Britain’s teachers put in one of the longest working weeks in the world, new research suggests, yet take home a drastically smaller starting salary than the public seem to believe.
A global index, compiled by education charity the Varkey Foundation and billed as the most comprehensive study of teacher respect, examines working hours, wages, and status across 35 different countries.
But while respect for teachers has risen alongside faith in Britain’s education system, it found, the public underestimates the weekly number of hours they work by almost a full school day.
Only teachers in New Zealand, Singapore and Chile put in more hours than Britain’s teachers at 50.9 a week, it found, with unions warning of the impact of such a balance on schools’ recruitment and retention.
“Teachers work a lot harder than people realise,” said Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers. “And they do it because they are committed public servants. The societies which value their teachers highest, are the ones atop the international league tables.
“On a good day, teaching is one of the most rewarding careers imaginable. The trouble is, there just aren’t enough good days.
“For many teachers and school leaders, the enormous privilege of helping young people learn and grow can be outweighed by the pressure and workload of the profession they’ve chosen.”
The Global Teacher Status Index is based on opinion polling and analysis of over 35,000 adults aged 16-64 and more than 5,500 additional serving teachers across 35 countries.
Teacher status in the UK has risen since the survey was last conducted in 2013, it concluded, rising above the US and the Netherlands and ranking 10 out of 21, while faith in the British education system has also increased over the last five years.
However, when the public was questioned about the average starting salary for a secondary school teacher, they estimated it was around £29,000 instead of £24,000.
On average, the public thought a fair wage would be almost £31,500, while the teachers polled said it would be close to £33,000.
Furthermore, despite holding teachers in high regard, fewer British parents, just 23 per cent, would encourage their child to become a teacher now than in 2013 when this figure was 26 per cent.
Mr Whiteman, representing school leaders, argued that not only do teachers face longer working hours, but they have been forced to accept a real-terms pay cut in recent years.
“Teachers are graduates who have many career choices open to them,” he warned. “They go into teaching with passion, because they care and want to make a difference, but we have to treat them well and respect their need for a proper work-life balance if we expect them to stay.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “This report once again shows that our teachers are underpaid and overworked thanks to Government-imposed pay austerity combined with a relentless series of reforms which have left teachers doing more for less.
“We’re pleased that the public agrees teachers should be better paid, and we hope the Government listens, not least because this report establishes a link between teacher status and pupil performance.
“It is disappointing, however, to see that so few parents would encourage their children to become teachers, and demonstrates once more that we need to give teachers a better deal.”
Twenty countries rank ahead of the UK in the index, including first-placed China.
Teacher status in the UK is closely aligned with pupil results, with the UK ranking 12th out of the surveyed countries by average scores.
Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey Foundation, said: “This index finally gives academic proof to something that we’ve always instinctively known – the link between the status of teachers in society and the performance of children in school.
“Now we can say beyond doubt that respecting teachers isn’t only an important moral duty, it’s essential for a country’s educational outcomes.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The Education Secretary has made it a priority to cut unnecessary workload to make sure teachers are teaching rather than spending time inputting data into spreadsheets.
“We have already taken a series of measures to help teachers’ work-life balance, including the creation of a workload reduction toolkit developed by the profession. Earlier this week the Education Secretary sent a joint letter to head teachers, supported by organisations such as Ofsted, and working with the sector committing to cutting the collection of unnecessary data.”