Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

New teachers ‘can’t risk mortgages’

This sounds terrible. After all if key professional workers can’t afford mortgages – “something must be done”.

But what?

Let’s check what is the problem:

Young teachers are shying away from taking out mortgages because of uncertainty about their future earnings, a teaching union leader says.

Dr Mary Bousted, head of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said new performance-related pay structures meant new teachers could not predict their future earnings.
BBC News Website 16 April 2014: New teachers ‘can’t risk mortgages’, says union leader

Performance related pay – now there is a radical thought! But wait during the whole of my working life, when I was working for private sector employers, I was on performance related pay – and that did not stop me from taking out a mortgage. I can’t have understood the issue.

Dr Bousted said “what was previously an expectation that if you worked for so many years, you would be earning X” was no longer there for younger teachers.

They were wary of rising interest rates and so reluctant to commit to mortgages.

“The issue of teachers not knowing what they’re going to be paid, and the workload, is making the profession deeply unattractive,” said Dr Bousted.

She told the conference in Manchester: “[Education Secretary] Michael Gove told the School Teachers’ Review Body that he wanted to pay the best teachers more.

“He said that the national pay framework was constraining individual schools from paying the best teachers more. So he abolished the national pay framework.

“He said teachers’ incremental pay scales meant that they were rewarded just for turning up, not for good performance. So he abolished the pay scales.”

I have never had the expectation that “working for so many years meant I would be earning X”. In fact it was worse; because I worked in the private sector, whenever I changed job I also changed pension scheme – unlike teachers when they move between Schools or LEAs. Changing pension schemes meant either transferring your pension on terms unfavourable to you or leaving a deferred pension based not on your final salary prior to retirement, but on the salary you were earning when you left the scheme. So unlike teachers I cannot even say if I work for 40 years, I will get 40/80ths of my final salary – or even of my career average salary.

“They were wary of rising interest rates”. Ah, here may be the nub of the matter after you strip out the special pleading. I agree that this is a genuine fear – that probably affects those in the private sector slightly more than those in the public sector (where there is less fear of redundancy and forced relocation in search of work). The problem at the moment is one of artificially low interest rates and accelerating house prices (encouraged by this government that wants to create a feeling of “boom” prior to the election).

“The issue of teachers not knowing what they’re going to be paid, and the workload, is making the profession deeply unattractive”. Join the real world.

“He [Gove] said teachers’ incremental pay scales meant that they were rewarded just for turning up, not for good performance. So he abolished the pay scales.” I don’t like Gove either – but I have never worked for an employer who offered incremental pay scales with increased pay for every year you worked. Pay has been down to what employers have chosen to pay – and if you did not like it you moved (without maintaining any position on a pay scale) – if necessary changing the sector in which you worked.

In the private sector you don’t get “annual pay rises”, you get “pay reviews”. It’s not unusual for employers to “review pay periodically” – i.e. not necessarily annually – you might wait eighteen months or even two years between reviews.

In the private sector pay rises sometimes take the form of an increase in payroll budget equal to inflation and then managers were meant to divi it out according to performance – so if they wanted to pay more than inflation to their good performers (to keep them) they had to pay less than inflation (or nothing) to those whose performance was average or less good. In practice rather than no pay rise you might find someone had been awarded a £5 (a year) pay rise – and then that would get leaked. They would then leave. Truly atrocious performance could lead to you “being made redundant” and “your replacement” starting the following Monday. Other employers would only review salaries on an individual basis.

The teachers – at least according to these union claims – seem to live in a different world. However within these claims there is a real general concern – the impact of artificially low interest rates and out of control house prices – which should be being pushed by the TUC on behalf of all. The workload – in terms of hours – does not strike me as excessive compared to many private sector jobs, but the working conditions and environment does look pretty horrendous in some schools. Being hemmed in by restrictions and a crude inspection regime combined with an environment of fear generated by – in some situations – out of control pupils (and parents) together with the danger of false and malicious accusations – must make the profession deeply unattractive. I don’t think incremental pay (to reward continuing toleration of bad conditions) will make it attractive – sorting out the teaching environment (a much harder exercise) might.




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2 thoughts on “New teachers ‘can’t risk mortgages’

  1. Peter on said:

    While I accept that teachers pay is not as attractive as that of many other professions, it is still considerably higher than that of many other workers who must also have a place to live and thus take on a mortgage.

    I get the impression that like many aspects of life today, expectations are too high, and people shun the cheapest properties believing such homes are beneath them.

  2. I totally agree about unrealistic expectations – both in respect of salary and of standard of life.

    Salary expectations – particularly whilst inexperienced and in the first years of working life are often way too high. I guess that may be what incremental pay was meant to address – but it a blunt instrument that can award all on the basis of time served rather than increased value as an employee. I am used to working in two salary environments: (1) where the employer just pays you what he thinks he needs to pay you to keep motivated and happily working (if you are any good), and (2) where jobs are graded with wide pay scales that overlap more junior and senior jobs and your position within the pay scale for your grade is entirely down to your employer’s assessment of your worth.

    Standard of Life expectations seem way too high – too often I see a relatively modest house that has just changed hands with a skip outside it and a whole load of perfectly serviceable bathroom and kitchen fittings in it. Why? Is it essential to have a “white bathroom suite” or completely new kitchen cupboards? I have owned four houses so far and have never changed a bathroom suite and only changed two kitchens (by incremental improvement). Is it fashion or some warped sense of cleanliness and hygiene? If the latter, avoid all hotels – you don’t know who has been in the bath!

    Why these expectations? And why has it become a problem over the last few years? The media has certainly had a hand in this, in one respect reporting society and in another possibly setting expectations.

    If the media reports that the CEO of your energy company is getting £2M a year, is there an irrational belief that the national salary distribution is a straight line and therefore if you are “somewhere in the middle” you should be getting a salary “somewhere in the middle” of the line between £0 and £2M. We know it’s not, but none-the-less it does make a £20k salary feel a little bit paltry.

    Likewise “home make-over” TV programmes encourage the belief that your home is inadequate unless you have changed the bathroom, changed the kitchen, built an extension and added a conservatory.

    We have certainly seen over the last couple of decades an acceleration of salary inequality and an increase in “have your home professionally made over” programmes (in contrast to the relatively innocent and modest “let you neighbours loose with Handy Andy, a pot of paint and a sheet of MDF” shows).

    Aside from the above, I think company cars also create false expectations. If most of your neighbours seem to have new Audis/BMWs (even Mondeos) every two to three years and you have a five year old Skoda (which is nowadays a very satisfactory car) you may well feel an old fashioned desire to “keep up with the Joneses”.

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