Ronan Lyons | Personal Website
Ronan Lyons | Personal Website

Tackling the thorny issue of teachers pay

Earlier this year, I calculated average salary estimates for the public and private sectors in Ireland. The answer, that the average worker in the private sector earned €40,000 last year, almost €10,000 less than their public sector counterpart, has proved if not controversial than certainly a starting point for debate. Given some of the comments on that blog post, and the fact that the teachers conferences were being held last week, I decided to look in a little more depth at the education sector. How much do teachers in Ireland earn? How does this compare with other people in Ireland? How do teachers’ salaries in Ireland compare with other eurozone teachers?

Trade unions have been clear on one point since the size of Ireland’s fiscal crisis became clear: those most in a position to pay should bear the brunt. At the same time, teachers unions have said that their pay is not up for discussion. This implies that teachers presume that they are not among those most in a position to pay. How does that stack up with the stats? The chart below shows average earnings in mid-2007, the latest data across all sectors, with public sectors marked in dark blue, private sectors in light blue, and semi-state in mixed blue.

Salaries by sector in Ireland, 2007 (source:
Salaries by sector in Ireland, 2007 (source:

The single most striking thing is that all the best paid sectors in Ireland are either public or semi-state industries. (Those looking for more detail might start with Dept of Education figures out last week showing that primary school teachers earn on average €57,000.) Surely, any objective trade union leader should be arguing that whatever burden workers have to bear, the bulk of it should be borne primarily by the public and semi-state sectors.

There are a few common queries people have with the relevance of these statistics. The first often runs: “Hang on, you’re not comparing like with like. All teachers have a degree, while who knows how many people do in, say, paper and printing.” Ideally, I’d like to have the stats to hand to explore this. Unfortunately I don’t. My only comment before we move on is that if finance and business services had come out as the best paid sectors in Ireland, would the same people have argued that we should wait and see whether their higher wages were justified by qualifications/experience/profit created? Or would people have argued that as they were best paid, they should pay most?

Let’s move on, though. If comparing education with other sectors in Ireland is not fair, let’s compare Irish teachers with their eurozone counterparts? After all, our old trick in situations like this was just to devalue and hope for the best. Now we share a currency with a dozen or so other countries. Are our teachers overpriced?

The graph below uses OECD statistics to examine teachers’ salaries across the eurozone. (I’ll take this chance to recommend the OECD’s Education at a Glance 2008: even if you hate absolutely everything I’m saying here, do take the opportunity to wander around its facts and figures.) In Ireland, a teacher in the job 15 years, single with no kids, earns more after tax than his or her counterparts do BEFORE they’ve been taxed in most other eurozone members. Marry that teacher off and give them two kids and – despite Germany’s best efforts to catch up – Irish teachers are by far the best paid of the ten eurozone countries shown.

Average salaries (gross and net) for teachers in the eurozone, 2007
Average salaries (gross and net) for teachers in the eurozone, 2007

OK, so Irish teachers are well paid relative to other Irish workers – they may just be better qualified. And yes, they’re paid substantially more than their eurozone counterparts. Perhaps price levels are so substantially higher in the rip-off republic that teachers in Ireland need this extra pay just to break even? Unfortunately, eurostat figures on comparative price levels don’t back that assertion up. Whereas prices in Ireland are indeed 15% higher than in France, the single teacher above enjoys 75% more take-home pay. In Finland, prices are just 2% below Irish prices, but an Irish teacher enjoys a wage that is 54% higher than a Finnish counterpart.

If prices don’t explain the international gap, maybe Irish teachers work a longer year than their eurozone counterparts, explaining why they get paid more. Unfortunately again for Irish teachers, the opposite seems to be the case, as the graph below shows. Teachers – particularly secondary school teachers – work less days on average than almost all their eurozone counterparts. This leaves the amount paid for every day spent teaching in Ireland looking pretty unsustainable. Factoring in the pension levy only scratches at the surface of the problem.

Days taught by teachers and earnings per day of teaching
Days taught by teachers and earnings per day of teaching

Ireland is currently grappling with a huge fiscal and economic crisis. The government faces lots of tough choices about what stays and what must go. The fact that they’ve chosen to cut back some education services suggests that they are missing what should be obvious: the more we bring Irish teachers’ salaries back in line with counterparts elsewhere in the eurozone, as well as with other sectors in Ireland, the less we’ll have to cut back on the range of education services we offer.

As teachers of maths should appreciate, the arithmetic is simple. The government needs to make savings across the board in publicly-funded services, including education. To make savings in education, we can either cut back on education services (quantity) or cut back on teachers salaries (price). Teachers have so far been successful in passing those two issues off as one, and thus creating a somewhat bizarre alliance of service providers (teachers) and consumers (parents/children).

Given how Irish teachers’ pay compares domestically and internationally, it’s time we separated out teachers’ pay from education cutbacks and took a long cold look at what our teachers are paid.

  • Ernie Ball ,

    In fact – for the 4th time – if we want to reduce class sizes we can reduce teachers pay, and hire more teachers. That will stop the “overworked per student contact hour” malarky.

    I have a better idea. If we want to reduce class sizes, we can have a special tax on engineers and use the proceeds to hire more teachers.

    • Ernie Ball ,

      but of course Ronan doesn’t want to reduce class sizes. That would be pointless in his view. He just wants to cut teacher pay based on evidence that he has, after some serious effort, managed to cherrypick and twist into the false claim that they are overpaid.

      • Anna ,

        @Ernie – I think we have your point of view Ernie to be honest. As a reader with an interest in genuine discussion and debate I wanted to read comments on the post to inform myself better and gain a deeper understanding of the issue. Teacher’s pay is as Ronan puts it “a thorny issue” – and is unfortunately usually debated as a black and white – with one side crying “long holidays, overpaid – stop moaning teachers” and the other crying ” underpaid overworked – poor teachers”

        The reality, as always, is somewhere in the middle. And by reading this post and the comments I had hoped to gain a better understanding of the points of view, and be able to form a more informed personal opinion of where I believe the reality to lie.

        Unfortunately I was disappointed in this by the sheer bullishness of your comments and seeming desire to exhaust any other commenters. Frankly my patience was so sorely tried that I was moved to comment myself!

        I would suggest that rather than just trying to “win” the debate by using derogatory comments, emotive language and generally attempting to exhaust everyone into submission. That you start your own blog and post your above arguments in a proper forum. Perhaps you have one – could you direct me to it? Comments are supposed to be comments, not essays (although this has turned into one 🙂

        And before you accuse me of being of the Irish-Independent-FF-anti-teacher etc brigade, let me assure you I am not any of those things. I am simply someone trying to develop my understanding of interesting and complex issues in the public domain, and to form my own opinion and in fact I may well agree with most of your general argument, but frankly you’re doing your own cause a disservice by not knowing how to let other people speak.

        • Ernie Ball ,

          I’m not interested in exhausting you or any other commenters. But I think that the truth of the matter is important enough to debate at length. ‘Thorny issues’ are, almost by definition, those that require teasing out and that requires dialogue, sometimes extensive dialogue.

          As for emotive language and derogatory comments, I apologise. But I tend to get worked up about intellectual dishonesty in the service of an ideological agenda. Insults directed at Eugene were retaliatory.

          In any case, Ronan hasn’t bothered to answer my substantive objections about his manipulation of the OECD data to suit his biases. Far from presenting the ‘thorny subject’ in its nuance and complexity, Ronan seem content simply to bash through the fine points and hope nobody looks too closely at the results. I don’t consider that to be an intellectually honest way of proceeding in such debates which are, I remind you, of crucial importance to Irish society today.

          • Ernie Ball ,

            In short: this is what ‘genuine discussion and debate’ looks like. Are you sure you’re interested in it?

            • Anna ,

              What “ideological agenda”? I have missed this, if it exists. I see an argument against teachers being paid as much as they are. From looking around the blog I don’t see any ideological position shining through.

              What’s your ideological agenda as we’re on the subject? I understand you’re not a teacher but you seem very fixed on this position – are you from a union by any chance?

              And “intellectual dishonesty” is a fairly inflammatory thing to say.

              I can’t believe you have me arguing with you, when I largely agree with you on the principles.

              This isn’t genuine discussion and debate. This is annoying, and as I mentioned before – exhausting.

              Why don’t you move the debate to – there are people there who could provide some good insights.

              • Ernie Ball ,

                You don’t recognise the ideological agenda? Let me spell it out. How and why has it come about that, suddenly, the public sector is in the crosshairs of virtually every major media outlet? To read the papers, you’d think that the public sector caused the current mess. They didn’t. What’s happening here in this country today (but not only here) is that the freewheeling and unalloyed faith in the virtue of markets as not simply one means, not even the best means, but as the only means for apportioning rewards and punishments and of allocating resources has been dealt a death blow. Unjustified faith in the self-regulatory power of markets (and concomitant suspicion of regulation, which was almost a dirty word in the Bertie/Bush years) is what led us to this terrible economic calamity.

                The people who embraced the ideology by which the market is the sole source and arbiter of all virtue–Fianna Fáil and PD politicians, IBEC, the Independent Media Group, right-wing economists of all sorts–are now doubling down. For it can’t be that the market failed! It just can’t be! Something else must’ve gone wrong. What could it be? Wait, I know! It wasn’t that we relied too much on market forces to make judgements that are best left to human beings. No! It’s that we didn’t rely on them enough. We were betrayed by those parasitic leeches in those parts of the society that are not governed by market forces but, rather, by some high-minded ideals of human service. Yes, the public sector! That’s our problem!

                Get it? The problem is not that people’s old-age pensions have been given over to market forces with the result that many of them have been bankrupted and will be living out of cardboard boxes despite having paid thousands into them. That’s can’t be the problem because we know that all virtue resides in submission to such market forces. Therefore, the problem is the remaining part of the pension system that has not been given over to market forces and has not, as a result been bankrupted. That’s the problem!

                Do you get it now? The very same people who complain about layoffs and pay cuts and bankrupted pensions in the private sector, rather than seeing the causes for what they are (excessive faith in the virtues of markets) insist instead–in a peculiar blend of Milton Friedman and the age-old tradition of Irish begrudgery–that the problem is rather that such insecurity and bankruptcy has not been universally applied. That’s the problem!

                Can you see why this is an ideological agenda? Ronan, who just happened to decide out of disinterested intellectual curiosity that Irish teachers’ pay was an interesting subject of investigation and just happened to present the existing international data in a way skewed to present those teachers in the worst possible light, is a participant. This blog doesn’t take place in a vacuum and its context is, as I’ve said before, the relentless media hammering of the public sector by those vested interests most of whom couldn’t care in the slightest about public sector reform because they wouldn’t mind seeing the whole sector abolished if they thought it would make their taxes lower.

                And let’s be clear who the antagonists are. The public sector is made up of people who serve others, who teach them, protect them, care for them. Those advancing the attack against them serve only themselves. If there’s money to be made concocting a new and more efficient Death Gel, they’re all for it. It adds to the nation’s ‘growth’ don’t you know.

                The fact that you don’t even recognise this ideological agenda for what it is is symptomatic of how deeply ingrained it has become: it is the very air we breathe. The fact that it is noxious is something we’ll never notice until we step outside.

                • ronanlyons ,

                  OK Ernie, I think you’ve well and truly had your say at this point. I won’t bother retorting in detail – hopefully my series of posts on the Irish economy weekly from now on will be rebuttal enough. I think it’s certainly been an eye-opener for me that there is this level of resistance to analysis.

                  I’ll have a fresh post up in the morning – this time on the world economy.

                  • John ,

                    Hey Ronan

                    I think most of the damned lies, eh, I mean stats, I used were, in fact, representative. For example: I referred to the age profiles of the public sector vs private sector (67% aged 35+ vs 47%), and respective levels of educational achievement, (52% with 3rd level qualifications vs 25%), which would account at least in part for differences in average wages between the two sectors overall.

                    I quoted both overall averages as well as figures just for Irish primary school teachers when discussing contracted hours per year, although the percentage I gave only represented primary school numbers. Using overall averages, Finnish teachers teach for around 77% of the hours Irish teachers do.

                    I didn’t mention any figures relating to class size, because I couldn’t find any for Finland. What I do know is that the maximum class size in Finland is 20. Only 10% of Irish children know what it’s like to be in a class of less than 20, while 20% are taught in classes of more than 30. I’m sure the overall figures are a bit lower, since the average class size in a primary school is 24.5, whereas at second-level it’s 20.1.

                    I know there are differing opinions among academics about the impact of class size on educational attainment – I suspect that if there is anything like a consensus it would be that it matters, quite a lot with younger children, and less so as they get older. In my short teaching career, I’ve experienced working with a small class of 16 and a larger one of 26, which although not high by national standards is quite high for a DEIS (band 1) school like ours. In my experience there is no question that it’s is far more difficult for me to cater to the needs of all my students in larger classes. By that I mean that I have less time to spend one-to-one with pupils, and more time is lost to classroom management issues and discipline issues.

                    That doesn’t mean that I would be in favour of giving up half my salary in order to halve class size. Firstly, the ‘half n half’ idea is completely unworkable. The construction and maintenance costs of doubling the number of classrooms in the country would be astronomically prohibitive, especially in light of the fact that we can’t even keep the rats out of all the schools we currently have.

                    It’s also counterproductive. The fact that you’d then be trying to hire people with between 3 and 6 years of 3rd level education to do a highly demanding job for an average salary of less than €30k might just maybe lead to some recruitment and retention problems. To put it another way, under this idea, the cost of teachers salaries would remain the same, and while you would have smaller classes, you’d also have rubbish teachers. Given that, I’m surprised that you have any interest in the idea.

                    Generally, I don’t think the idea of linking teacher’s pay to contact hours is a good one. There is, and always will be, a wide variation in actual class sizes in schools around the country. For example, 10% of classes are under 20, while 20% are over 30. Paying teachers more for teaching bigger classes would lead to all the best teachers working in the schools with the biggest classes. Since class size can also vary greatly within any given school, teachers would find their salaries increasing or decreasing dramatically year by year.

                    Pay per contact hour would also mean that teachers who work in resource, learning support, language support or with special needs children would only earn a fraction of mainstream class teachers. In any event, much of the extra work that large classes demand of teachers is not paid for at all, since it occurs outside of school time when teachers prepare lessons or correct students’ work.

                    Like many teachers, I have a professional interest in our education system, and ideas about what might make it better. Like all teachers, I already contribute my fair share towards the cost of education in Ireland when I pay my taxes, the same as everyone else in the country. If there is a responsibility to fund a reduction in class size, that responsibility rests on every citizen of the state, not exclusively on teachers. Any salary reduction for teachers should only be considered in light of the realities of the current economy and the overall size and cost of our public sector.

                    I’m not sure what the benefit of a re-structured school year would be, apart from making life easier for some parents during the summer months, perhaps at the cost of a shorter school day making life more difficult for the rest of the year. The Dept of Education seems to have plenty of time to evaluate schools, while I think most teachers find it far more useful to have their non-contracted hours in a “lump-sum” rather than spread out day by day during the academic year. And children, I think, benefit hugely from having a long break from school, where they can get on with the important business of simply being children, without the interference of teachers.

                    Again, I am not arguing against the idea of examining a reduction in the wage bill either of teachers or of the public sector. But ideas like halving teachers’ salaries to reduce class size, without actually reducing the overall wage bill (and incurring unimaginable infrastructural costs at the same time), or restructuring the school year, without lowering the wage bill, for no reason other than the fact that there is no universal right to three months of holidays, or imposing an ethical imperative exclusively on teachers to accept a wage cut in order to fund investment in education are not going to move the debate in a positive direction.

                    • ronanlyons ,

                      Hi John,

                      Thanks for the comment.

                      You said: “Generally, I don’t think the idea of linking teacher’s pay to contact hours is a good one.” However, Ernie was arguing that teachers in Ireland are good value precisely because of this metric, so unfortunately it can’t be spun both ways – i.e. that teachers pay is good value by metric A, but that teachers pay shouldn’t be judged by metric A.

                      You also wrote: “Most teachers find it far more useful to have their non-contracted hours in a “lump-sum” rather than spread out day by day during the academic year. And children, I think, benefit hugely from having a long break from school.” I think that’s interesting because teachers often argue that one the downsides to their job and one of the reasons they represent good value per hour work is because they work such long days (anonymous commenter earlier saying >10 hours a day). It’s also interesting because schools in most other eurozone states have made the judgement call the opposite way. (That call in and of itself doesn’t prove anything, but does suggest it’s worth looking into.”

                      I’m hoping to return to the education sector in a few weeks, after I’ve had a look at a few other aspects of the Irish economy – which was my intention all along and which posters on, and a few other places seem keen for – so I hope to address some of these issues in more detail.



                      • John ,

                        I know you’ve probably had enough of this topic by now, sorry!

                        Just to clarify, there’s a difference between judging teachers pay by the metric Ernie outlined, which I think is useful, and linking individual teachers’ salaries to that metric, which would be a disaster. What I mean is, it makes sense to look at the average figures to see what kind of value for money the state is getting: how many hours of instruction are received by how many students, and at what cost. But to say that individual teachers’ salaries should vary according to the number of pupils they teach (since the number of hours, within each level, would be the same for every teacher) would be a mistake.

                        You are right that teachers work more hours than those they spend in the classroom and are directly paid for, although I would argue that teachers deliver value for money even without factoring in the hours of voluntary work teachers undertake. This would remain the case even if the school day was shortened and the school year lengthened, because the overall contracted hours would remain the same. For these exact reasons, having long stretches of time off from school at Christmas, Easter, Summer etc is far more useful to teachers than loads of little stretches of time off day by day during the academic year. Absent any pressing reasons, I don’t really see any value in restructing the school year.

                        • The Irish Economy » Blog Archive » Public Sector Pay ,

                          […] Ronan Lyons does some analysis of pay levels for teachers here. […]

                          • Aidan ,

                            I enjoyed reading your analysis and the discussion here. As I live in Holland I have a slightly different view on the Irish situation.
                            1) In terms of your ‘half and half’ idea. In Holland the majority of primary school teachers are women and work part-time. That effectively means that they earn about half of what their full-time counterparts earn. Maybe increasing the number of part-time teachers in Ireland would be a way to increase the number of teachers and lighten the 10 hour days during the school year.
                            2) Whatever the relationship between class size and pupil performance it is almost certainly not directly proportional. Obviously at a certain point classes are unmanageable but other factors come in to play such as teacher quality as you say. Moreover, pupil quality also must be a factor, learning is also dependent on peer to peer interactions. My daughter goes to a Dalton school where older children often help the younger ones with tasks. My daughter goes to a Dutch school but speaks English so I imagine that this resource will be used in time just like the quality of Irish I learned at school was helped by having native and near native speakers in my class.
                            3) There is a truism that the Irish educational system is one of the best in the world but I don’t see this being backed up by statistics. Finland regularly tops charts for educational performance, is Ireland’s performance really so good? My own main area of interest is languages and anecdotally the evidence I see working in an international environment is that most Irish people neither speak Irish nor any other language than English. It is picking one area but this compares poorly to say German, Dutch, Finnish and Scandinavians I come into contact with all of whom speak at least three languages.

                            • ronanlyons ,

                              Hi Aidan,

                              Thanks for the comment – great to get an external perspective! An issue I’d like to explore is whether there are great potential efficiencies in teaching all primary students through Irish – cutting down on the time spent on Irish itself and nothing else while also exposing young Irish minds to fluency in different languages – something one would expect could have a long and large dividend. Not sure what your thoughts would be on that.

                              I’m not really familiar with Dalton schools – sounds very interesting, must explore!

                              • John ,


                                with the ever increasing numbers of ‘international’ students attending our schools, it would be impractical to teach all subjects through Irish, even if there were sound educational or other reasons for doing so. One of my colleagues, for example, has a minority of Irish children in her class.

                                As things stand, Irish is allocated about 15% of the total secular instruction time in a typical Irish school( Religion is not far behind). And, of course, there are gaelscoileanna for those parents who wish their child to be taught through Irish.

                                • ronanlyons ,

                                  Ah, you leave me and my Grand Proposition somewhat deflated!
                                  It does bring up another topic, though – wow, almost one in three hours is devoted to either religion or Irish at primary level… That might explain why so little time is spent teaching maths and science at the same age. Can we not move religion study to Sundays?!

                                  • John ,

                                    Personally I’d be all in favour of removing religious instruction from schools, but the vast majority of primary schools are under the patronage of the church, so I don’t see it happening any time soon.

                                    That said, it’s not quite one in three hours devoted to Irish/religion – Irish takes up 3.5 hours out of a total of 20 hours secular instruction. There’s another 8-and-a-bit hours in the typical school week for things like breaks, assembly, roll call, etc, and 2.5 of those extra hours are given to religion.

                                    If those 2.5 hours were ever to be re-allocated, I agree that science would benefit from more than the current 1 hour per week, and PE too, which also get 1 hour. Teachers do have some flexibility with 2 hours of ‘discretionary’ time per week, which can be spent on whatever the teacher feels needs extra time, although in DEIS schools like mine most of that is currently taken up by a ‘pilot programme’ (which has been called a pilot programme for about ten years…) in French.

                                    You can get a breakdown of the suggest allocation of time per subject in this introduction to the 1999 Curriculum:


                                    Relevant info on p.70, but you might find the whole thing interesting. Ish…

                                    • cavok ,

                                      @ Rory

                                      ‘the Irish edcation system is regarded as one of the best in the world’

                                      Can we stop this myth now?

                                      Through my work and voluntary work I have met the debris of the Irish educational system.

                                      Furthermore we are the most linguistically challenged nation in Europe.

                                      The myth stops NOW.

                                      • Ernie Ball ,


                                        The data from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment says you’re wrong. You may not be impressed with the students the Irish system produces, but Irish 15-year-olds do very well in the rankings according to this very broad study.

                                        • Proinsias ,

                                          Re damage to educational prospects of students in larger classes:
                                          Researchers at the London Institute of Education have carried out the study and found that large class sizes disrupt and damage the prospects of less-able students, The Sunday Telegraph reported.

                                          According to them, students in big classes find it hard to concentrate and get little chance to interact with the class teacher. The researchers came to the conclusion after observing 686 pupils in dozens of schools in Britain.

                                          They found adding five pupils to a class in the schools increased by 40 per cent the likelihood that less academic kids would be ‘off task’.

                                          Moreover, those pupils were twice as likely to misbehave in classes of 30 — a size common in state schools — as they were in classes of 15, a size typical of the independent sector, the study revealed…..
                                          Full Details here:
                                          MSN News
                                          That is the reality

                                          • Aidan ,

                                            “”An issue I’d like to explore is whether there are great potential efficiencies in teaching all primary students through Irish – cutting down on the time spent on Irish itself and nothing else while also exposing young Irish minds to fluency in different languages – something one would expect could have a long and large dividend.”
                                            Ronan, I have thought about this before and proposed it on my own blog in posts relating to the Irish language. My own children speak Polish and English at home but go to a Dutch language school. We put them in Dutch playschool 5 days a week from the age of 2, my eldest daughter who is 5 speaks Dutch at almost the same level as Dutch children. There are children from several other countries in the school so the idea that the country of origin of the children matters is not borne out by the reality.
                                            Irish people often mention the fact that we are English speaking as a major plus. In my anecdotal experience most Irish speakers are fluent in English and normally also speak a third language because bilinguals inevitably perform better at third and fourth languages.
                                            All Irish education is prevented because of a lack of political will and an inherent insecurity amongst some Irish people about the language. In Luxembourg most children speak Lëtzebuergesch at home but school is in French and German. In Brussels a large minority of French speaking parents send their kids to Flemish schools. If all Irish children were educated through Irish they would still end up fluent in English and they would be better at other languages. The practical issue though is that there are not enough teachers fluent in Irish. However, that was also the case at the foundation of the modern Israeli state when nobody actually spoke Hebrew but they got around that issue.
                                            About Dalton schools, they are similar to Montessori schools with a lot of emphasis on tasks and group work. We also have other flavours of schooling here ranging from very liberal (Jena plan) to very orthodox Protestant schools. The Dutch system has its own problems, Ireland would do well to look at Finland and particularly the Swedish speaking minority schools for a model educational system.

                                            • Pat C ,

                                              Primary teachers teach 735 hours per year.
                                              A normal working person works about 226 days in each year, taking out 104 days for the weekend and 30 days for holidays and bank holidays.
                                              735/226 and you get an average of about 3.35 hours per day. Sure, you have a difficult job but try working from 9 to 5.30 with an almost four hour commute.

                                              • Ernie Ball ,

                                                That comment assumes that contact time = total work time. That assumption is false. Classes must be prepared, homework must be corrected, meetings must be attended, etc. etc.

                                                • Pat C ,

                                                  I was being generous with the 3.35 hours and if you teach “second class” for a number of years I suspect class preparation might not require a whole lot of work and correcting 30 copybooks could probably be done at lunchtime if you weren’t doing your “schoolyard supervision. I’m genuinely not anti-teacher; some are brilliant and especially those who teach in small two teacher schools where they have 4 classes in one room – it’s mental. My first primary teacher definitely spent her own money on materials and she inculcated in me a love of reading and learning.
                                                  However, I’d have serious issues with the “Master” and I had some appalling teachers in secondary school.

                                                  • Ernie Ball ,

                                                    There is another aspect of the job that most haven’t considered: actual contact hours are much more intensive than ordinary hours on other kinds of jobs. They are roughly equivalent–in energy required and stress levels–to what workers in advertising or marketing undergo when they are ‘pitching’ to a client. It’s live performance and there are very few live performers who are able to do near as much of it as good teachers do. Of course bad teachers cut corners on this, but imposing even greater workloads or even greater salary cuts will demoralise good and bad alike.

                                                    So a fairer question than your one about working 9 to 5:30 might be: how would you like to be pitching a client for several hours each day?

                                                    • Eugene ,

                                                      “There is another aspect of the job that most haven’t considered: actual contact hours are much more intensive than ordinary hours on other kinds of jobs. They are roughly equivalent–in energy required and stress levels–to what workers in advertising or marketing undergo when they are ‘pitching’ to a client.”

                                                      That is true. Well maybe not that intense, but yes office workers can slack off a bit easier.

                                                      • John ,

                                                        PatC said:

                                                        “Primary teachers teach 735 hours per year.”

                                                        That figure is not correct. Primary teachers teach an average of 915 hours per year. The OECD average is 812.

                                                        PatC said:

                                                        “if you teach “second class” for a number of years I suspect class preparation might not require a whole lot of work and correcting 30 copybooks could probably be done at lunchtime if you weren’t doing your “schoolyard supervision.”

                                                        Before I got became a teacher one of my concerns was that I wouldn’t find the job interesting or challenging enough, especially if I was teaching the younger classes. I’ve since been educated… Trying to get a 6 year old to understand a concept like, say, that the two sixes in the number 66 have different values, when they just — don’t — get — it, is sort of tricksy. Never mind teaching a 3rd class kid that when your writing “20 to 1” in digital time, you don’t write the number 20, or the number 1, especially when at the same time you’ve 28 other kids all looking for help with their own problems, or trying to cause some problems, or asking the first kid why he’s slow.

                                                        The “new” (1999) Curriculum is all about concrete learning, about hands-on activities, and is very different from the experience I had in school. With the younger classes this emphasis is particularly strong, so if anything, preparation time needed for younger classes is greater.

                                                        As for correcting 30 copies during lunch?! I get 20 mins for lunch, so I’d have about 40 seconds per copy, if I didn’t bother to eat. That might be enough time to lash down 30 big red ticks, but not to catch all the spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes and just plain weird mistakes in 30 6th class Irish essays, and offer constructive, meaningful feedback.

                                                        And yes, the intensity of the kind of work you do in the classroom is high. When you’re on, you’re on, and getting a coffee or going to the bathroom or checking emails or just zoning out for half a minute is not possible.

                                                        Before everyone breaks out the violins, I’m not saying any of this because I feel I deserve a medal – I enjoy the work and feel that my pay and conditions are good. I’m saying it in reaction to the attacks against teachers that I’ve been hearing from all corners lately. Well, not quite all corners – the parents I work with are still as supportive as ever.

                                                        Pat, you have opened my eyes on one point. If you’re right that the average 9 – 5 worker works for 226 days per year, then I work “only” 43 days per year less. I say “only” because when people talk about the ridiculous number of weeks off teacher have in a year, I forgot that 2/7 of those weeks don’t count.

                                                        • Elizabeth ,

                                                          915 hours per year is a minimum and does not include work done outside school hours: preparation, sourcing materials, correcting, reports, meetings, school trips, waiting with children who are late being picked up, after school sports/clubs/activities etc.

                                                          Primary teacher = 5 hrs per day x 183 days
                                                          (excluding lunch 20 mins, coffee break 20mins)
                                                          Regular 9 to 5 job = 6.5 hrs per day x 226 days
                                                          (excluding lunch 1hr, coffee breaks 30 mins)

                                                          Teaching hours are intense. They don’t include toilet breaks and trips to the water cooler as standard. My personal opinion is that the longer less intense day is probably less taxing… I have worked as a primary school teacher and in an office/business environment for equal times (both public/private).

                                                          • ronanlyons ,

                                                            • Ernie Ball ,

                                                              The teachers took a nominal pay cut. it’s called the pensions levy.

                                                              • ronanlyons ,

                                                                (a) It’s not quite the same thing as it is an arrangement between employer and employee on the funding of a pension. The calculation of the final pension is unaffected by the pension levy. You were more than happy to argue about gross pay earlier, rather than net pay, so let’s stick with that.

                                                                (b) It is a cost-cutting measure, sure, but it’s clearly not enough. Costs in all sectors look like they’ll have to fall by at least 15% from peak values and maybe up to 30% to get Ireland back in line with our eurozone friends. The 25bn hole in the public finances suggests even if we ignore 5bn as cyclical, a relatively equal balance between cost cutting and tax raising means about 10bn of 50bn will have to be cut, so about 20%, three times what’s been cut so far. Keeping the focus on wages rather than wage bills means we don’t have to cut services.

                                                                • Ernie Ball ,

                                                                  a) Ah, c’mon Ronan. You know very well that the government was all gung ho to cut public sector salaries across the board until they got some advice that it wouldn’t be legal. Then they came up with the ‘pensions levy’ which has absolutely nothing to do with pensions and is nothing but a pay cut by another name.

                                                                  b) If you or anyone else think you’re going to still have people going to jobs in the public service rather than throwing bricks through the windows of Leinster House after you cut their pay by 30%, you are living in cloud cuckoo land. Needless to say I don’t accept your figures about what is required to ‘get Ireland back in line with our eurozone friends’, for you’ve used a specious interpretation of the data in this post to make the claim that we’re out of line. You haven’t made a convincing case.

                                                                  And why should the balance between cost cutting and tax raising be 50/50? Remember, public sector workers lose on both sides of this so-called ‘balance.’

                                                                  It’s quite clear that the primary means for sharing the pain equally must be the tax system and it should be as progressive as possible. Ireland is and has been for many years woefully undertaxed, from the ridiculous corporate tax rate to the absurdly low capital gains tax rate to the inexistent property taxes and right down the line. What has been particularly poorly taxed is wealth, as opposed to income and spending. And I remind you, this fiscal crisis was brought about by a collapse in tax revenue, not by any explosion in public expenditure, the opportunistic bleatings of those who have always had long knives out for the public service notwithstanding. Public expenditure did not keep pace with either GNP growth or population growth during the boom years, so the case for savage cuts now is weak at best.

                                                                  • Responsible government will restore Irish competitiveness « Liberty Ireland ,

                                                                    • ronanlyons ,

                                                                      Don’t worry, Ernie, my next post on the Irish economy – out Monday morning – will look at the issue of taxation levels here and their sustainability.
                                                                      And much as it might surprise you to know, I have no a priori conclusions on that!

                                                                      • Ado ,

                                                                        Hi Ronan,

                                                                        What a lively debate. I won’t cover teacher pay – more heat than light being generated at this point.

                                                                        On the pupil – teacher ratio, John’s instinct are backed up in the research – the teacher – pupil ratios matters for very young pupils. However, in a review of over 100 studies, the strong consensus view is that there is no significant relationship between student outcomes and pupil teacher ratio for most students.

                                                                        On investment levels and teaching hours:
                                                                        · Australia has almost tripled education spending per student since 1970. No improvement in performance. Ditto in the UK. American spending has almost doubled since 1980 and class sizes are the lowest ever. Again, nothing.
                                                                        · Long hours don’t do it either which might not support some points above. Finnish students begin school later, and study fewer hours, than in other rich countries but have among the best results. However, longer school terms are better than longer days.

                                                                        What really matters in terms of providing a good education service includes:
                                                                        · Having excellent teachers. To become a primary school teacher in Ireland you need to be in the top 14% of students (We do well but South Korea recruits primary-school teachers from the top 5% of graduates), in terms of CAO points (harder to judge the quality of secondary school teachers). What attracts excellent people into teaching in countries such as Finland is the fact that teaching remains a respected profession and that (ironically) it is difficult to get into. In Finland all new teachers must have a master’s degree. Of course, decent pay also plays a role. However, an over-emphasis on pupil teacher ratios (particularly if you believe that teacher pay is high) means that less resources are available to invest in new school buildings, school science labs, ict in schools, etc.
                                                                        · Secondly ensuring the professional development of teachers is critical. Teachers need to continuously learn! Iriconally, the education sector seems to benefited least from education and research. Singapore provides teachers with 100 hours of training a year and appoints senior teachers to oversee professional development in each school. In Japan and Finland, groups of teachers visit each others’ classrooms and plan lessons together. In Ireland, ongoing professional development is woeful. Little formal learning happens after college – perhaps some short courses when school syllabi are introduced. Teachers receive little formal guidance after they finish college. Principals also have limited powers to assess teachers on their performance and offer suggestions on how they might improve. There are also limited opportunities for teachers to learn in terms of peer learning (e.g. sitting in on each other classes). It is also notable that while other professions have associations that focus strongly on professional development (e.g. accountants, lawyers, engineers, etc.), teachers associations are mostly unions which focus primarily – coming back to this debate – on pay and teacher pupil ratios

                                                                        You might be interested in this recent report,3564,en.php

                                                                        • tosser ,

                                                                          “Then they came up with the ‘pensions levy’ which has absolutely nothing to do with pensions and is nothing but a pay cut by another name”

                                                                          Rather than a pay cut, I think it’s more accurately described as a “public sector tax”.

                                                                          • Time for a strike? « Liberty in Ireland ,

                                                                            […] the problem is, public spending is out of control. The main problem is public sector pay. Economist Ronan Lyons has demonstrated that teachers are the biggest problem in this regard, but there are many others. […]

                                                                            • seconds ,

                                                                              im in secondary school level. teachers working 10 hours a day my hole. after bout 4 yrs teaching most teachers walk in to class say “where were we” and start writing. great teachers some of them but 10 hours a day my hole.

                                                                              • B Marten ,

                                                                                I don’t feel the pay comparison is relevant as most teachers in Europe and the Americas are underpaid. I find it odd that you are attacking Irish teachers for being paid a living wage. That is if they are really making 40K+ Euros per annum. I find it more likely that most teachers are making much less than that after you factor out the high rates paid to administrators who seem to make 3 to 4 times what the average does.

                                                                                As an example, here is Switzerland, (not EU I know but…) teachers get paid less than house cleaners. I don’t what that says about Switzerland but I don’t know if you would want to compare their wages to those of Irish teachers.

                                                                                • ronanlyons ,

                                                                                  Hi B Marten,

                                                                                  Thanks for the comment. I wouldn’t like you to think that I am attacking teachers. I am trying to investigate which sectors in Ireland are most in a position to “bear the burden” for the adjustment. I saw official figures that Irish primary teachers are paid 57,000 euro on average – – and decided it warranted further investigation.

                                                                                  I know what you mean about relative wages – in Russia, the average wage in education is low than any other sector apart from agriculture – I’m not arguing that Irish teachers should be a poorly paid occupation. I’m just trying to find out whether – due to mechanisms like guaranteed incremental increases in pay and ‘benchmarking’ – they might be overpaid.

                                                                                  Hope that makes sense,


                                                                                  • john ,

                                                                                    I am going to become a teacher. Same pay as I am on now for half the hours and once permanent cannot loose job.

                                                                                    • John ,

                                                                                      I find the graph relating Irish teacher pay per day to other countries more than a little misleading.(I also think that you are well aware of this fact)

                                                                                      I have the 2009 OECD Indicators in front of me. They are largely consistent with the figures from the 2008 study. Irish secondary teachers work 735 teaching hours per year. This is in contrast to a European average of 665 in lower secondary and 635 in upper secondary school. Taking the average here, we work around 80 hours more teaching per year than the European average. And this is despite working 4 weeks less! That is some disparity. Would you agree that someone working, let’s say, 8 hours a day in a job deserves to get paid more than someone working 6 hours at the same job?

                                                                                      My point is that the wage per teaching hour is most relevant, not per day. The amount of hours you teach dictates the amount of preparation and corrections you have. Looking at the report, Irish secondary teachers earn $72 per teaching hour. This is completely consistent with the European average of $63 for lower secondary and $74 for upper seondary education. And this was before the 7.5% pension levy (pay cut)!

                                                                                      I am not arguing that Irish teachers don’t get paid more in absolute terms – they do. However, when working conditions are taken into account, the disparity disappears. Irish teachers work a 22 hour week. The European average on these figures is around 18 hours. There’s a 4 hour disparity there – the equivolent of about one day’s teaching per week. Therefore, for 34 weeks Irish teachers work 1 day more than the European average. For 4 weeks European teachers work 20 days more than Irish teachers (when we’re not working). That is still a 14 day weighing on our side.

                                                                                      If you are advocating Irish teacher’s wages abeing reduced to European levels in absolute term, wouldn’t you also have to advocate Irish teachers’ working conditions falling into line with those same European standards? This would mean the reduction of the Irish teaching week by 4 hours a week – I’d very much take that.

                                                                                      in conclusion, I feel that Irish teachers can find great solace in these OECD figures.I believe that pay will have to come down for budgetary reasons, nothing else. There is no moral imperative on these figures. With the inevitable reduction in pay, there is a serious case for a reduction in teaching hours in Ireland. Would you agree? I’d love to hear your opinion on this. The ironic thing is that of all things to do with teaching you’d think that the long holidays are the most unjustifiable. With the 22 hour teaching week these holidays turn out to be the most unjustifiable to touch!

                                                                                      • John ,

                                                                                        In the last comment I meant Irish teachers work 1 more day per week than their European counterparts. For 34 weeks, this equals 34 days more

                                                                                        • Ronan Lyons ,

                                                                                          Hi John,
                                                                                          Thanks for the comment. I don’t expect you to read through the entire 100 or so comments, but this point came up in there too.
                                                                                          Even though I probably swung some people against me for that metric, I stand by it, though, for the points I made then, namely that we have a screwy school year which crams in a lot of teaching into a short space of time.

                                                                                          You mention bringing conditions in line with European averages. I would be totally in favour of this. What I would suggest is a shorter school day (preferably through longer breaks during the day), and 4 weeks extra teaching in June/early July. I would also put in place 2/3 weeks of training for teachers in August, to keep them up to date not only on their subjects but also their methods, IT, etc. This would still leave teachers with a very generous 6 week break in the summer (as well as breaks throughout the year). But I appreciate these are not economic points, so I’m straying from my home turf!

                                                                                          To close, just on one other point you made, the pensions levy is not a pay cut. It’s just your employer asking you to make a slightly less negligible contribution to an excellent defined benefit pension when you retire. Even if it were doubled (which would be extreme), it would still not even come close to the true financial cost of a public sector pension. If I could free up a little time, I would love to explain this point a little better. It’s not sour grapes, I don’t want to bash, but I do want people who are going to get these pensions (including myself, although I only notched up a couple of years in the public sector) to understand how lucky they are.

                                                                                          Thanks again, though, for taking the time to comment in such detail.


                                                                                          • How the Finns got it so right. - Page 2 ,

                                                                                            […] Finland. It seems that when it comes to pay and conditions, the Irish teachers are far better off. Tackling the thorny issue of teachers pay | Ronan Lyons Education – Finland – Helsinki – __________________ Politics is like numbers – […]

                                                                                            • Di Kirk ,

                                                                                              For days worked you are talking about secondary teachers not primary. Primary Teachers in Ireland work 183 days. Which are you comparing to in other countries? Primary or secondary??

                                                                                              • fergal ,

                                                                                                Hi Ronan,
                                                                                                Fascinating blog.When I pay off my mortgage every month I have 350 euros a week to feed,heat,get petrol,buy clothes,health bills etc for four people.My house is a three bedroomed terrace bought off the council on a 50-50 shared ownership scheme.
                                                                                                I’m teaching 12 years,have AVCs for my pension and have a credit union loan to pay off(40 euros a week) am I overpaid?

                                                                                                • Corkonian ,

                                                                                                  Great article! Two years on and not much has changed. I’m 30 and a few of my friends are secondary school teachers. I work in the private financial sector with a degree and a masters. My salary is slightly less than my teacher buddies (€42k versus €45k), even tho they think I’m earning sh1tloads!

                                                                                                  We have pretty much the same years of job experience. I admit to being envious of their holidays now and again, and their short days. They say their work is stressful. No doubt it is!!! My work is also stressful – don’t finish til 6 or 7pm most evenings, but I enjoy my work. I’m not complaining.

                                                                                                  I had a 10% paycut last June  I also had to increase member contributions to the company pension plan (with the recent pension fund levy announcement- no doubt another increase is in store).
                                                                                                  I didn’t march the streets in protest. Sure who’d listen? Two of my friends (both qualified solicitors) are out of work! I do feel lucky to have a job.

                                                                                                  Joe Durkan admits that his salary should be cut by 20%. In fairness not many others will be welcoming a paycut (I certainly wouldn’t) but the government has a responsibility to ‘grow a pair’, stand up to the unions and cut salaries in the first instance, and not service levels(!!) of Irish civil servants on behalf of all Irish citizens because this is necessary. Sorry civil servants! your employer does not have the money to sustain your current salaries . There is no argument.

                                                                                                  • Brian ,

                                                                                                    Start of 2012. I’m a secondary teacher with 8 years teaching, single, my net is 29,000. You’d have to wonder how these stats are compiled. I realise they are 2007 but still…

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