UK

Low wages reduce attractiveness of teaching profession – report

(PA)
(PA) (PA)

Teachers’ salaries can have a direct impact on the attractiveness of the profession – and secondary school teachers’ pay in England decreased in real terms by 3% between 2015 and 2022, research suggests.

Many countries are facing teacher shortages, and competitive salaries are “crucial” to retaining staff and attracting more individuals to the profession, a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says.

It comes as OECD’s annual flagship publication, Education at a Glance – which will provide the latest indicators on the state of education around the world, is launched in London on Tuesday morning and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan is due to give a speech.

In many countries included in the OECD’s publication, teaching is “not a financially attractive career choice”.

Members of the National Education Union (NEU) take part in a rally in July.
Members of the National Education Union (NEU) take part in a rally in July. Members of the National Education Union take part in a rally in July (James Manning/PA)

Teachers’ salaries represent the largest single expenditure category in formal education in the UK.

The report says: “Teachers’ salaries are an important determinant of the attractiveness of the teaching profession, but they also represent the single largest expenditure category in formal education.

“In most OECD countries, the salaries of teachers in public educational institutions increase with the level of education they teach, and also with experience.

“On average, annual statutory salaries for upper secondary teachers in general programmes with the most prevalent qualification and 15 years of experience are 53,456 US dollars across the OECD.

“In England (UK), the corresponding salary adjusted for purchasing power is 55,726 dollars, which is equivalent to £42,820. In Scotland (UK), the corresponding salary adjusted for purchasing power is 55,096 dollars, which is equivalent to £42,336.”

Between 2015 and 2022, statutory salaries of upper secondary teachers in general programmes declined in real terms in roughly half of all OECD countries.

In England, upper secondary teachers’ salaries decreased by 3% between 2015 and 2022. In Scotland, upper secondary teachers’ salaries increased by 6% between 2015 and 2022.

This year, members of the largest teaching union, the National Education Union (NEU), staged eight days of strike action in state schools in England in a pay dispute.

But members accepted a 6.5% pay rise for teachers in England and voted to end strikes in July.

As in most OECD countries, teacher salaries in England and Scotland are lower than salaries of other post-secondary educated workers.

In England, actual salaries of pre-primary and primary teachers are 15% lower than the average salary of tertiary educated workers.

At lower and upper secondary level, the gap is smaller with 6%. In Scotland, teachers at all levels of education earn on average 7% less than other tertiary educated workers.

In contrast, school heads are well paid compared to other tertiary workers. At lower and upper secondary level, school heads in England earn 2.17 times the average salary of tertiary educated workers, which is the highest relative salary of all OECD countries.

The report adds: “Countries that are looking to increase the supply of teachers, especially those with an ageing teacher workforce or a growing school-age population, might consider offering more attractive starting wages and career prospects.

“However, to ensure a well-qualified teaching workforce, efforts must be made not only to recruit and select the most competent and best-qualified teachers, but also to retain them.

“Weak financial incentives may make it more difficult to retain teachers as they approach the peak of their earnings. However, there may be some benefits to compressed pay scales.”

In the UK, there is a higher than average student-to-staff ratio in upper secondary schools, with 16 students per staff member in full-time equivalent terms compared to 14 across the OECD countries.

While in vocational secondary programmes, there is a ratio of 25 students per staff member in the UK compared to 15 on overage across the OECD countries.

The report adds that the UK is a highly popular destination for international students at post-secondary education, with 601,000 international students in 2021, it is the second only to the United States.

The number of international students has been growing rapidly in recent years despite the Covid-19 pandemic, with 489,000 in 2019, 551,000 in 2020 and 601,000 in 2021.

And in the UK, 18% of teachers in upper secondary schools are aged 50 or over, compared to the OECD average of 39%.

Meanwhile, the report adds that the share of private expenditure on early childhood education and care is “exceptionally high” in the UK, with 40% coming from private sources, the highest of all OECD countries and significantly higher than the OECD average of 15% – but the data reflects the situation before the reforms to childcare announced in March.