Britain's teachers at top of pay league pay leagu

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Primary teachers in the United Kingdom are among the best paid in the Western world, but they have bigger classes and teach longer hours than their colleagues in other countries, according to an international study published yesterday.

The figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that only Irish, Spanish and Portuguese teachers in a list of 21 Western industrialised countries earn more in relation to national average income per person.

Irish teachers earn twice the national average, while Italian, Norwegian and Swedish teachers have the lowest relative pay. The figures are for teachers with 15 years' experience. UK primary teachers also made bigger salary gains between 1985 and 1993 in relation to national income than those in many other countries.

Teachers in Austria, Finland and Portugal also did well and those in Greece, Ireland, Japan and the Netherlands worst.

However, primary school teachers are contracted to teach longer hours in the UK than in many other countries. They work 950 hours a year - fourth in a list of 20 countries - compared with an average among 20 countries of 829 hours.

Swiss and Dutch teachers work the longest hours and those in Norway and Sweden, who have relatively low salaries, the shortest. Hours in Sweden are 40 per cent below the average. The report comments: "There does seem to be a tendency to reward longer-working teachers more than shorter-working ones." It also notes that the best-paid teachers tend to be responsible for more pupils. Both pay and the number of pupils per teacher are fairly high in both the UK. In 1993, UK teachers were responsible for more than twice as many children (21.7) as those in Italy (9.9). There are more pupils per teacher in Turkey (27.6) than any other country.The more teachers are paid, says the report, the harder it will be to afford small classes.

Donald Hirsch, a consultant for the organisation, said: "In the UK, extra money spent on education has gone into teachers' salaries rather than lowering pupil-teacher ratios." Such ratios have been rising in UK primary schools but falling in most other countries.

Overall, spending on education in the UK as a percentage of national income is comparatively low. It comes 20th out of 27 with Canada and the United States at the top and Turkey and Greece at the bottom.

In higher education, however, the UK has more people graduating in the relevant age group than anywhere else in Europe. That is because the big expansion in student numbers in recent years has not led to an increased drop-out rate.

A spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers said that the growth in teachers' relative earnings appeared high because they included two exceptionally big rises one in 1987 when the profession lost its collective bargaining rights and one just before the 1992 general election.

"We also have the same scale for primary and secondary teachers which doesn't happen anywhere else in the world. One of the difficulties with international comparisons is that they ignore salient facts. In Portugal, for instance, you don't have to be a professionally trained graduate to be a teacher."