THE starting salaries of teachers in the UK are some of the lowest in Europe, according to a major study.
Analysis by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that England and Scotland fall behind other countries such as Portugal, Ireland and Korea, and are below the OECD average for starting pay.
OECD director of education and skills Andreas Schleicher said that overall, teachers’ salaries are “going backwards in real terms” in Scotland and England.
“Pretty much for the first time in history, the last 10 years have not been so great for teachers in terms of getting more pay,” he said.
“Both Scotland and England are actually going backwards in real terms when you look at the salary between 2005 and 2013.”
This was not the case for most countries, where salaries have gone up in real terms.
Addressing reporters in central London, Mr Schleicher said: “What the UK does well in our judgment, it does have quite flexible pay scales and it does have a lot of incentives.
“If you add all that up, actually teachers are quite wealthy - relative to their colleagues (in other countries) but not relative to workers with similar qualifications.
“You want to attract the best and brightest into the profession and that, I think, is really the challenge.”
The report found the salaries of teachers in England and Scotland are comparatively low at both the start and end of their careers, but when bonuses and allowances are included, they are better remunerated than in most other OECD countries.
After around 10 years of experience, salaries “increase considerably”, but this then slows down again so that with the exception of pre-primary teachers in England, salaries at the top of the scale at all levels of education in England and Scotland are below the OECD average.
While the starting salary for a primary school teacher was given as £27,768 in England and £27,576 in Scotland, the OECD average was £29,807.
The figures were the same in England and Scotland for a teacher starting secondary school while the OECD average was £31,013.
The report also found that the UK has some of the largest class sizes of all the countries analysed.
While the OECD average for primary schools was 21, it was 27 in the UK, behind only China (37), Chile (29) and Israel (28).
But in secondary schools the UK, at 20 pupils per teacher, was below the OECD average of 24.
Mr Schleicher said an “unusual” finding was that while primary school class sizes are very big, teachers have very little time for doing things other than teaching, such as lesson preparation or professional development.
“Most countries it goes the other way round,” he said. “Japan, Korea, China, have large classes but they use that resource to give teachers more time for other things than teaching.
“There’s a lot of effort in many countries to make the choice - give teachers more kids to teach but we use those resources to create a work environment where teachers have more room to sort of foster their profession as a whole, and that is where the UK is an exception, according to this data.”
Mr Schleicher said personal learning is “usually a big priority for teachers but not so much in England”.
“Many teachers in England say, ‘thank you, but I know everything I need to know’.
“There is less desire to become better, whereas in some of the highest performing systems - Korea is a good example - teachers always strive to continue to invest in their professions.”
He said the UK has a high proportion of teachers with good ICT skills, but there was also a question of how much technology teaching serves a purpose.
He said one of the most “sobering” findings was that countries that position themselves well in technology in the classroom may not necessarily derive the most benefit.
Research suggests a balance is needed, with children who spend either very little or a lot of time using technology performing worse in reading and maths than those in the middle.
Other findings of the report included that the UK has the highest university tuition fees of all the nearly 50 countries analysed. Although there is more discrepancy in the United States, with some students expected to pay more than in the UK, the UK is the highest on average.
As well as analysing the 34 OECD member countries, the report also takes data from Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
Chris Keates, general secretary of teachers’ union the NASUWT, said: “The report confirms the problems the NASUWT has highlighted consistently regarding teachers’ pay.
“Starting salaries are 20% lower than other graduate professions. At the end of their careers the remuneration does not reflect the years of dedication and commitment.
“It should come as no surprise that low-pay, year-on-year pay cuts and excessive workload have resulted in over two-thirds of teachers having seriously considered leaving the profession, and one in 10 of newly qualified teachers who are only in their first term say they will be leaving within 12 months.
“NASUWT has already raised with the Government the issue of increasing class sizes, the lack of specialist support for teachers as a result of savage cuts to local authority and school budgets, and the impact this is having on pupil behaviour.
“The OECD report points out the negative impact of this on teaching and learning.”