Monday, July 19, 2010

Why shouldn't a teacher earn more than the Prime Minister?

A terrific op-ed by David Mitchell in The Guardian here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] Who's the richest person in the world?" That's a question I often asked as a small child. Do children ask that because so many of the stories they get read involve gold? Maybe it's peculiar to my generation who were learning our times tables as Thatcher came to power. Or maybe I was an unusually mercenary little shit. I don't think so, though. In the good times, we admire people with money; in the bad, we resent them, but they're always interesting.

I wanted the richest person in the world to be the Queen. It suited my juvenile sense of fairy-tale hierarchy. To a child's mind, a world where a nerdy American in a jumper and glasses or a podgy Saudi in a sheet can outspend the posh lady in the big gold coach wearing the big gold hat has gone mad. [. . .]

[. . .] It's a credit to the children and parents at Mark Elms's school that they still don't want to chop his head off. In general, they seem to think that he's very good at his job and deserves the money. You don't expect primary-school headmasters to be paid that much but he's brilliant and, to borrow a phrase from the private sector, you get what you pay for. But that's not everyone's view. Many are disgusted by the news that, contrary to our expectations, at least one teacher has a high salary.

How deeply depressing. This isn't some risibly job-titled council functionary – a "deputy manager of procurement services", a "bureaucracy maximisation taskforce co-chair" or a "litter tsar", one of those people responsible for all the "waste" we're asked to believe that the previous administration encouraged in direct defiance of its own interests. This guy runs a primary school in a grim area that was as crap as you'd expect when he took it over and has got vastly better under his leadership, to the immense benefit of his hundreds of pupils and their families. Why can't we treat him like the high-flyer his CV proclaims him to be?

I think most people are comfortable with the idea that if you're a brilliant doctor, surgeon or barrister, you'll get quite rich – nearly as rich as a second-rate management consultant or an inept banker. But the fact that we react so differently to a teacher's pay approaching that level gives the lie to our vociferous assertions that we think teaching is an important job. We don't think it's important, we think it's badly paid. And when we discover an instance where it isn't, it makes us angry, not glad. [. . .]

[. . .] Nevertheless, to this government, the private sector is automatically better. To suggest otherwise is heresy. That's why they're restructuring the NHS, in a way that will encourage more private enterprise, three weeks after the Commonwealth Fund declared it the most efficient health service out of the seven it had studied – that's ahead of Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, all systems with more private sector involvement. The NHS might well be, in terms of the results it delivers with the money it gets, the most efficient health service on earth. And yet the Tories are convinced that hasty and sweeping organisational reforms will make it even more so.

Meanwhile, paying higher salaries to get more able employees is, in their view, a technique that only works in the private sector. They've arbitrarily decided that it's a scandal if any public servant is paid more than the prime minister. But the prime minister's salary has always been incredibly low considering the importance of the job. To most prime ministers, the pay is irrelevant; they don't have much time to spend it and they know they can rake it in with a book deal and a lecture tour as soon as they resign. [. . .]."

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