Education: From the respected to the reviled

The Government is proposing performance related pay for teachers in order to stave off a recruitment crisis. Morale and status of the profession is low. So how do other countries rate their teachers?
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The Independent Online

N TEACHERS attract similar levels of respect as teachers in England. As a result, the country is running short of people willing to do the job. The Australian government has just been warned of a serious teacher shortage expected to hit both primary and secondary schools over the next five years.

Australia's population has increased over the past decade and by 2002 secondary schools will feel the pinch most acutely.

Sharan Burrow, the president of the Australian Education Union, which has 160,000 members, says: "Teacher morale is in a real crisis.We have seen unprecedented hostility to the work of educators in our schools from federal and state ministers." She wants Premier John Howard to sack and replace David Kemp, the Education Minister. Dr Kemp, she says, is the man who is most responsible for creating "a climate of hostility" in the education sector.

Australian teachers are no better paid than their British colleagues. Many are worse off. Salaries range from $26,000 to $49,000 a year (pounds 10,000 to pounds 18,846) - below the rates other professionals receive.

Australian teachers face just about the same classroom problems as their British colleagues - drugs, indiscipline, truancy, but they are of lesser intensity than in our urban areas.

One difference is that the recently published Schools of the Future programme has given Australian teachers greater discretion over the content and methods of classroom work than teachers in the UK, working with the national curriculum, get, and there is less government interference in decision- making processes.

But, in general, there is little difference. Even league tables based on classroom tests have started to make their appearance.

By John Izbicki


THE TEACHER was once a highly respected figure in French society, but there are signs of change as salaries erode and school students take to the streets in protest.

Jocelyn Thebault, 52, who has taught English in lycees, the French equivalent of sixth forms, for several years, says: "The prestige that once went hand in hand with teaching is slowly being lost. Once, job tenure meant status, but now other things are affecting perceptions of the profession. The upsurge in violence in schools is putting people off, and since 1990 there have been no significant pay rises for teachers."

Becoming a qualified teacher in France is a competitive business. After completing four years of degree-equivalent study, all prospective teachers must sit one of two intensive MA-level exams, one of which is tougher than the other and offers access to more highly paid jobs teaching brighter, older students.

Next comes a year of teacher training and, once successfully completed, a guaranteed tenured teaching position until retirement.

Yet the average starting salary for a French teacher is only pounds 11,000, lower than in England, and it takes at least 20 years to reach the top classroom salary of pounds 26,500. The rates are below those for comparable professions.

There is no early retirement, either. Teachers subscribe to the national pension scheme, but have to work for 37-and-a-half years before they can start to claim. The average age at retirement is 65.

But the security of a job for life, and a working week that never exceeds 18 hours, plus school holidays, means that plenty of bright young French people have traditionally beat a path to the door of the profession.

Whether they will continue to do so is another matter. In October, thousands of lycee students went on to the streets demanding better security in schools and more staff to reduce class sizes at Baccalaureate (A-level equivalent).

Still, Ms Thebault thinks that the life of a French teacher is less stressful than his or her counterpart across the Channel: "The pressure teachers are under is the key to recruitment problems in England. With the constant government changes in education policy, the amount of preparation expected, and the kinds of inspections they regularly have to undergo, teachers in the UK have people on their backs all through their careers."

by Claire Soares in Paris


THE JAPANESE for teacher is sensei and, until recently, the word suggested far more than its English equivalent. Sensei is the honorific used of doctors, university professors and intellectuals - it implied wisdom, status and respect within the community. But in the last few years, teaching in Japan has been in crisis, as unruly and sometimes violent students have left teachers baffled, depressed and on the defensive.

Compared to the West, Japanese education produces highly literate and technically gifted students but is very uniform and unimaginative, favouring the rote learning of facts and figures over the encouragement of independent and creative thought. Japanese schools always prided themselves on their discipline, however - until a series of terrible crimes perpetrated by children.

The worst came last year when a 14-year-old boy murdered a 10-year-old playmate and left his severed head outside the school gate. Last January, after a wave of knife attacks in schools, a teacher in a town outside Tokyo was stabbed to death by a pupil. Newspapers have carried reports about Japanese teachers, particularly women, who live in daily terror of physical assault from their classes.

The numbers of teachers with psychological disorders increased last year by 30 per cent. Special counselling services have been established for teachers under stress. The Ministry of Education has announced plans to add 30,000 new teachers to the current total of 964,000 teachers, although classes will remain the same size at about 30 pupils each. Instead the new teachers will team up in pairs to reduce the risk of violence. Average pay is pounds 31,000 a year.

by Richard Lloyd Parry in Tokyo


SPANIARDS NO longer say "Hungrier than a schoolteacher" - nor do villagers augment their teacher's meagre salary by donating a chicken. A three-week strike in the late Eighties brought pay and conditions into line with other government workers. But basic pay remains modest - between pounds 13,200 and pounds 16,650 a year - and the profession's status remains mediocre.

Teaching has lost its status as a vocation, to become a second-choice career for those who don't make it to university. But, as government employees, teachers have complete job security with a guaranteed pension. No chance of easing out incompetent performers: you've got to rape a pupil before you face the sack. And no merit awards either. However, like all government employees, you're shunted about - although usually within your own province.

Surveys say teachers are well regarded in society, but in reality people tend to have a poor opinion of the profession, and especially resent the perk of three months' annual holiday.

There is no shortage of teachers in Spain, and all subjects are fully subscribed. There are five times as many applicants for teacher training as places: a three-year diploma course for primary teachers, and four- year degree course for secondary teachers. Secondary training is considered poor.

Education is still expanding, with new schools opening constantly. The share of the budget given to education more than doubled between 1962 and 1976, then doubled again in real terms after the end of Franco's dictatorship in 1976. Compulsory primary schooling was introduced only in 1970, tackling rates of illiteracy among the highest in Europe.

There are problems of disciplining unruly pupils, particularly 14-to- 16-year-olds, who just a few years ago would have been working or apprenticed, and there's a lot of tension in the classroom. Teachers complain of feeling beleaguered by parents, unsupported by politicians and undervalued by the public. Few are unionised, but teaching unions are powerful, as the government recognises them in talks on pay and conditions.

by Elizabeth Nash in Madrid

A job that only the best can do


IT TAKES five or six years of university education, followed by a two- year training course, to become a teacher. Even that may not be enough, though. Only those with the best marks have any hope of getting a job, and even they can expect no more than short-term contracts.

Competition is fierce because teaching is seen to be one of the most attractive professions. Teachers enjoy a great deal of prestige, find their work "creative and flexible" and the material rewards are ample.

Starting salaries are not very impressive, but an upper secondary school teacher with 20 years experience takes home about DM6,500 (pounds 2,400) month - good pay compared to other professions. Primary school teachers earn considerably less, on average DM4,500 (pounds 1,670). Their training course lasts only a year and a half.

Established teachers have civil service status, which means they have a job for life, their pensions are taken care of by the state, they get help with health insurance and are entitled to reduced interest on mortgages.

German teachers get 12 weeks holiday a year and are expected to teach 25 hours a week. Together with preparation and checking of homework, their weekly load should not come to more than 40 hours.

For several years now, education authorities have been trying to phase out civil servant status. New jobs coming up are usually on short-term contracts, especially in subjects, such as German and history, in which there is a massive over-supply of suitable applicants. But even in the rarer subjects, getting a job at a state school - the private sector is not so well regarded - requires years of networking.

By Imre Karacs in Bonn


AMERICANS LOVE their national symbols. There's a national tree, a national bird, a national motto.

Today, if there was a national scapegoat, it would be teachers.

Beginning with the last presidential election, when the opposition Republican Party demonised the teachers' unions, attacks on teachers have continued as large numbers of candidates for teaching jobs fail newly instituted competency tests.

Teachers are also blamed by an impatient public for the glacial pace of educational reform; for disappointing student performance on standardised tests; and for turning out graduates who require expensive remedial training by universities and businesses.

Their pay reflects their status. The average teacher earns just over pounds 22,000 a year - a little less than a machine operator in a factory

The teachers' unions are wildly popular targets. In a California referendum aimed squarely at teachers, voters only narrowly defeated a potentially crippling bid to ban all labour unions from campaigning on any political issue - including educational reform - without advance approval from their members.

Congress even stripped the national teachers' pension fund of its tax- exempt status, reducing retirement benefits to teachers by 5 per cent, with little public sympathy for the teachers' plight.

Under this onslaught, the biggest teachers' union, the National Education Association, has dropped its long-held opposition to peer-review programmes, in which designated teachers work with all beginning teachers and with veterans whose performance has been questioned. The consulting teachers can recommend that poor-performing counterparts be sacked, something the American tradition of teacher tenure has traditionally made exasperatingly difficult for the employers.

But finding new teachers is getting tougher, even as an increase in enrollment and projected teacher retirements conspire to create a need for at least 2 million new teachers. Comparatively low pay, combined with steadily increasing demands, are serving to discourage the best potential applicants.

Last summer, in a development that aroused national outrage, more than half the teacher candidates in the cerebral state of Massachusetts - home of Harvard, and America's first public schools - failed a competency test that officials said would have been easily passed by 14-year-olds.

Now there is pressure to administer competency tests to current, and not just prospective, teachers.

"I think the teachers' union demonstrates a fundamental hypocrisy when they say, `We want and we have highly qualified teachers, but don't test them'," says John Silber, Chancellor of Boston University, and one of the United States' most outspoken authorities on education. He estimates 10 per cent of teachers would be found incompetent and 20 per cent need re-education if they were tested.

By Jon Marcus in Boston