Examine the contents of a newspaper on any given day and you will find yourself informed of the perils faced by the people and organisations across the country trying to teach our children. From strikes over teacher’s wages and working hours to the overwhelming shortage of new teachers, schools seem to be in turmoil. The government’s focus on academies and now grammar schools seems to be a misplaced or even misguided solution in the face of this turmoil.
The career that is teaching remains in itself a rewarding one. Children are still children, and there will always be those among us who find reward in encouraging children to learn- even with reduced funding, staff shortages and increased workloads. But there remains one hurdle which cannot be so easily overcome- the stagnation and decline of teacher’s wages in real terms. Since 2007 teachers (as well as many in other professions) have been forced to face years with little or no wage growth, at a time of particular hardship with the rising costs of rent, bills and food.
To put the decline into scale, the OECD estimate that had pre-2007 trends continued on until today that real wages would be a full 26.3 percent higher. This is problem enough on its own- but in conjunction with the myriad of other problems hitting the education sector the decline in real wages seems particularly unfair.
A Teacher’s Perspective
While workers in every sector are undoubtedly experiencing the effects of our austere recovery, the fact of continued wage stagnation hits teachers with particular force.
First and foremost, the well-documented mass teacher shortage means that the amount of work a teacher must do has expanded, without a corresponding increase in wages. Claire Hill- a teacher for 39 years- recently spoke with the Guardian about ‘endless feedback, forms and meetings’ on top of ten hour working days followed by two hours of lesson planning and marking. While the topic of the ever increasing workload that teachers face is a familiar one to those who follow the news, it is particularly criminal when examined in the light of the real wages teachers earn.
Claire is planning on transitioning to a part time role as the wage she receives is simply not enough compensation for the hours she commits to her job. Claire’s situation is mirrored in schools across the country, with four of every ten new teachers quitting within a year and record numbers of mid-career teachers leaving the profession with them.
A Teacher’s Future
Considering that the OECD foresee further wage stagnation- and for some, a reduction in real terms- a future dictated by current trends seems bleak. In response to the stagnation of real term wages, as well as increased workload due to staff shortages and budget cuts, the NUT organised a strike on July 5th which resulted in around 7,000 out of England’s 22,000 state schools closing for the day.
It is vital that teachers, and those advocating for teachers, stay on message and make it clear to a country still somewhat uncomfortable with ‘strikes’ that striking teachers are not entitled, but desperate.