For those who are unaware, I am an NQT – “Newly Qualified Teacher“. Courtesy of the excellent system in Scotland, this means I get a fast track to full certification by being placed on a full year teaching experience on a wage slightly below that of a more experienced member of staff. I don’t get 100% “contact time” (that is, time in class with pupils) as this gives me time to generate lesson plans, practice with resources and equipment available to me, and explore other areas of the profession to help me become as good a teacher as possible.
I work in a system whereby the head of the department I am in is a certified and experienced teacher in that subject. Although I am contracted to a 35-hour week, I work significantly more hours than that. This is normal.
Believe it or not, if teachers wish to work to those exact contracted hours it is classed as industrial action and a ballot must be taken by a union before it can be done. Yes, seriously. It is industrial action to work within the limits of our agreed contract of employment. I believe we are the only profession for whom this is the case – please correct me if I’m wrong.
A few years ago, teachers agreed to a pay freeze due to financial issues. Shortly after that, inflation spiralled so that teachers are effectively worse off than they were when they agreed the freeze. Such is life. This kind of thing happens to people who sign onto tracker mortgages and the like. It’s a gamble, to some extent.
Teachers must also, as part of their employment agreement as public servants, pay into the pension pot. This isn’t the goldmine many people think it is, especially if a teacher doesn’t rise above being a regular member of staff. Senior staff, head teachers and so on may well see a nice return at the end of their career (and in most cases have flipping well earned it), but the rest of us will be lucky to get something half-decent. Again, do note – we can’t opt out of this to the best of my knowledge.
There’s a great scheme currently running called the Chartered Teacher Scheme. This enables teachers who are particularly invested in their profession to focus on certain topics and develop them. Think of it as a PhD for teachers (not accurate, but you get the idea). It brings them to the peak of their profession and encourages them to help improve other teachers in the process.
You may not be aware, but teachers teach teachers. A lot of the time when your kids aren’t in school, we are. Brushing up on techniques, covering new material, adjusting to new legislation and being taught by people such as these Chartered Teachers.
In the meantime, we’re also undergoing the single largest curricular change in Scottish education for decades with the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) which you may have heard of. This is a massive change to the way children are both taught and assessed. We have to adjust our ways of teaching, change how we record and present their educational records, develop new resources (absolutely none are provided by the people who’ve created this curriculum) and so forth.
What the Scottish Parliament is planning to do
1) To address a one-year budgetary framework, teachers are being asked to accept a two year pay freeze. Also permanent changes to their conditions of service. One of these is an increase in their pension contributions to at least 3.2% of their income. Remember, this is not a pension that can be opted out of. In addition, the return on this investment is lower than was promised years ago. Yes, that’s right – we’re being forced to pay more to receive less.
2) Supply teachers are being smacked in the face with a maximum 27.5 hour week for the first 8 days of any engagement – at Scale Point 1 on the pay scale (the lowest). Therefore any supply teacher who can’t get a nice long- or medium-term placement will never be paid at their deserved rate, and will never work a 35-hour week. Well, they will – they just won’t be paid beyond 27.5. A supply teacher at the top of the scale will suffer a 35% loss in earnings. And this isn’t taking into account the additional pension contributions mentioned previously. Expect this to cause a lot of people to drop out of the profession, particularly in rural areas where supply work is sparse as it is.
3) The Chartered Teacher Scheme is either being frozen or withdrawn completely, removing the best avenue for creating absolutely top-end teachers.
4) NQTs will be expected to work nearer 100% contact time, resulting in far less time to learn about being a teacher and generate good lesson plans. Essentially, it’s a way of getting cheap labour. NQTs are paid less than fully fledged staff and part of justifying that is that they work fewer hours (usually around 70%) while still devoting all of their non-contact time to self-improvement. The new legislation will mean they have to work virtually full time while still trying to find time for Continued Professional Development. Alternatively, those CPD sessions currently provided may be removed thus meaning that NQTs will be less effective in the medium term.
5) Sick pay will be reduced by 10% for each and every day of absence. This affects supply teachers, probationers (NQTs), those on maternity leave… you name it.
6) Â£81 million will be cut from the Teachers Pay Bill – a cut of 3.4%. In comparison, local authority grant settlements are being cut by 2.6%.
7) Within my area at least, a decision has been made to change from the existing Principle Teacher / Head of Department scheme to a “Faculty” one. This, basically, removes a fair number of senior staff and thus lowers the overall pay packet for teachers. It also means that the head of a Faculty could have no experience whatsoever in teaching the subjects they are overseeing. Do you honestly think it would make sense to have a Home Economics teacher overseeing Computing, Geography or P.E.? Of course it doesn’t.
This last point is a real bone of contention. The council have stated that there is no evidence that the current model is better. Or at least no financial evidence. In other words, they’re only bothered about the money, not about the effect on education. To turn their statement on its head, however, is to say that there’s also no evidence that their new Faculty model is of any educational benefit.
At a time when we’re undergoing such massive curricular changes, we need experienced staff in charge of departments in which they have a background. It’s simply plain common sense. Something obviously lacking from the council members trying to save a few bucks so they can continue to claim underwear from Marks & Spencer and five star hotel rooms should they get snowed in next December.
To sum up
Absolutely every single decision being made at both council and government level is to the detriment of the Scottish education system. I agree we’re in a time of dire financial straits. However, the only way we’re going to get out of it is to produce good, hard workers. Skilled individuals who can grab our businesses and industries and pull them back up on their feet.
How the hell these idiot politicians expect us to do that with paltry resources, disillusioned staff, chaotic organisation and change seemingly for the sake of it is beyond me.
Parents – who would you trust most to tell you what is best for your children’s ongoing education? Politicians who think with only their egos and their bank balances, or teachers who decided to do this job despite knowing they would be working in one of the most stressful careers currently going? That they would be paid for a 35-hour week despite regularly working in excess of 50 (sometimes far, far more), in a career where the words of one spiteful child can have them flung from a job until a court battle gets them reinstated? That they are fully aware that discipline in schools is nigh-on impossible to maintain due to nanny state regulations?
Would you trust someone who is part of the system, who was trained in it, works in it and believe in it? Or would you believe someone who’s job revolves around appearing to do something so they don’t get voted out for appearing ineffective? Someone who has decided to tackle a working environment in which they themselves have absolutely no prior professional experience?
Frankly, expecting these councillors and MPs to make these decisions makes as much sense as asking a schoolteacher to perform an appendectomy on your youngest.
We’re good, but we’re not that good. We wouldn’t have a clue what we were doing. But at least we’d have the balls to admit it.