Teachers need more than appreciation! Fair salaries, decent working conditions and meaningful social dialogue are the route to quality education for all.


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On 26 May 2020, education ministers from across the EU joined an online meeting of the Education Council of the European Union, where they adopted Council conclusions on European teachers and trainers for the future. These Council conclusions address various challenges that teachers and education personnel were already facing before the COVID-19 crisis, along with new ones created by the pandemic. These difficulties affect staff in every part of the education sector: early childhood education, general education, vocational education, adult learning and higher education. In an attempt to solve these problems, the Education Council also proposed a set of recommendations to EU Member States and to the European Commission.

Now, on 29 June, the Croatian Presidency of the EU Council will organise an online conference on teachers. In order to raise the voice of education personnel, ETUCE will contribute to this event by presenting a trade union position paper on the Council Conclusions.

In the paper we welcome that the Education Council acknowledges that “teachers and trainers, at all levels and in all types of education and training, are an indispensable driving force of education and training”. The ministers also accepted that the increasing demands, responsibilities and expectations placed on teachers have an influence not only on their competence development, but also on their wellbeing and the attractiveness of the teaching profession.

We also state that it is essential to improve initial and continuous professional development for  teachers to empower them with quality and up-to-date competences, skills and pedagogies. For example, according to the OECD TALIS 2018 report, 60% of the teachers had received IT training in the 12 months before the survey, but many expressed their urgent need for more training on digital skills and tools. Before the COVID-19 crisis, European education trade unions witnessed an increasing tendency towards de-regulation in the qualification requirements for new teachers, a trend which is linked to the deterioration and/or lack of improvement in the quality of initial and continuous professional training, and efforts to use digitalisation to replace teachers. Effective and meaningful social dialogue is the key instrument to resolve these problems, especially when implementing the Council’s recommendation to increase the minimum qualification level of Europe’s teachers.

However, increasing level of teachers’ initial training is not enough to ensure job satisfaction and attractiveness of the profession, as the Council conclusions say. There are increasing pressures on teachers’ health and safety, professional autonomy and role, all of which are undermined by the deterioration of teacher’s  working conditions. This damage to working conditions in education also endangers the attractiveness and future of the profession and the sustainable development of high-quality education.

The COVID-19 crisis has now revealed many flaws, injustices and workload issues that education systems impose on teachers. Education trade unions, students and parents were very aware of the rising pressure on teachers during the closures. However, education personnel in several EU countries experienced attacks on collective agreements, and their trade unions fought against attempts to cut teachers’ salaries at the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis. Indeed, salaries in education are already weak – a further danger for the attractiveness of the profession. Teachers’ salaries at pre-primary, primary and general secondary levels of education currently amount to just 78% to 93% of the average earnings of tertiary-educated workers across the OECD countries. Therefore, we demand that education ministers in the EU recommend to each and every EU country to respect collective agreements in place, and to promote social dialogue and collective bargaining. These are effective tools to ensure high quality education systems, where teachers enjoy higher job satisfaction, decent salaries and working conditions, professional autonomy and continuous learning opportunities – all of which will make the profession more attractive. Aware that quality teaching by well-trained and supported teachers is at the heart of quality education, education trade unions have been raising these demands for a long time.

In addition, we must underline that education is a human right and a public good. The EU should make further steps towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations and the European Pillar of Social Rights, especially its first principle which lays down that “quality and inclusive education, training and life-long learning is a right” of students and teachers. We regret that the Education Council conclusions do not make any reference to these two important policy frameworks. Member States should implement this principle through appropriate legislative measures, social dialogue agreements and adequate, predictable and sustainable funding to education.