Monday 13 April 2009

Teachers demand pay increase

I'd been waiting for some official news on this after I'd heard whispers earlier today. The BBC (amongst others) reports that the National Union of Teachers is demanding a pay increase for teachers. Now you will have your own opinion on this, and I wouldn't have even commented on this EXCEPT that the report on the BBC site just made me feel a little bit angry. Okay, quite a lot.

And it was this section in particular:

Responding to the conference decisions England's Schools Minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry said: "Teachers pay and conditions have never been better.
"We have increased their pay by 19% in real terms since 1998 which means the average teacher is on nearly £33,000," she claimed.
"We have also cut teachers' working hours, dramatically reduced the amount of administrative tasks they are expected to do, doubled the number of support staff and given them time outside of the classroom to plan and prepare lessons."

Right then, that's take a look at that.

1. Teachers pay and conditions have never been better - ignoring the lack of apostrophe for the meaning beneath, I beg to differ. I find my conditions quite deplorable at times. I'm sure you've probably noticed my discontent if you have followed this blog, for example. Poor buildings may be nothing new, but I'm sure when first constructed in the 1960s, many buildings were actually better than they are now. And the conditions? Well, knowing that I'm virtually powerless to stop children bringing in pornography and other 18-rated / illegal content on their mobile phones, or to enforce rules about attending detentions when parents dispute my professional judgement - no, to me these things do not make my working conditions better than they have been in the past.

2. the average teacher is on nearly £33,000 - firstly, what does "average teacher" mean? Outside of London, a salary of £33,000 is available to those who have gone "through the threshold" onto the second of the higher pay scales, which takes about a decade to achieve. "Average" therefore probably means taking into account those with management responsibilities plus those with the higher London wages. Secondly, how does this compare with other professionals such as solicitors, police officers, medical practitioners?
Well done Bradford teacher Ian Murch, who said:

"We take no lessons in morality from government ministers, who fit out their homes with stone sinks from Habitat on their expenses, who pay their husbands more than a teacher earns to be their personal assistants and who don't appear to engage in even a hint of performance management of what they get up to.''

3. We have also cut teachers' working hours, dramatically reduced the amount of administrative tasks they are expected to do - Ah yes, about that Teachers' Workload Agreement. Looks all fancy on paper doesn't it. We no longer have to collect money for field trips and other little jobs like that. But the amount of other paperwork has increased because we now have to juggle targets and statistics and prove we are accountable. To proceed to the upper pay scale, which allows access to the "average wages" bandied about earlier, we have to spend hour upon hour compiling folders full of evidence that we can teach, that we have attended courses, that we can number crunch targets and show all kinds of stuff to nobody in particular.

Put it this way: in years gone by, May to July were the best months to be in school. Years 11 and 13 disappeared on study leave and the remainder of the school became a more relaxed place. A few more free lessons to mark internal exams or create new resources ready for the new school year; end of term activities to chill out to; taking classes out into the open balmy air to read poetry under trees or collect water samples from the streams. But now there never seems to be any let-up. Children are often too unruly to take outside for lessons; budgetary constraints mean that timetables are reshuffled the minute exam classes leave so that you end up teaching random lessons in subjects you really don't have much idea about; and end of term activities are vetoed because the associated risk assessments are just too complicated.

So all in all, teaching today is more demanding and stressful than it ever was. Perhaps England's Schools Minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry should come and enjoy the ambiance of the average classroom and staffroom before making such paper-based judgements. Looking at her background, it would seem that Ms McCarthy-Fry has had pretty much no experience of schools since her own education quite some number of years ago. She's worked for a multi-national defence engineering company and is now a chartered accountant, and even her own website states that: "Her main political interests are trade and industry, defence and the social economy." She's been the Schools Minister for precisely six months and eight days. So I really don't give much weight to her opinion at all.

But the thing is, people are going to believe what this politician says, because it's a convenient thing to believe, that "we've never had it so good", when it's all such a load of hogwash.

By the way, in the year 2007/2008, Sarah McCarthy-Fry claimed £144,498 in expenses. I was not able to claim any for all the printing I did at home, my travel expenses to and from school, washing off the dirty fingerprints from my car where little scrotes had messed around it during lunchtimes, the books I bought because my department's collection was sadly lacking, the electricity and home internet connection I needed to use to do my lesson preparation, and so on. Lucky MPs... just think of the holidays...


The General Teaching Council, which snatches a chunk of our wages once a year to produce a rubbish magazine and tell us how we should be leading our lives, is mostly in the news for getting teachers kicked out of the profession for getting drunk on a Saturday night or nicking pens from the stationery cupboard.

But apparently, while a few pints (of wine) at the weekend is a no-no, hard drugs are perfectly fine...

Teacher in nightclub crack arrest goes unpunished by GTC

A science teacher arrested for possessing crack cocaine has escaped without punishment from England’s General Teaching Council.
Michael Swann, who teaches at Maltby Community School in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct. But he avoided any further disciplinary action after he was praised by his headteacher for being a role model for pupils.
The judgment follows complaints from some teachers that the GTC - which is preparing to unveil a new code of conduct - has become too intrusive when dealing with teachers’ private lives. The number of tribunals involving out-of-school offences has soared in recent years.


Yesterday I was thinking back to when I first started writing as "Ranting Teacher". It started me thinking about some of the real characters I've taught over the years, and the clever - or downright bizarre - things that children have come out with. Now don't worry, I'm not about to do a "children say the funniest things" post, because most of the time they are situation comedies - you have to have been there at the time for it to retain a modicum of humour.

But it did remind me of something that happens to me every now and again. This year, being in a new school with rivers of mostly new faces coursing through the corridors, a weird sensation has occurred a few times. For a moment, I think I spot a face I recognise: a pleasant girl from my form group, or the witty boy from my Year 10 class, or a girl who made me a present after a school trip. But then the child turns around and I realise it's not them at all, and I also realise that it couldn't possibly be that pupil because they were in my old school not my new one. And I suddenly realise how much I miss certain pupils and other things of my last school.

Because the reason new schools can be so tough and dis-heartening is that you haven't yet built up sufficient relationships with the children that you teach. They still try to find your weaknesses and suss you out. But already some kinds of attachments are being formed. One of my classes, who drive me round the bend with their inability to concentrate and their random interruptions, are already asking me if I will be teaching them next year. Now I'm not that naive that I see this as flattery; instead I see it as a case of "better the devil you know", but what it has shown me is that they are starting to see me as a piece of the furniture, which is a positive thing unless they start etching in their initials and sticking chewed gum on me somewhere.

Sunday 12 April 2009

Six years of moaning online!

It's Easter Sunday. It's the 12th of April. And it's exactly six years since I posted my first whinge about teaching.

Back then, blogging was a word I was yet to hear, but I did have my own website which I painstakingly updated with shoddy html at irregular intervals. The website is still out there somewhere, although currently lurking and inaccessible while it has a spring clean. Since then, teacher blogs have sprung up all over the place - lots of them for the power of good: sharing useful ideas and analysing current education issues. This one, however, has been mostly about the moaning!

The second edition of my book Everything you need to know to survive teaching was published last month, which is a little more positive than this website, in that I do have a good old whinge about stuff, but there are also tips on how to try to minimise the annoyances and traumas of the job. In fact, I was having a flick through it myself the other day to remind myself of some strategies that get filed away somewhere in my mind, before metaphorical boxes of other stuff get dumped on top of them, obscuring them temporarily. It's like going on these courses which teach your grandmother to suck eggs, and realising that in the business of everyday survival you'd forgotten you even had a grandmother. Or what an egg looked like. Or something.

So there you are. Happy blogging birthday to me! When I started writing this, the Year 13s at my last school were in Year 7. The Year 11s have graduated from university, and/or had babies (in fact, one of them brought in her baby to show me a few months after her GCSEs), and/or have moved on and forgotten all about school. I have had a few interviews, got a new teaching job, and am still desperately looking round for something else to do instead. But until then, I'll keep ranting - it's so much cheaper than therapy.

Monday 6 April 2009

Just think of the holidays

"Just think of the holidays," is a phrase I hear far too frequently when I'm sighing over my job. But now it is the Easter holiday period, and I find myself thinking of school - hard to avoid when I have boxes of books needing marking in most rooms of the house. This evening I have decided to be a rebel. Even though it's incredibly late (for me) on a Sunday night (Monday morning), I am forcing myself to stay up late, because it's what I always want to do during term time. Except all these great TV programmes that seem to be on late at night are in hiding and I've had to resort to rolling news reports to keep me going. Ah well, bed time then.