Keeping teaching attractive for the 21st century

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

This report analyses the perception of the teaching profession by the teachers and society through opinion polls. It proposes five ways to strengthen the attractiveness of the profession.

Keeping teaching attractive for the 21st century

This report analyses the perception of the teaching profession by the teachers and society through opinion polls. It proposes five ways to strengthen the attractiveness of the profession: diversification of training, improvement of the coherence between the initial and in-service training, financial incentives in wages, promotion of mobility and incentives to motivate teachers at the end of their careers to stay in the profession.

Here is a summary of the report’s main findings:

A more highly regarded profession than teachers think

Enquiries reveal that teachers regard reasonable freedom to work as they wish and good relations with pupils and colleagues as major professional assets. The main problems identified relate to their working conditions and especially the complexity and proliferation of tasks required and an increased workload. This applies to over a quarter of the teachers surveyed in Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Teachers also frequently cite a lack of practical training, in particular for managing groups of difficult adolescents. On the other hand, salaries are not very often among the foremost grounds for dissatisfaction. In general, teachers say that on the whole they are fairly satisfied with their profession, but a significant percentage state that they are ready to leave it. This applies in particular to over a quarter of teachers in Denmark, Sweden and England.

The extent to which the profession is attractive is also linked to how it is rated by society. The teachers surveyed often feel that their work receives little recognition. Yet various surveys of opinion among pupils, parents and the general public reveal that the profession is in general well regarded. The misconception among teachers that this is not the case should thus be corrected if they are to acknowledge that their profession has greater social prestige. ‘On-the-job’ forms of training: an alternative approach to attract new candidates In Europe in the past, initial teacher training has been devised for young candidates with no prior professional experience who undertake the greater part of their training in higher education institutions. However, certain countries have begun to explore alternative approaches to training, whether in the form of part-time programmes, distance provision or intensive programmes for those who have acquired professional experience in another sector.

One of the major innovations in this area is the introduction of ‘on-the-job’ forms of training, mainly in the Netherlands and England, to enable those unable to undertake conventional training to become teachers. England has also established a programme of so-called School-Centred Initial Teacher Training under which schools may be recognised as training bodies. In this context, the move from a qualifications system based on a thorough knowledge of what has been covered in the training curriculum, which is generally determined by the institution concerned, to one dependent on the evaluation of centrally identified and fully developed skills is of major significance.

As a result of this, it becomes possible to testify more objectively to the level of ability acquired by candidates, irrespective of their chosen path through training and training institution (which generally enjoys substantial autonomy). England has established national standards laying down what teachers should know, understand and be capable of doing. The Netherlands is working along the same lines. Enhancing the role of schools, whether through the foregoing alternative forms of ‘on-the-job’ training or, more commonly, in placements included in the conventional curriculum and final ‘on-the-job’ qualifying phases, has implications for the workload of qualified teachers who assume the duties of mentors. It calls for consideration of how such new responsibilities should be recognised, either in terms of the measures required to train teachers for them and adapt their tasks accordingly, or ways of financing this extra work that schools have to take on board.

Ensuring fully consistent professional development

In the general context of lifelong learning, policies are being introduced in an effort to ensure greater consistency between initial and in-service training. Yet this is still far from being fully achieved in Europe. Continuous professional development calls for more constructively coordinated activity on the part of institutions for initial and in-service training. In most countries, both forms of training are offered in the same institutions. Yet prospective and qualified teachers generally attend separate courses, so that they are prevented from securing the benefits that might be gained from learning from each other.

Salary policies: balancing egalitarianism and differential treatment

Good working conditions are vital in ensuring that teachers remain in their profession. In this respect, three considerations seem to be especially important, namely working time, the variety of tasks performed by teachers and their salary prospects. The basic salaries of teachers in Europe of the Fifteen (before 1 May 2004) were, with few exceptions, fairly similar in terms of purchasing power when they began their careers. Corresponding differences when they reached retirement age were more marked. The purchasing power of teachers at the start of their careers in the new Member States is not as high. Except in Cyprus, differences have again become greater by the time they are about to retire. Salary increases linked to length of service vary in size and cover a period ranging from less than 10 years to the entire career, depending on the country concerned. To attract teachers to the profession and ensure they remain in it, the right balance has to be found between them earning a decent salary within a relatively short period of time but also having longer term salary prospects.

Aside from salary increases linked to length of service, nearly all countries have introduced arrangements for adjusting salaries. Adjustments may occur in the light of the following three considerations: compensation for extra work arising from additional activity; attracting teachers to schools considered to be more difficult; or rewarding the experience and work of teachers. The right balance between the last two factors is a major problem in encouraging teachers to take up posts regarded as less attractive. In Belgium, the only country that provides for no form of salary adjustment, salary increases are linked solely to length of service. At the other extreme, in Denmark, Greece, Poland and Slovenia, as many criteria as possible liable to affect remuneration are established. Yet it is difficult to form a clear picture of the potential impact of these measures, given the lack of information on the amounts entailed.

In all countries, the central education authorities determine basic salaries; they are also responsible for the structure of the salary scale except in Sweden in which salaries are negotiated at local level. Decisions on salary bonuses are more often taken centrally in the concern to ensure fair treatment, even though certain countries grant some leeway to local authorities or schools in this respect. However, in a few, there is an apparent tendency to minimise differences in levels of remuneration for teachers who have completed the same period of service or perform the same tasks. This applies in particular to Denmark in which no more than 1 % of the total salary may be altered by local decision. At the other extreme, the salary of Polish teachers may vary considerably, depending on the resources of the local authority that employs them.

Facilitating mobility to provide for a balanced supply of posts in the regions

Mobility may be an interesting factor in the balance between su pply and demand. Teachers may also regard it as a rewarding experience provided that they choose it voluntarily. However, it very much depends on the scope for transferring employment benefits that have already been acquired. Salary increases linked to length of service or to further qualifications are generally transferable. This applies less commonly to entitlements linked to merit given the often prominent role of school heads in teacher appraisal.

However, the geographical area across which benefits may be transferred varies considerably from one country to the next, to an extent generally dependent on the level at which employers are situated. Where employers are locally based, therefore, mobility may be greatly limited. Exceptions to this are the Czech Republic, Ireland, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Finland, Norway and Romania, in which certain benefits already acquired may be transferred throughout the entire country although the employers are local authorities or schools themselves. Certain countries such as France, Germany, Spain, Luxembourg and Portugal have introduced arrangements for organised mobility, which include making information on vacant posts publicly available, competitions or other procedures of varying complexity.

Motivating teachers until they retire

Given that many European countries have to contend with an ageing teaching profession, ensuring that experienced teachers remain motivated for as long as possible has become a major concern, especially as teachers in general tend to retire as early as they can. In most countries they are indeed able to do so before they reach official retirement age. Reforms to limit the scope for early retirement, which is generally granted when there is an oversupply of teachers, have been undertaken in several countries. Consideration is being given to possible ways of compensating for this longer period in service by partially modifying the employment conditions of teachers when they approach retirement.

Reducing their teaching load at this stage is one interesting option. Teaching itself, which is so central to their occupation, is certainly very demanding and entails preparation of lessons and marking. Several countries 4 provide for a reduced teaching load with no loss of earnings. And as an alternative activity, the supervision of inexperienced colleagues is a constructive way of turning teaching experience to good account.


full reportis available on the Eurydice website.

Lire la

version française.  

Subscribe to our newsletters