We seem to hate teachers, at least if one goes by some of the comments one sees. Teachers are pretty regularly called thugs, bullies, parasites, derided as lazy, seen as grossly self interested, motivated only by money (as opposed to the pure desire of those commenting to help the public and work pro bono), and castigated for little johnny not progressing fast enough. With the news that ASTI (the main second level teachers union) has rejected the Haddington Road Agreement, expect this vitriol to seep out of the media once more.
One of the more egregious but alas not uncommon type of comment comes from the commentator and financial advisor Eddie Hobbs, who tweeted saturday
“Next weeks common Q at school gates: Are you TUI or one of those spoiled ASTI muppets on €60 grand a head +pensions €1m, threatening my kid?”
This sparked a good few conversations on the twitter machine, with a few comments (in the high negative) from yrs trly. I had to head off mid stream to continue the shopping/mind the two year old/do Saturday things, but the conversation continued. Eddies crowning glory was to seem to suggest that the (female dominated, 65% of staff) ASTI decision to reject the haddington road agreement was down to PMT. Classy
Its this kind of frankly odd mixture of loathing, name calling and incitement to class division that got me thinking : why do we hate teachers so?
Three things seem to be particular bugbears: salaries and pensions, inability to deal with underperforming teachers and holidays.
The first is of course subject to massive confusion. Even someone like Eddie, who’s job it is to deal in figures, seems unable to find out the average salary. And it’s hard. But for 2012 we had a 2011 spend of 1,180,m on second level teachers salaries this year, and 2,052 on primary. In 2011 we had 32489 primary teachers and 26185 second level. So it’s a salary level of 1180000/26185 or 45k average for second level and 2052000/32489 or 63k for primary teachers on average. This gives a total average salary of 3232000/58674 or 55k. Not bad but not 60k. There is more to this however, on which I will talk below.
The second issue is entirely correct. There is no reason, other than a combination of managerial sloth and union power, combined with a healthy dose of political cowardice over decades, why we have not gotten in place some system for inservice evaluation, with rewards and sanctions, for pretty much every aspect of the public sector. We still don’t.
The third is strange. Many seem to think that the purpose of schools is to act as free crèches for the kids. By all means lets cut down on holidays – but will it serve any educational purpose? If we look at the West German experiment it seems not to matter. Other research suggests similar. And again, there is more to this than meets the eye.
Surely the issue is : how are we doing? Data driven analysis or discussion is alien to Irish commentators it seems. In this field there is a wonderful resource : every year the OECD publish a report comparing a whole pile of metrics in education round the OECD. Its called “Education at a glance” and is well worth reading . It has lots of information on the structure, costs, benefits and so forth of all levels of education. Money values are reported in PPP$ which is to say US Dollars adjusted for relative purchasing power, reflecting that its cheaper to live in Portugal than Norway. Thus these are broadly comparable.
The 2013 edition is out but recently. Its instructive to look at the data on second level teachers. In a lot of the metrics the data are split into Lower and Upper secondary. This is roughly up to the Junior Cert and then the senior cycle. Many states have separate junior and senior schools.
- Irish education manages to graduate more of those who start education (89%) than the OECD/EU average 83/84
- A second level education in Ireland pays off. For a man it has a lifetime present value of $142k , for a woman $118. The oecd averages are $100 and $69
- We spend more per student per annum at second level, $11k than the OECD or EU average $9k. Looking at this in terms of GDP per capita the discrepancy is less : 28% v 26% for the OECD/EU
- We spend less on (primary and secondary) education – 7.4% – as proportion of total government expenditure than the OECD or EU – 8.6% and 7.6%
- Total current spending including all wages (94% of all spending) is slightly higher than the OECD and EU averages (92%)
- Salary costs per student per annum are $3800, compared to OECD average of 3400. In per capital terms its less of a discrepancy, 10.3% vs 10%
- Irish teachers, compared to other tertiary educated workers, earn 82% of average salary. This is less than the EU or OECD average of 89%.
- Irish teachers spend more time, net, teaching (735h) than the OECD or EU average ( 686h, 650h) .
So : we pay second level teachers a bit more, but we seem to get more out of them than our peers. Which makes the frank hatred evinced from some quarters hard to fathom. I personally believe it comes down to bad experiences. I had some truly horrendous teachers. But I had more ok and a couple of really good ones. Instead of arguing from simply the curdled reflection of our school days we might want to look at the data as they are now. And they show a decent system. Lets stop demonsing the people in it.