Why teaching is at crossroads


Why teaching is at crossroads: Meeting hears claims of build up of frustration in profession

The impasse over teacher pay is part of a wider battle for the future of the teaching profession, it has been warned. Teachers across all five main unions are embroiled in industrial action short of strike.

Mark Langhammer, the regional secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said the action is the result of the degradation of the teaching profession generally. Speaking to NEU members on Monday night, Mr Langhammer said teachers had suffered a ‘lost decade’ which had resulted in the longest and harshest squeeze on wages for more than 200 years “since the Napoleonic wars”.

“Teachers have lost over a fifth (over 20%) in real term wages,” he said.

“The profession has devalued. The average worker has cumulatively lost nearly £20,000 in real earnings between 2008 and 2021, with consequent pension effects. And now, teachers are asked to swallow a further, substantial, real-term inflationary cut.”

“Teachers, along with social workers, have experienced the worst pay growth in the UK in the past decade, while public sector salaries have fallen significantly behind those in the private sector. The years between 2010-11 and 2020-21 have been termed a ‘lost decade’ for pay growth in the UK labour market, but new analysis tracking employees in different sectors over the period reveals that some have fared considerably worse than others.”

The biggest wage gains have been in the low-paid hospitality sector, where workers have seen a 35.3% jump in median earnings — thanks mainly to the introduction of the national living wage.

Finance and insurance went up by 26.8% while professional and scientific services saw a 23.2% increase in real median pay. Employees in the information and communications sector, by contrast, have seen a 21.7% increase. Research by the right-leaning consultancy, Public First, shows a 6.7% increase in real median pay in the health sector.

"The median salary in the education sector has grown by just 4.3%, once adjusted for inflation, with only social work lagging even further behind with a 4.1% increase. By comparison, the median or typical worker saw pay grow by 15% over the same period,” Mr Langhammer added.

"Given that education employees have fallen significantly behind other professions and many private-sector peers over the past decade, it would hardly be surprising if more start to seek work elsewhere.

And while it may be bad for society to see a brain drain of top talent from the education sector, it may be what teachers rationally need to do to advance their living standards now. But it’s not just pay. Teachers have also seen, over the past 15 years, a severe and unprecedented decrease in ‘job-quality’ with less professional autonomy, lowered task-discretion and significantly increased ‘job-intensity’ — all for ever-lower salaries. In England, among the newly qualified teachers in 2014, some 14% percent had left after a year; after five years, a third had gone.”

Mr Langhammer said, teacher retention is a long-term problem.

Northern Ireland, which traditionally over-produces teachers, “is regrettably going the same way”, he added. In 1992 some 73% of teachers reported that they had a great deal of influence over how they performed their tasks; by 2017, this proportion had come down to 36%.

Teachers’ sense of control over their work seems to have diminished, and notably more than for other professionals,” said Mr Langhammer. “Having both high work intensity and reduced control or influence over your work indicates high strain in a job, a classic source of stress. Northern Irish trained teachers are of high quality.

"But many cannot find permanent jobs on leaving college. Many have an ‘episodic’ start in the first four or five years of their careers. There is a brain-drain of well-trained, highly qualified teachers to England, English speaking destinations such as Canada and Australia and to the Middle-East, as well as to international schools in Europe. Many are lost to teaching altogether, moving to other, better paid professions and careers with prospects.

"For the first time in over a generation, a teacher recruitment shortage is beginning to emerge in Northern Ireland. Shortages are most acute in maths, sciences, technology, home economics and in substitute teachers’ availability. Our demand is for a fully-funded pay rise which at least matches inflation. This is not unrealistic.

"NEU have not traditionally been a militant union. In 125 years of our history, we have taken strike action on only one occasion (in 2010 over pensions). That our members have been driven towards strike action again is testimony to a long and consistent failure of successive governments — at Stormont and Westminster — to address the deep-seated concerns of the profession.

"The battle ahead, and it will be a battle, will have a significant impact across this country as we move now towards a strike ballot."

Credit: Mark Bain. Article taken from Belfast Telegraph.

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