The inequality in teacher pay is divisive and wrong

Teachers are expected to remedy the ills of society while younger teachers must put up with unjust rates of pay

Delegates Graham Fitzpatrick, Ed Platt, John Paul Phelan and Michael Weed call for equal pay for all teachers at the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation’s annual congress in Killarney. Photograph: Moya Nolan

Delegates Graham Fitzpatrick, Ed Platt, John Paul Phelan and Michael Weed call for equal pay for all teachers at the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation’s annual congress in Killarney. Photograph: Moya Nolan

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Recently, a teaching colleague of mine in another school suggested to a parent that her child seemed very tired all the time, and wondered why. The parent explained that a lot of the tiredness was due to the fact that her offspring was using a phone or tablet half the night. The parent’s next question was what could the teacher could do to get the child off these devices?

The teacher’s stunned expression did not seem to register with the parent.

An extreme example, perhaps, but indicative of a trend in society nonetheless. Whether the problem is an ugly, exploitative sexual culture, too much time spent on video games, rising levels of childhood obesity, or chronic anxiety, the school is expected to help to solve it.

While it is a compliment to those who work in schools that so much faith is placed in them, it also illustrates how much the role of a teacher has evolved. Although once primarily seen as people who imparted knowledge and subject-based skills, the role is now far broader.

As professionals, teachers are expected to use information and communication technology in their classrooms, to work in teams, and to create a more just society by ensuring equality of educational opportunity for those from deprived backgrounds. For those with special educational needs, removing them from the classroom for specific periods is feared to be stigmatising, so teachers must integrate strategies for these students in their classrooms instead.

Update school policies

In addition, teachers are required to develop and constantly update school policies on everything from the acceptable use of mobile phones to literacy, to constantly engage in evaluation of how well the school is operating, not to mention contributing to school leadership and management and to relating to parents and the wider community.

The new Junior Cycle emphasises six skills for students: self-management; staying well; communicating; being creative; working with others; and managing information and learning. Literacy and numeracy represent two additional areas of focus. Then there are 24 statements of learning that must be demonstrated across the range of options offered by the school.

If you entered teaching after 2010, you are being paid less than your more established colleagues

The latest buzzword is wellbeing. Schools are expected to be able to demonstrate what they are doing to enhance the wellbeing of their students.

Many of these initiatives are positive and worthwhile. Some are even fun, like learning what aspects of information technology can best help people to learn.

But if you are a young teacher who is expected to make the world a better and fairer place, there is a major irony. If you entered teaching after 2010, you are being paid less than your more established colleagues, not because you are less experienced, but because the government decided to institutionalise a two-tier pay structure.

Unenviable situation

In many staff rooms, between a quarter and a third of young teachers are in this unenviable situation. Nor are the sums lost by young teachers negligible.

Even though the pay gap has been closed somewhat, on average, post-2010 entrants to the teaching profession earn €4,000 less annually than a 2010 entrant with the same qualifications and experience. Over a lifetime, it will amount to anything up to €100,000.

This is due to a cut to the salary scales of new entrants to the public sector, the abolition of teacher qualification allowances, and the appointment of teachers to the first point of the teachers’ salary scale instead of the third point.

The abolition of the teacher qualification allowances is invidious. Right across Europe, gaining additional academic qualifications such as a doctorate is recognised by giving relatively small salary increases.

But these are no longer a feature of Irish education for younger entrants. Bear in mind that for most people, it now takes six years to become a teacher. One needs a degree, which generally takes four years, followed by a two year Master’s programme.

The latter costs at least €12,000 over the two years, excluding travel and other living costs. Unlike nurses, who get paid for their practical experience as they train, teachers do not.

Bahrain

There are some four-year degree programmes specifically designed to produce teachers of certain subjects. For example, there is a BSc in science education in DCU. At the time of writing, there is a testimonial from a graduate on the home page of this course. It describes how the course was enormously helpful for teaching in Bahrain.

Precarious work affects mental health

After four to six years of crippling student debt, young teachers cannot get full-time jobs in Ireland and are having to take up posts in Bahrain, Kuwait, Britain – almost anywhere except at home. Irish teachers are highly regarded, it seems, everywhere except in their own country.

Despite the fact that there is a crisis regarding the supply of substitute teachers in many subjects, newly qualified teachers cannot get enough hours of paid teaching to live on.

Precarious work affects mental health. Lots of young teachers have described being unable to afford a home, or having to work at a second job to make ends meet.

Yet they are still expected to contribute to solving all the ills of the world. It is shameful. It is divisive. It is wrong. This inequality must end. 

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