Teach or manage

c: | f: /

The words of The Clash record “Should I stay or should I go” seem a good fit to the teaching profession after just five years’ service.

Continuing the education theme of yesterday, there’s one rather silly system in the public sector which primarily affects teachers: a fixed pay scale. Proponents of the scheme say it’s the only way to make sure a fair wage is delivered to teachers and to demonstrate a tangible career path.

The trouble is, this very scheme forces good teachers out of teaching. Here’s how:

  1. You start as an NQT and get paid a pittance to do your first year in a school
  2. Each year you get an experience point which adds X to your salary so you fit in a predefined pay band. You always go up one band every year; M1, M2… through to M6
  3. Once you go beyond M6 you move onto UPS and your pay continues to increase along with the standard cost of living increments

Seems fair, you might say. But consider a teacher who stays at the same school for 20 years. That’s a lot of experience. They love teaching, but perhaps the new Head starts playing hardball and the teacher doesn’t want to stay there any longer. So they apply for a classroom job in another school and find they are not employable despite having 20 years’ experience: they are simply too expensive to hire compared to an NQT.

When you start to reach the top of the M scale and move into UPS, the unwritten expectation is that you become a subject leader, then head of department or a year head, then move to a more senior role such as deputy head, and eventually the dizzy heights of head teacher.

The trouble is, as you move up the scale your contact time with the children becomes smaller and you spend more time doing paperwork and managing whining staff. For some people, this does not fit their career goals; they choose teaching because they like to make a difference in the classroom, not because they’re expected to become management material within five years.

This ultimately creates a dilemma:

  1. Stay in the same job and lump it
  2. Take on more responsibility and gradually stop teaching (whether you want to or not)
  3. Come out of teaching altogether

All three are detrimental to the teaching profession and ultimately the “education” of future generations. Group 1 just go through the motions because it’s very difficult to sack a teacher who stays in the middle of their game. Group 2 are the type of people that tend to make good teachers but awful managers. Group 3 are the headstrong who ultimately benefit industry, not education.

With ever increasing focus on budgets and fiscal performance, this — along with Inclusion — has created a self-fulfilling prophecy of bringing under-qualified new staff into schools (because they’re cheap), and forcing out the good teachers after five years unless they show signs of wanting to manage (whether they actually want to or are pretending to be interested because of the money involved or the fear of not being employable elsewhere).

If the public sector are so hell bent on keeping a pay scale, they should take a leaf out of the private sector handbook and offer — at minimum — two scales: one to stay in the classroom and one to go onto the management ladder. At least teachers would feel they have a choice and be free to jump between schools on comparable salaries. Plus the option is always open to hop between the scales (with pay adjusted accordingly) if circumstances change down the line.

As it stands with a single scale, only the mediocre teachers or those who are too expensive to be hired elsewhere stay in the classroom, which is a tragedy. That’s the main reason the only viable choice now in the UK is to home educate your children or up sticks and leave the country.

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