storing up problems for itself. There are going to be increasing numbers of sink schools as people simply refuse to teach in London for the money offered."

Sarah Harvey rents a room in Hackney for Pounds 312 a month, including bills, which takes a big chunk out of her pay. She cycles to work each day to save on fares. This year's extra money will go towards paying off a Pounds 1,200 bank loan.

She admits she plans to stay at Malmesbury junior just two years and then aims to move on in search of a better standard of living .

"There are so many things to do in London like going to the theatre or art galleries but I can't afford to. I'd be much better off in another part of the country," she says.

Her colleague Hazel Everett, 24, who has taught at the school for two years, resents the fact her fiance, who works in computers, earns far more than she does.

"We're getting married and he's going to have to pay for virtually everything. He's putting away Pounds 500 a month while I can only manage Pounds 50. " She plans to move on soon too. "I'd rather my kids went to schools with less concrete and proper playing fields."

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