Parliament is in another frenzy as IPSA, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, has had its 10% pay rise for MPs bitterly rejected by many of the future recipients before they voted to accept it in full.
IPSA says that it isn’t as good an offer as it looks since the golden goodbyes are being scrapped, fiddling expenses will become more difficult and the fantastic pensions are being trimmed a little. Sir Ian, the head of IPSA, says
In making this decision we are very aware of the strongly held views of many members of the public and by some MPs themselves.We have listened to those views.
We have made an important change to the way in which pay will be adjusted annually.
Over the last Parliament, MPs’ pay increased by 2%, compared to 5% in the public sector and 10% in the whole economy. It is right that we make this one-off increase and then formally link MPs’ pay to public sector pay.
Gove’s plan to remove BNP members from schools is an ominous restriction of political freedom.
Michael Gove, the Coalition Education Minister, has allowed his political instincts to take second place to following the vocal crowd, and has promised that schools will be allowed to sack BNP members from their staff. The rationale, if you can call it that, is that BNP membership is incompatible with the ethos of schools, and that clearing these outcasts from schools will be an unalloyed good.
But why stop at the BNP? Which other groups have politically incorrect views that the famously tolerant British should not tolerate?
How about UKIP with their dodgy views about foreigners? Or islamist affiliations who want a European caliphate? Sinn Fein or Plaid Cymru members who want to break up the Union? Tories? A teacher who doesn’t want to sign up to the school’s statement of ‘shared values and beliefs’?
Don’t laugh at this last one, though. This has already happened! I have been told during a ‘training’ session that anyone who voiced an opinion in the staff room that a Sixth Form College should focus more on A Levels, and less on vocational courses, would not be tolerated. The suggestion was that such a teacher should be ‘encouraged’ to leave unless they buttoned up and signed up.
If the aim of this new policy is to allow heads to sack teachers who use their position to proselytise their political views, then Gove would be pleased to know that this behaviour would already be in breach of contract. I am certain that most teachers with odious views are not actually members of a political party, and also that many members of the BNP are not as unlikeable as their simpleton leader. I am also pretty sure that an hour a week with a maths teacher who holds radical views is more likely to be educational than dangerous for children. They will benefit from seeing a range of political views from the staff instead of the current, uniform Guardianista viewpoints.
OK, I know slippery slope arguments are often spurious, but in this case the motivation behind the policy seems to be a response to pressure groups to keep ‘keep them away from our children’. A success here will encourage an extension to teachers who openly support the BNP but have not joined as members, or have resigned. After that, then, which other ‘opinions’ would become adopted as thought crimes, punishable by summary dismissal?
While I would not mourn the departure of some staff, dismissal for supporting a legally established and state funded political party seems a bit too Orwellian for comfort.
If you don’t speak up for others’ political freedoms now, who will speak up for yours when they come for you?
Lord Hutton has triggered a furious response from the unions in recommending the end of the final salary* pension schemes enjoyed by public sector workers. (* Also known as unfunded gold-plated pensions)
The pejorative term ‘unfunded’ when applied to public sector pensions suggests that the taxpayer picks up the entire bill, when in fact it just means that the pension contributions are spent by the government as a cheap loan, instead on being invested in a pension fund. Of course, when the employee eventually retires there is no pot of money, so the treasury must spend from government funds.
Teacher pensions were reformed some years ago, and do not need to be radically reworked in the current final salary pension witch-hunt. Teachers contribute 6.1% of salary, with employers putting in a further 14.4%, making a total of 20.5%. For a main scale teacher paying in for 40 years, this could produce a pension pot of £500 000 to £600 000, if it was invested and averaged returns of 3% above inflation, as the FTSE has managed routinely. A half million quid could easily buy an index linked annuity paying half the final salary – without needing a penny of taxpayer money to subsidise.
The problem comes from the higher earners – the senior management and others who get significant promotions near the ends of their careers. Since these people earn much more than their career average, each pound they pay in to a pension scheme pays out more that a pound from a classroom teacher whose salary is stable for the final 25 years of their career.
In the light of this, Lord Hutton’s report, calling for pensions to be based on career average earnings and for the investment risk to be moved from taxpayers to the individuals, seems reasonable. The unions will make a great deal of fuss, but for most teachers, there is nothing to fear from a move away from an ‘unfunded’ or even ‘final salary’ pension model.
The ongoing crisis in school Physics teaching was not improved much by the last government, leaving most lessons taught by biologists or chemists. Most English teachers have first class degrees, but a quarter of new Physics teachers have third class degrees, more than any other subject. This is for two main reasons.
First, physicists are drawn to the abstract and the impersonal, and so not many are cut out for the intense social experience that is teaching. This leaves teacher training colleges accepting almost anyone who applies.
Second, few qualified physicists and engineers are willing to work for the kind of salary that is intended to be attractive to people with English or History degrees. Industry pays what is needed to attract those with shortage skills.
The Education Minister, though, has a cunning plan: bar those with a third class degree from funded teacher training places. This will, apparently, make teaching more attractive to the better educated and improve the quality and standing of teaching as a profession. And, to give Gove some credit, there is some logic in this.
Modern students deciding on their career choices do see the most difficult to enter professions as the most desirable, so the elite students gravitate to Medicine, with its history of insufficient training places to train all the physicians we need. The restricted entry leads to high levels of salary and a social standing out of all proportion to the skills actually needed to work as a GP.
So Gove’s solution is to raise the entry bar for prospective teachers, without a corresponding pay rise for those with shortage skills. Pay has not risen above inflation for the last decade, and it is still impossible for many schools to fill their Maths and Physics posts with specialists as a result.
The problem Gove has, though, is that teaching is a profession accepts anyone with a non-honours pass degree from a university which may only ask for two grade E’s at A Level. Rejecting third class honours wholesale says that a Third in Physics from Oxford or in Engineering from Imperial College is not as desirable as a Lower Second Class degree in Textiles:Knit from the University of Westminster.
An engineering company short of skills or experience would offer a rewards package to attract the best people to apply, and then employ the best amongst the applicants.
Teaching will not become a desirable career for the best qualified and most able people until the salaries reflect the level of ability needed for each post. It takes more money to employ a good mathematician or physicist than it does to get high quality English teachers.
Does Gove have the courage to introduce differential pay in the face of the unions? The current funding squeeze is the perfect cover with the unions weakened, and will be the only chance for a generation. I won’t be holding my breath.
MPs have tabled an Early Day Motion to raise awareness of the importance of the shortage of Physics teachers. I’ve written before about the chronic and worsening shortage of Physics teachers (here, here and here), and the attempts by the TDA to hide the decline in which they claimed that all specialist teacher recruitment targets had been met, and it is worth while keeping the issue alive.
Although EDMs don’t often get debated on the floor of the Commons, they do get picked up by the media, and perhaps ministers, if they are well supported, so use the link here to contact your MPs and ask them to sign this one.
The full text is below:
Physics Teachers (no. 467)
“That this House expresses its concern at the lack of specialist physics teachers and the consequent drastic drop in the number of entrants to physics A-level; recognises the threat this poses to UK physics and engineering and therefore to the UK economy; and calls for greater incentives to attract physics graduates into teaching in order to create access to high-quality physics teaching for every child.”
Michael Gove, the new Education Secretary, has announced that the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE) is to be abolished in the autumn, and not a moment too soon.
It has cost a small fortune to run and was never going to be a rallying point for teacher professionalism, and has failed even to act as a guarantor of teacher quality by disciplining us.
When the GTCE was created in 1998, it had so few teachers paying their subscriptions, even under the threat of de-registration, that it had to arrange for salary deductions to cover its expenses. I, like many other teachers, saw no benefit in the extra layer of bureaucracy. All teachers were already registered with the government Department for Education (and its heirs and successors), many were also members of unions and teacher subject groupings (such as the ASE) and felt we were already quite well represented and regulated.
For my own part, I did not pay any subs until salary deductions started, I responded to no letters, and was pleased that when I moved to a Sixth Form college which didn’t require my registration, the GTCE was unable to take any further money. I had a letter saying that I would be de-registered (struck off) if I didn’t pay up, so I was surprised that two years later they wrote again to say I owed them two years’ payments. They couldn’t even get that right.
The GTCE is, and always has been, a complete irrelevance to teachers. When it finally goes, few will notice and none will care.
So what did the GTCE say on hearing the good news? Did they respond by apologising for wasting everyone’s time and money? Promise to do better? No, they said that they were “seeking legal advice on (their) position“.
Parliament will surely vote to abolish the GTCE later in the year, and it can be finally buried, unloved and unmissed, in the graveyard of the Quangos.
Teachers have to be wary if they want to contribute to education discussions, and they have to tread especially carefully in discussions about children taking holidays in term time. Exchanges have a habit of turning towards the long school holidays, and how teachers dare complain about families taking pupils out for term time holidays. Or about workload. Or pay. Or, indeed, about anything. But it always comes back to the holidays.
And since teachers get 11 weeks holiday (plus the bank holidays), it is difficult to challenge the view that it is a valuable perk.
So why does it bug me when we are attacked for our lazyness? Because of the belief that worth can be measured in hours and the explicit assumption that long holidays equates with less work than other workers. And, generally, this is not true.
Government workload research regularly finds teacher hours around 50 hours per week term-time, which amounts to around 2000 hours per year, not including work done during the holidays (and this is verified by independent studies, such as from PWC). This compares to the figure for ‘all professionals’ of 39 hours which, taking 44 weeks worked (6 weeks holiday plus public holidays), comes to 1700 hours. Or, to put it another way, the average prefessional would need to work for 50 weeks of 39 hours to match the 39 weeks of 50 hours for the average teacher.
So, as they say, do the math.
Edited 19 May 2010