What cost an ESOL teacher?

When I started teaching in the private EFL sector back in 1999 my first job paid £10 an hour. Subsequently this rose to about £13 an hour, and stayed there until I hit the public sector and the grand hourly rate of £18. This was ten years ago. The going salary for an ESOL teacher in an FE college ranges from about £19000 to the region of £32000, give or take a few thousand. My salary now is my business, however, and not really the point.

I write this because, again, a small charitable organisation has advertised for an ESOL co-ordinator at a salaried rate of £20,000 a year. It looked like a demanding, fulfilling job, incorporating a bit of teacher training, a bit of networking and liaising, a bit of teaching and a bit of line managing. A very tempting package, apart, alas, from the salary.

It caused a bit of a storm on the ESOL-Research JISCMAIL list this week, with many people quick to criticise the charity for such a poor salary offer. And they had a bit of a point. A job like that is going to be attractive to someone looking to make the move into management, or already in that sort of role but looking at a change of sector, but £20,000 a year isn’t going to be enough to draw someone on money alone: after all an awful lot of people with the necessary experience and qualifications are likely to be earning more than that already, so this would require a degree of commitment beyond the merely financial.

The question of de-professionalisation was also raised, implying that it was job offers like this which show or lead to deprofessionalisation. For me, this is a really complex question. In some regards this job was a more reasonable demand than the increasing number of hourly paid, casual posts which require the applicant to have the full set of ESOL teaching qualifications, rather than the “have or be prepared to work towards qualifications within two years pro-rata” clause. This change, for me, represents a more worrying development in terms of future ESOL provision: if it becomes a requirement that teachers have these qualifications at the beginning of their contract, how are we, as a profession, going to grow? ESOL teaching, already a fairly middle class business, becomes even more so: available only to those who have had time to pay for their own qualifications and volunteer with a class while they gain those qualifications. And all this for the kind of work which is probably less financially reliable than stacking shelves at a supermarket. In the case of the £20,000 post, the income would at least have been guaranteed.

But then how much are we worth, professionally speaking? And to what extent does being paid make one a professional? Certainly the notion of a salary (as opposed to wages) is tied to the notion of being a professional, in my mind at least, and that given that what we do is teaching, one would expect a little more by way of parity with similar professionals in similar roles in other sectors. One would also expect some sort of proper recognition of the training that we have to go through in order to become said professionals.This rather takes me back to the main point in my last paragraph: that ESOL runs the risk of becoming populated not with the best teachers that can be found but rather relying purely on financially independent individuals, almost regardless of whether or not they are any good.

But in defence of the organisation: they are a charity, and in this case a fairly small one. If colleges think they are having a tough time, charities are probably feeling the pinch far more painfully. Charities, by definition, have always depended on the good will of others. This represents a moral challenge. It’s quite easy for teachers and their unions to range themselves as the good guys against colleges with senior managers earning the equivalent of three full time experienced teacher salaries. But it’s much harder to take a similar stand against an organisation where there is less likely to be a top heavy glut of salary, and where they are plugging a gap which government knowingly and without remorse, leaves wide open.

So perhaps a little sympathy for the charity in question is in order here: they don’t have the £30,000+ they need to attract the top end of people to the job. If they did, I’d be writing an application now, not a blog post.

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