Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Teachers' Pensions – 'Serfs Ye Are And Serfs Ye Will Remain'

Contracting out spread like a cancer through private industry during the 1980s. In many workplaces so-called 'peripheral' jobs were jettisoned by the company and farmed out to low cost providers. Services like catering, cleaning and security were all undertaken by different firms, only certain 'core' workers retained rights like pensions, sickness benefits and holiday entitlements. This was a global phenomenon, described by Naomi Klein in 'No Logo'.

In the public sector councils tendered out services to the lowest bidder, school meals were the prime example, where children were offered re-heated offal by private contractors. In education a whole range of services were privatised – the running of local education authorities, transport and school improvement. The most extreme example was Academies where some very dubious organisations or individuals were given carte blanche to run schools.

Every council used to organise their own teaching supply service, gradually they have been closed leaving teachers and schools at the mercy of private agencies. Teaching supply is now dominated by companies like Reed, Capita and Select, there are also the proverbial 'one man and his dog' agencies. The quality ranges from dreadful to absolutely abysmal.

Private supply agencies are not bound by nationally negotiated pay and conditions. For a classroom teacher the top rate of pay, Upper Pay Spine 3, would be around £190 per day, most agencies will only pay a top rate of £140 per day and they will charge the school anything up to £250 per day.

Why do teachers work on supply? They may wish to only work part time, it might be due to childcare arrangements, they may be close to retirement or just disillusioned with the sheer volume of meaningless paperwork.

Some teachers decide to abandon the state system and work in public schools, that is their choice. Their wages and conditions are set by whichever school employs them, in practice most public schools pay close to the nationally agreed scales for teachers' pay. They can, for some obscure reason, stay in the state Teachers' Pension Scheme. The government subsidises this to the tune of £131 million. Supply teachers in state schools employed by private agencies are not eligible for the Teachers' Pension Scheme.

In a nutshell, the state ensures that a classics master at Eton is gently eased into the Elysian Fields of a golden retirement, courtesy of the state Teachers' Pension Scheme. By way of contrast, the state contribution to the pension of Joe or Jean Bloggs, slogging their guts out teaching the unteachables of 10G at Gas Works Comprehensive, is, in the words of that wise old philosopher Mick McCarthy, 'zero, zilch or diddly squat'.

We really shouldn't complain, we know our place, it was Richard II who sneered at the leaders of the Peasants' Revolt swaying from their gibbets, 'Serfs ye are and serfs ye will remain'.

Letter in TES

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