U.K. teachers, who feel like they're ‘severely underpaid,’ are spending their own money to help students, study finds

Teaching is hard work—and it’s harder if you feel “severely underpaid” amid mounting household bills, as 85% of Britain’s teachers do.

Despite this, the U.K.’s teaching profession appears to be going the extra mile, shelling out some of their money to provide for students, according to a report published Wednesday by the National Foundation of Education Research. 

On average, one in five primary and secondary school teachers said they contribute their own funds to help students’ pastoral and welfare needs. Teachers typically spent £74 to £83 between September 2023 and March 2024, NFER’s survey of nearly 1,300 teachers and school leaders showed. 

The issue is worse in primary school than in secondary school, with 79% of teachers spending their money helping students or schools buy items.   

“Individual teachers, particularly those in disadvantaged schools, are going above and beyond what their school is already doing in order to meet pupils’ basic needs at a time when their own finances may be under pressure,” the report highlighted. 

Students’ conditions have deteriorated, too, owing to the cost of living crisis. About 40% of primary teachers have reported students being hungry in school and needing more clothing and other educational equipment compared to a year ago. 

“Teachers and senior leaders in schools are on the front line. They see the immediate impacts of cost-of-living pressures on pupils,” the report said. 

“Regardless of whether they have the staff or resources to do so, many may feel compelled to step in to provide urgent support to pupils and their families who are in need.”

Continuing troubles

The U.K. has witnessed teachers’ strikes erupt in the last few years due to low pay, underinvestment in schools and high workloads. The National Education Union (NEU), the largest of its kind in Europe, found that most teachers—85%—felt underpaid for their work, given their skills and qualifications. 

“Since 2010 teachers’ pay has declined significantly, relative to other workers and in real terms against inflation. Pay levels do not properly value teachers,” said Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the NEU. 

Last July, the four major teaching unions in the U.K. voted in favor of a 6.5% pay rise, which bumped up salaries for starters and veterans in the field. The government is also looking at ways to curb teachers’ workload by five hours a week in the next three years.

The NFER report highlights the broader financial troubles British schools face as costs increase, forcing at least 20% of schools to rethink their budgets. 

Although some might hope an improving economy will translate into more generous funding for schools—or at least enough to meet the demands of paying teachers more—schools in the U.K. face a set of hurdles, including decades of underinvestment and the dire state of children in need of welfare support. 

Teacher unions are nudging members to consider strikes again in the hopes of further pay rises for next year.

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