Pay primary teachers more?

Should we pay primary teachers more than their secondary colleagues? Figures published today by the DfE show that the average primary class, mostly taught by one teacher, but often with assistance from a teaching assistant, is now 26.9 pupils in size, up from 26.3 in 2006; an increase of 3.6 pupils per teacher over the period. During the same time period the average class faced by a secondary teacher declined in size from 21.5 to 20.1; a reduction of 1.4 pupils per teacher. Thus, overall, primary teachers on average face classes 6.8 pupils larger than their secondary colleagues. Put another way, in July a Year 6 teacher has around a third more pupils to cope with than a Year 7 teacher with the same children the following September.

Of course, older children demand more attention, have more behaviour issues with adults, require teachers with more specialist knowledge, sometimes have a longer teaching week, and there are no doubt a whole host of other reasons that could be advanced why secondary teachers should be paid the same as their primary counterparts despite teaching smaller classes. However, on sheer productivity grounds, the average primary teacher now has far more contact with pupils than their secondary colleagues even allowing for non-contact time during the school week.

Disaggregated by Key Stage, the figures look even worse; with Key Stage 1 teachers faced with an average of 27.4 pupils compared with 25.6 pupils in 2006; and Key Stage 2 teachers facing an average of 27.2; actually down on the 27.3 of 2006. These figures are taken from the DfE’s Schools and their Pupils Statistical Bulletin that clearly show the pressure primary schools are under as rolls rise while their secondary colleagues enjoy the final years of declining numbers before the avalanche of rising rolls hits them in a couple of year time.

As the Teachers’ Pay Review body Report referred to in my previous post on this blog makes clear, the issue of how to calculate pay for teachers is complicated. However, for many years it has been agreed that the same basic scale applies to both primary and secondary teachers. Now pay is open to a free for all should this basic tenet of pay over the past three quarters of a century be open to discussion? With pupil numbers being a key component of a school’s funding, many primary teachers will no doubt want to know where the £15-£20,000 extra per class implied by the increase in class sizes since 2006 have gone in the school budget? For those schools that have just added to their reserves, there might be some challenging questions for the head and governing body to answer from their class teachers.


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