Those who teach in Year 6 are generally older than their colleagues, and tend to have some sort of management responsibility. Whilst this is less true for Year 2 teachers, they tend to have a bit more experience and responsibility than the other teachers.
Where a school has photographs of its teachers – and most do these days – the clearest pattern emerges. Primary school teachers are nearly all under the age of 45. Older primary teachers clearly exist, but they are almost as rare as men in Primary classrooms.
Official figures bear this out. Just 28% of all primary teachers are over the age of 45 (and just 15% are men).
In 2011, the percentages were 33% and 14%. So the number of men in Primary has hardly changed, but the average age of primary school teachers is dropping at an alarming rate.
Internationally, Primary Teachers in England have been an outlier in terms of age for some time. OECD statistics suggest that 27% of primary teachers in the UK were under the age of 30 in 2016. This compares to just 0.5% of Italian primary teachers, 8% of German primary teachers and 9% of Finnish primary teachers.
All of this suggests that, contrary to the often held view that ‘good teachers’ are what matters when it comes to children’s education, in the classroom at least, the UK has opted for a cheap and cheerful model rather than choosing to pay for (relatively) expensive experience.
A look at international pay structures helps to explain why primary schools employ fresh-faced youngsters. The UK, in common with many other countries, uses a ‘single salary’ structure. In essence, this means that teachers start on a low salary, and then advance up a pay scale based on experience. In England first year teachers are paid £22,917, which rises to £33,824 after six years in the classroom. This is an increase of almost 50% in pay, and therefore cost, of a relatively experienced teacher.
In contrast, French primary teachers start their careers being paid US$26,247 and after 10 years rise to US$31,689, and increase of just 20%. German primary teachers go from US$50,007 to US$59,795 (20% more). Finns advance from US$32,148 to US$37,212 (16% more).
These figures alone provide a clear explanation for the preponderance of young teachers in English primary classroom. There are other factors of course, and the outcry about the heavy workload which has been heaped on teachers in England has dominated headlines for some time. Yet another factor is the somewhat strange method of recruiting teachers, which puts nearly all of the power in the hands of those recruiting and almost none in those of teachers looking to teach. The government continues to train large numbers of teachers, and more than half of the teaching jobs which come up each school year are filled by newly qualified rookies.
All of this is seems to be leading to a situation whereby primary teaching - at least in the classroom - is becoming. a short term career. I'd be interested in your thoughts, so do please comment below.
I’m debating this and other areas to do with recruitment and retention issues at ResearchEd’s national conference, putting forward a primary perspective in a Teachers v Researchers Crisis in teaching panel session with Karen Wespieser, Emma Kell and Sam Sims. I’m looking forward to the discussion, and to reporting back in a follow up blog.