Wage rage

I seem to be suffering from a strange ailment. It's called "summer gap". It's not a condition I've had before, although I suspect it's pretty widespread in some sections of the educational community. And it's not so much an affliction of the body as of the wallet.

After working for more years than I care to remember as a tenured college lecturer, I have just completed my first year as a part-timer, paid by the hour. This brings with it certain advantages but summer gap definitely isn't one of them.

What it consists of is a hole in your finances that begins around the end of August. You've been paid for the work you did in July, but with colleges on holiday over the summer there won't be anything coming in until you are remunerated for September's classes at the end of October.

Ah yes, I hear you say, but doesn't your hourly rate take account of the holidays? And isn't it sufficiently inflated to allow prudent teachers to put money aside for when they're not working?

I'm not so sure. As a teacher in a London college I am currently paid pound;27.92 per hour. That, of course, is not the real hourly rate, because the nature of the work means that I am obliged to do a lot of other stuff outside the classroom. So for each hour of teaching you generally need to add another hour of preparation and marking. That means the pay rate is instantly halved - down to just under pound;14.

It doesn't end there. A wide range of ongoing admin tasks also have to be completed. At this time of year, you must further take account of the preparation of various time-consuming planning documents, such as schemes of work and assessment schedules. When classroom observations come around, you will have lesson plans to construct, plus various other documents without which you are in real danger of being judged to be unsatisfactory.

If there is an internal or external inspection - as happens pretty much every year - then all that work will have to be repeated. Taking this into consideration, that pound;14 has now come down to more like pound;12 per hour.

As in other walks of life, nothing in education stays the same for long. Most years you must reckon with a changed syllabus or having new continuous assessment units to learn or write. The related paperwork also changes with monotonous regularity - so plenty more to do there. Add in the meetings to attend, and reports and references to be written, and that pound;12 rapidly comes down to more like pound;9.

The minimum wage is pound;6.50, although in London it is estimated that the living wage - the absolute minimum required to live above the bread line - is pound;8.80, just 20p below the real rate for part-time teachers.

As I am semi-retired I can perhaps afford to carry out a certain amount of "charitable" work of this kind. Sadly, though, I am not typical of that great malleable pool of casual labour known as part-timers. For most of them this is their livelihood and, given the above, that is nothing short of a scandal.

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a further education college in London

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