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Saturday, 20 January, 2001, 00:18 GMT
Does higher pay recruit teachers?
This week, BBC education correspondent Mike Baker takes a detailed look at teachers' pay and its potential for alleviating staff shortages.
The lobbying and the speculation over the annual teachers' pay award is reaching fever pitch.
While this happens most years, this time around - with teacher shortages threatening to become an explosive election issue for the government - much more is at stake.
Of course, even a huge pay rise will not transform the teacher shortage before election day, yet the government knows it must be seen to be responding to the current difficulties confronting schools. Anything else will appear complacent.
The government spin doctors have pointed eagerly to the latest teacher training recruitment figures which showed a year-on-year increase of 10%.
A closer look at the small print, however, showed that the bulk of the increase was into primary training courses which have consistently recruited above target. Secondary recruitment, which is more problematic, was up by just 4% - and that was an increase on last year's figures which were well below target.
More seriously still, recruitment to several key shortage subjects actually fell compared to last year. Mathematics, English, French, geography, history and RE were all down by between 2% and 9%. Not such good news.
To be fair to the government, the many incentive schemes have had mostly a positive effect in the subjects where they have been targeted. But a small increase in recruitment will not ease the current problems for some time to come.
However, there is a large pool of qualified teachers who are not teaching. Some ex-teachers might be lured out of this PIT (as the Pool of Inactive Teachers used to be known) by a substantial across-the-board pay rise.
Interestingly, there appear to be growing numbers of qualified teachers who are happy to do supply work but do not want full-time jobs. Could this have something to do with the bureaucracy and paperwork that goes with a permanent post?
The pay deal for Scottish teachers has also increased pressure on the School Teachers' Review Body which, since teachers lost the right to negotiate their own pay levels, recommends the annual pay award in England and Wales. Scottish teachers - who do still have negotiating rights - have secured a deal worth 21.5% over three years.
This has led to muttering (mainly from union leaders in England) about an exodus of teachers from England to Scotland. Higher pay, maximum working hours and guaranteed non-contact time - time away from the children - will, it is claimed, make teaching in Scotland a much more attractive proposition.
This may be true. But it is worth taking a closer look.
At present both the basic starting salary and the maximum classroom teacher grade (before management responsibilities) are lower in Scotland than in England and Wales. The 10% Scottish teachers will get next year will - assuming a pay rise of about 3.7% in England and Wales - barely put them ahead of teachers south of the border.
But direct pay comparisons are difficult to make. Scottish teachers have a straightforward pay scale but in England and Wales, basic pay is boosted by a whole range of allowances.
As well as responsibility allowances, there are London and South East allowances worth up to £2,316 a year and discretionary recruitment and retention allowances worth up to £3,700. There is also, dare one mention it, that small matter of performance-related payments to add to the pot.
So, unless you have a love of the mountains or a good malt, the pull to Scotland may not be enough to persuade thousands of teachers in England to throw away their national curriculum folders and head for the Scottish school system.
Improved allowances are likely to be the main means the government uses to tackle teacher shortages. Big increases in the London and South East allowances would seem an obvious starting point.
At present, a police officer in London earns some £6,000 a year more than colleagues elsewhere. An inner London teacher gets only a little over £2,000 extra.
In expensive parts of the South East the allowance is a mere £591. This does not go far towards meeting the high housing costs in the Home Counties.
In Surrey, for example, the local education authority reckons living costs are 82% above the national average. Surrey's Deputy Director of Education, Steve Clarke, believes the cost of living in his area is a major obstacle to filling vacancies.
Before Christmas, 18 Surrey schools advertised vacancies. Only three were able to make permanent appointments.
As he puts it: "The only way we can recruit is from people already teaching in the South East, so we end up taking from each other."
The government can, and does, point to the existing recruitment and retention allowances which are available to schools finding it hard to recruit. Yet only a tiny number of teachers (the pay review body estimated under 2%) receive these allowances for the simple reason that most schools cannot afford them.
Of course, pay is not the only answer to teacher shortages. The heavy response to my column last week suggested many ex-teachers had been driven out not by salary levels but by classroom indiscipline, bureaucracy or workload.
It is interesting to note that France - where teachers' pay is generally lower than in the UK - is one of the few countries without a teacher shortage.
That could be something to do with the fact that teachers are ranked as top grade civil servants and, traditionally, have been expected to teach their subject but otherwise do little else.
Mike Baker welcomes your comments at: email@example.com although he cannot always answer individual e-mails.
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