Are teachers worth their salaries?

That isn’t an arbitrary question.

I ask it following a report by the TaxPayers’ Alliance which has teachers squarely in its sights.

According to John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance: “While we are constantly hearing trade unions calling for more spending [on education], this has largely gone on salary increases. This is completely unfair at a time when public sector workers are already better off, on average, than those in the private sector.

“Teachers in particular have seen generous salary increases when moving up through pay bands, and this comes off the back of those taxpayers in the private sector. Schools should deliver value in their budgets before teachers see higher pay, rather than demanding that the Government increase spending.”

Well, that’s his opinion.

According to the TPA report: n Teachers’ average salaries are £38,400 a year, considerably higher than the UK average of £28,600 n Top teachers can earn more than £67,300 a year n Education has seen a huge increase in funding, with spending per pupil in secondary schools rising more than 80 per cent between 1997 and 2015 n Teachers’ gross pay increased by 1.6 per cent in 2016-17.

When the ‘progression effect’ is taken into account, teachers’ gross pay increased by 4.6 per cent in 2016-17 in England.

So does the TaxPayers’ Alliance have a valid point? On the face of it, teachers do seem to be very well paid and it would appear the TPA may be on the right track, but nothing is ever that simple, is it?

Let’s just rewind to September of last year when the results of a survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) into teachers’ salaries were published.

It revealed that in England teacher salaries had dropped by more than a tenth in the past decade while earnings have risen in comparable countries.

The OECD survey revealed that teachers’ salaries in England were worth 12 per cent less in 2015 than in 2005 and six per cent less in Scotland.

According to The Guardian, this contrasts sharply with trends elsewhere in OECD countries, where teachers’ salaries have gone up in real terms by an average of 10 per cent at pre-primary level and six per cent at primary, with the rate of growth slightly slower – but still up – at secondary level.

The report went on to say the salary increase exceeded 20 per cent in Poland at pre-primary, primary and secondary levels, as a result of a government programme that aimed to improve the quality of education by providing financial incentives to attract high-quality teachers. There were also increases in Israel, Latvia, Luxembourg, Norway and Turkey. In England and Scotland, as in most OECD countries, teachers are paid less on average than other university-educated workers and starting salaries can be as low as half that of German teachers.

And there’s something else to take into account. Late last year, the Government’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, said secondary schools in England were struggling to recruit enough teachers to keep up with retiring staff and rising pupil numbers.

Tens of thousands of teachers left England’s schools before reaching retirement age and headteachers are finding it difficult to fill posts with good quality candidates.

There are of course other things that need to be factored in, not least 13 weeks of school holidays, although that is countered by reports of teachers having to put in 60-hour weeks in term time and work spilling over into holidays.

So it would appear that despite the TPA’s assertion, a good salary and long holidays are not enough on their own to retain teachers. So something is going wrong somewhere.

Maybe it’s the pupils, the parents or the politicisation of education. I really don’t know. I would be happy to know what you think.

I have to say at this point I am not a teacher, I am not married to a teacher and no member of my family is a teacher so I don’t have a personal axe to grind. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the prospect of standing in front of a class of 14-year-olds trying to teach them maths or German is the stuff of nightmares.

BY Guardian columnist The Fly in the Ointment