By Tim Lezard
Teaching unions have warned the government to take heed of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Education at a Glance report.
The report provides data on the structure, finances and performance of education systems in the 35 countries belonging to the OECD, as well as other partner countries.
It found that teachers in the UK are among the youngest in OECD countries, they have one of the lower starting salaries and among the highest number of teaching hours; that university fees are the second highest in the OECD and class sizes in the UK are much larger then elsewhere.
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “The OECD highlights important issues for the education landscape in the UK, particularly with regard to pay, educational outcomes and the treatment of women teachers and older teachers.
“The deep cuts to pay as a result of the government’s policy of public sector pay restraint in operation since 2010 have taken a bitter toll on the profession as confirmed in this report, which points out that teachers’ salaries in England have declined by 10%. Teachers have faced pay freezes and pay caps, year-on-year pay cuts and the situation is likely to get worse.
“In the midst of one of the worst recruitment and retention crises the profession has ever seen, the report confirms that the UK has seen the largest decline in the proportion of teachers over 50. Many are facing both discrimination in the workplace and the increasing difficulty to access early retirement.
“The NASUWT has continued to highlight and campaign against this disturbing trend, representing members who have much to offer but are being forced out of the profession. It is simply unacceptable to see so many older teachers being forced out of the profession.
“The report highlights the gender pay gap in the profession and in England this is widening, with discrimination and equality rife. This pay gap can only be worsened by the Government’s obsession with de-regulation and its drive to give more freedoms, flexibilities and discretions to schools over teachers’ pay, creating a pay system akin to the Wild West.
“The OECD report highlights that strong and high-quality education systems are built on foundations of valuing, supporting and investing in the teaching workforce.”
NUT general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “Today’s report reaffirms, via an analysis of European education systems, that academic selection becomes social selection.
“We hope that the new Education Minister, who is known to want to weigh up the evidence, looks carefully at the OECD’s warning against going down the grammar school route. The evidence from Europe is that any attempt to select by academic potential leads to a system which selects students by their social background.
“The OECD warns English ministers that when admission to school is based on a one-off test, wealthy parents always find a way through it. Teachers know that this is true and witness the pressure that parents feel to offer the best to their child, and the peer pressure when other parents around them are buying time with private tutors.
“UK university fees are the second highest in the OECD after the USA. This will certainly not address the issue of the low take-up of further education for children with British born parents. The huge debt incurred is bound to deter many young people from aspiring to higher education, especially as universities can now raise fees above the previous £9,000. And the Higher Education and Research Bill, if not amended, will allow yet further increases in fees.
“The government can’t bring itself to step away from an obsession with school structures and endless reform. It needs to open its eyes to the steep recruitment challenge and the factors that give every child the best start and the best chances. The report tells us that the average primary class size across Europe is 21 students, and in lower secondary it is 23. This is significantly smaller than English class sizes and the OECD emphasises that the size of the class does have an impact on the achievement of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
‘To achieve social mobility, the government needs to reduce class sizes and invest in teachers’ professional development, not embark on yet another top-down reorganisation of schools with the introduction of more grammar schools, for which it has no mandate or evidence.
“The OECD report gives a stark warning to ministers that the teaching workforce across Europe is failing to attract young adults and enough graduates into teaching. It reiterates the link between highly motivated and self-confident teachers and good outcomes for students. This chimes with the English experience, where teaching is not competing with other graduate professions due to frozen pay-rates and reforms which are undermining the morale and reducing the autonomy and job satisfaction within the sector. The OECD report is a clear reminder to ministers that investment in education and the teaching workforce pays dividends.”