What Value our Educationalists?
Do we really care about teachers and teaching assistants?

words by Tony Talbot

Just get on with it!

I don't know whether it is a foible of the Great British Public or not, where despite being a linchpin within the framework and fabric of society teachers come in for so much criticism especially when it comes to their pay and holidays. How much do we really know about what our teachers, teaching assistants and support staff endure, how many people understand what the weekday guardians of our children are experiencing during this Pandemic, bearing in mind there has been zero lockdown for them? How has the breakdown of the family unit over the past 30 years resulting in the exponential rise in one-parent families impacted on teachers and teaching assistants and THEIR day to day lives? Does the general public think of teachers in the same way as I have often heard said recently in relation to nurses and doctors, that "It's their job, they should just get on with it,” amid the mixed messages continually emanating from the government during the latter half of 2020 as to how schools should operate in the face of COVID19?

Teaching Assistants

As of the end of 2018, there were approximately 500,000 teachers and around 150,000 teaching assistants in the United Kingdom. Few parents know of the depth of responsibility many teaching assistants have and how vital a role they play in boosting quality and standards so hugely important in school communities, supporting teaching and enhancing pupil attainment whilst giving specialist assistance to the most vulnerable children of which there are growing numbers. What a pity that their ridiculously low pay does not reflect their value to society as on average a T.A. gets £14,000.00 a year for a 40 hour week which equates to approximately £9.04 an hour with most working more time than they are paid for!

Whilst job titles and levels of pay differ, teachers and teaching assistants share the single most important quality that is a passion to look after and educate children in their gift with most still feeling great satisfaction in that part of the job, but teachers still feel they are being underpaid. Only three in ten feel the pay is fair for the work they do, against almost six in ten that do not. What is more, 84% of teachers believe the profession is not valued by society.

So, what explains this apparent disconnect, with teachers being satisfied in their job but also having several large issues with pay and conditions?

A possible explanation can be found in the reasons teachers give for getting into the profession in the first place. Data reveals that the reward of seeing children develop, progress and achieve is a motivating factor for 83% of teachers. A further 55% say that classroom teaching itself is the attraction.

So, it may be that teaching is more of a calling than a job and that the satisfaction of imparting knowledge and wisdom offsets the stress and pay. Promises of long summer holidays have a certain attraction as well.

Yes, It is a fact that teachers do get a long summer break in comparison to other industries, however for many it not as clear cut as having a six-week holiday void of any school work as end-of-term school responsibilities continue even after the kids have left for their summer jollies.  Similarly, work at the end of August in preparation for the new term in September means the perceived six-week holiday is foreshortened. As for teaching assistants, whilst they enjoy the time off and are relatively free of “homework” they do not get paid for school holidays but do receive the standard hourly rates of pay for National and Bank Holidays as with other public sector industries. Teachers pay is built around a six-point scale that currently ranges from £18,000 for newbies to £28,735.

Commitment and long hours

25% of teachers in England work more than 60 hours a week with research indicating that on average they work much longer than those in other countries. Full-time secondary teachers report they spend almost as much time on management, administration, marking and lesson planning which is circa 21 hours per week. Many, work late into the evenings during the school week to "keep ahead of the curve."

Despite regular interventions and government initiatives over the last 20 years to reduce the ever-increasing workload of our teachers and teaching assistants, the excessive number of hours being worked continues to remain high. Many teachers I have spoken to recently tell me that their jobs are fast becoming unmanageable

Low levels of job satisfaction amongst secondary teachers is clearly a serious problem, particularly in England. Meanwhile, the average age of teachers in England is five years lower than the average age throughout the OECD countries, suggesting that large numbers continue to quit in the early stages of their career and that those remaining are less experienced: secondary teachers have 13 years in the profession compared to an OECD average of 17 years.

These findings reflect many of the frustrations that are constantly and consistently heard from teachers and heads.

Not just Educationalists

Simply put, the pressures imposed on individuals with the teaching profession even before the Pandemic were unacceptable. Teaching staff over the last few years have had to become much more than educationalists to many more young people.  Add to their CVs Social Worker, Toilet Trainer, Mentor, Psychologist, Nurse, Substitute Parent, Child Minder, Nurse and Agony Aunt to gain a fuller picture.

Even if teachers were paid a lot of money which they are most certainly not, they would be worth it. What the majority give, in a similar way to that of other public servants such as nurses is very special indeed with levels of passion and commitment that go way beyond hourly pay and strict adherence to a 9 to 5 working day.

I hesitate to use the word expediency but use it I will as I think teachers like care home workers have been given the rough end of a pretty shitty stick in order to get the country “back to work.” How many teachers and children of teachers have been infected as a result of the woeful lack of testing facilities before kids go into schools for the day?

When will we see the figures?

As the list below shows, at least 26 teachers in England and Wales died from coronavirus in the space of just six weeks during March and April 2020. Apparently, the total does not include those who are 65 and over and so could be higher; but between 9 March and 20 April, a minimum of 65 staff working in the education sector died after contracting the virus – more than two dozen of whom were nursery, primary, secondary, or special school teachers, according to figures published in May 2020 by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The figures are not dissimilar to other Industries and as such should be viewed in that context, however, we wait to see how many more have been infected and have died during the last 8 to 9 months. Let us see if the figures are forthcoming. As yet I have been unable to find any.

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Taking for granted those who care so greatly and do so much for our society is not an option. There is so much more at stake for them than we realise. Much like the NHS, they need to know their situation is understood and supported. Make sure you give a teacher a big "Thankyou" when you next see them. . . . No hugs though!

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