Gove selects statistics again and ignores an OECD warning – some things don’t change

Janet Downs's picture
“According to the OECD, teachers in England are comparatively well-paid – with annual salaries in England higher than the OECD average, and higher than those in progressive Scandinavian nations such as Finland, Norway or Sweden.”

Michael Gove 5 September 2013

But is Gove right? The OECD’s Education at a Glance 2013 gives the answer.

The 2011 statutory pay scales (in US dollars) for OECD countries showed teachers* in England earned an average of $44,269 – that’s more than the OECD average ($39,934). So, Gove’s right so far.

Finnish and Norwegian teachers earned $40,917 and $37,585 respectively. Again, Michael Gove is right – teachers in England earned more than these two. What about Sweden? Swedish teachers earned $35,495. But the figures were from 2009 not 2011 so no comparison can be made.

Although the average salary for teachers in England ($44,269) was slightly above the OECD average in 2011, it was still less than in 16 other OECD countries including progressive Denmark ($48,616), cash-strapped Ireland ($49,060), the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland ($60,000+).

But Gove didn’t refer to the top of the pay scale. In 2011 the statutory pay for teachers in England at the top of the scale was nearly $4,000 below the OECD average of $48,177.

What about starting salaries? Teachers in England beginning their careers in 2011 earned $73 dollars more than the OECD average of £30,216. Starting salaries were more generous in Gove's "progressive Scandinavian nations".

The data came with a warning, however. The OECD said comparing teachers’ pay is difficult because of large differences in taxation and welfare systems in OECD countries. This didn’t stop Gove from making a comparison. But then it’s not the first time he’s ignored an OECD caveat.

It’s important, the OECD said, to differentiate between “statutory salaries” (gross salary according to official pay scales) and “actual wages” (the average earnings of full-time teachers including work-related payments before tax).

Actual salaries seem to corroborate Gove’s statement – in England in 2011 actual salaries were above the average. However, this wasn’t an OECD average but only the average for 17 countries which submitted data. Statistics for 19 countries were missing. It’s impossible, then, to come to any conclusion about comparative actual salaries in all OECD countries.

So, what Gove should have said was teachers started at the OECD average, earned slightly above the OECD average after fifteen years and then fell behind at the top of the pay scale.

But that was then. This is now. The teachers’ pay scale in England has been abandoned in favour of performance-related pay despite evidence** showing this doesn’t work in teaching. The pay of teachers - who don’t have to be qualified to teach in academies and free schools - is decided by schools’ governing bodies. Whether teachers receive a pay rise will depend on how teachers “perform” but this is determined locally and a fifth of schools haven’t decided how to calculate performance-related pay yet.

So it’s more of the same form Gove – selective use of statistics, ignoring an OECD warning and the promise of chaos to come as performance-related pay is rolled out.

If he’d hoped to persuade graduates to become teachers on the basis of pay he may have failed.


*All figures are for lower-secondary teachers with 15 years experience unless otherwise specified.

** See faq above Would Performance-Related Pay improve educational outcomes?

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