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How satisfied are teachers in England with their pay? It depends upon the perspective you take

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 19 June 2019

John Jerrim.

Pay is a key concern of teachers in England. It is one of the key aspects of their employment conditions, with previous research suggesting that pay is closely linked to the recruitment and retention of teachers.

At the same time, teacher pay is an area where there has been a lot of change in recent years. Reforms were introduced in 2013 that reduced the link between teachers’ pay and their length of service, while also giving schools more freedom to set starting salaries. Moreover, up to 2018 the public sector pay cap was in place, limiting annual salary increases of teachers in England to one percent.

This then begs the question, how satisfied are teachers in England with their pay? Evidence from TALIS 2018  provides important new evidence on this issue.

Half of teachers in England are dissatisfied with their pay

Figure 1 illustrates the percentage of primary and lower-secondary teachers in England who agreed with the following statements about their pay:

  • I am satisfied with the salary I receive for my work
  • Teachers are underpaid compared to other qualified professionals with similar levels of responsibility
  • My own pay is fair given my performance

For the last two statements, we can also compare results for lower-secondary teachers to the last time the TALIS survey was conducted in 2013.

Figure 1. The attitudes of primary and lower-secondary teachers in England towards their pay (percentage in agreement)

Screenshot 2019-06-19 at 14.40.51

Overall, around half of primary and lower-secondary teachers in England were satisfied with their salary and felt that their pay was fair given their performance. Yet almost nine-in-ten teachers also felt that they were underpaid relative to other professionals. This has increased markedly from around three-quarters of lower-secondary teachers in 2013. This may be due to differences in relative public and private sector pay growth over this five-year period. The decline in agreement with the other statement about pay also asked in 2013 (‘my own pay is fair given my performance’) was more muted – from 53% in 2013 down to 48% in 2018.

How does this compare to other countries?

One of the great things about cross-national studies like TALIS is that they allow such figures to be put into a broader international context. In other words, TALIS allows us to look at the bigger picture – are teachers in England more or less satisfied with their pay than teachers in other countries? Figure 2 provides evidence on this matter for lower-secondary teachers in England relative to a selection of other developed countries.

Figure 2. Cross-national comparison of average lower-secondary teacher pay to the percentage of lower-secondary teachers satisfied with their salary.

Screenshot 2019-06-19 at 14.35.55Notes: Dashed line illustrates the ordinary least squares line-of-best-fit. A steeper line illustrates a stronger cross-country relationship between the average teacher salary and the percentage of teachers who said they were satisfied with their pay. Correlation = 0.71. Analysis restricted to countries with average teacher salary data available. Source: TALIS 2018 database (question 54a) and other OECD stats

This graph illustrates two important points. First, average teacher salaries in England are quite favourable compared to several other developed countries. Second, compared to other countries, satisfaction with pay amongst lower-secondary teachers in England is pretty high. In total, 54% of lower-secondary teachers in England indicated that they were satisfied with their pay, compared to an average of 39% across the 31 OECD countries that participated in the TALIS 2018 study.

So are teachers in England satisfied with their pay? The answer lies in the eyes of the beholder. From one perspective, most teachers in England believe that they are underpaid relative to other professionals, with this sentiment expressed by a greater proportion of teachers in 2018 than in 2013.

Yet, from an alternative viewpoint, teachers in England are more likely to express satisfaction with their pay than teachers in many other countries across the world.


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