At the risk of being lynched by colleagues, I’m going to suggest that my own subject – English – is more ‘rigorous’ than other subjects. By which I mean it’s far more planning and assessment heavy. Yes, I’m looking at you, PE and IT… please don’t pound on me PE teachers, I never did like contact sports! What’s more, as a compulsory subject, we have full classes at GCSE and the added stress of data scrutiny thanks to our import in the league tables. English teachers are also routinely responsible for two exam subjects – Language and Literature – although I suppose Science might trump that in centres that offer Biology, Chemistry and Physics as separate disciplines.
It’s swings and roundabouts, I guess. I don’t envy PE teachers having to be experts in crowd control, nor would I welcome the daily headache of technical issues that plagues IT. Also on the flipside, non-core subject specialists typically have less job security; on the outside looking in, a GCSE group of ten and an A Level class of two might seem like manna from heaven but becomes considerably less divine when factoring in the competitive jostling for KS4 pupils and the threat of a timetable bulked out with PSHE and Y7 Maths.
English vs. Maths
Speaking of Maths, our numerically-minded brethren will no doubt empathise over the extra hours dedicated to data scrutiny. But let’s not pretend we’re in quite the same boat. Setting automatically-marked homework on MyMaths does not compare with picking apart PEEL paragraph after PEEL paragraph. As a student, the ambiguity of English appealed enormously; as a teacher tasked with marking a mountain of different interpretations, rather less so. Despite the extra money on offer, a summer job as an examiner is just not worth it. Whereas Maths and Science teachers I know rope in friends and family to help with marking: here are the answers, it’s right or wrong, away you go… anyone who’s ever sat through an English moderation session will know that this is not how it works for us!
Then there’s the curriculum content. Those old enough to have helped their own children with Maths homework will know that teaching strategies and techniques have changed over time. But I don’t think anyone’s messed with the basic content: percentages, pi and algebra remain unchanged. Granted, Shakespeare hasn’t written anything new in the past 400 years and there are syllabus staples such as Romeo and Juliet, but there is also an endless array of novels, poems and plays to get to grips with. It’s good to be kept on your toes; indeed, the desire to keep learning was one of the attractions of English teaching. However, once you’re on the treadmill it would be reassuring to know that the gradient isn’t going to suddenly shift.
Secondary vs. Primary
The disparity between secondary school subjects finds an equivalence in primary teaching.
Again, there are pros and cons to dealing with the rugrats: the variety of topics is a utopia to some, while being jack of all trades but master of none is anathema to others. What is probably a fair bet is that all secondary staff secretly harbour the belief that their job is more strenuous than that of their primary counterparts. We might refrain from labelling it ‘lower education’, yet the terms that are used to describe the sectors are only marginally less telling. One reckless TES user even dared start the thread, Why do Primary get paid the same as Secondary?
Following the same logic, why do Reception teachers get paid the same as those doing SATs? Contrary to popular belief, the first year of formal education is not all about play; Reception teachers provide the foundations for all that follows. On the other hand, not even the most conscientious KS1 teacher could argue that their workload or stress levels match those of Y6 teachers. The difference is that they can intermittently swap places to avoid burn out, whereas the average English teacher can’t get a secondment into Art or Food Tech.
Head Teacher vs. Head of Year
The subject-specific challenges might explain the preponderance of English staff escaping into SLT. It can’t be a coincidence that all three heads I’ve worked under began school life as plain old English teachers. Their deputies and assistants have consisted of History, Science, Business, MFL and even more English teachers. By contrast, a head from Music or DT is a very rare beast. What they do make are excellent heads of house or year group leaders. Ask an English teacher if they fancy taking on this sort of TLR and they’ll likely look at you as if you’re mad: where are we expected to find the time for more responsibility without a significant reduction in our teaching hours?!
Am I arguing that there should be separate subject pay scales? Well, there are already financial inducements to train in a variety of subjects thanks to the recruitment and retention crisis. The more lucrative career paths available to graduates of Maths, Physics and Computing probably has more to do with this than the particular demands of the subjects offering bursaries. Should certain subjects be awarded more PPA time? Well, it’s as inarguable that assessment is equally weighted as the case for wreaking havoc with the timetabling is. Then there’s the effect on the school community of treating teachers differently… then again, NQTs having more PPA time and teachers being at different points to one another on the pay scale doesn’t seem to have a particularly adverse impact on staff morale.
More to the point, it would be heresy to suggest that one size fits all for our pupils. Therefore, why should the same not hold true for teachers?
Let us know what the perks and pitfalls of your own subject are. Which department do you envy the most?
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