I used to work in Marketing for large retailers and familiar pub chains. Every year, there was a free-to-enter raffle in which the prizes had been donated by our suppliers - Jo Malone candles, cases of wine, hospitality tickets to key sporting events, a box at the theatre. This was standard fayre; a normal part of the working calendar and comparatively low-key compared to other offerings. We’d have huge corporate events laid on by the company – I’ve sung along to Girls Aloud, quizzed with Vernon Kay, danced to a set by DJ Spooney, been entertained by Jimmy Carr – not on telly but in the privacy of an event space just for us, lavishly decorated in company colours with performing acrobats and showgirls greeting our entry; colleagues have been whisked off to European cities for the weekend or driven home in brand new cars. Gifts, events and bonuses were generous to say the least and there was an air of expectation – that this is what we deserved for working so hard, putting in the hours, nose to the grindstone.
Then, I went into teaching.
Pay for my own coffee and donate to the milk fund? What do you mean the Head doesn’t take us for a meal at Christmas from the school budget? How can we not afford enough pencils for the whole class? I’m limited to 25 copies a day – but I’ve got 32 children in my class? What was this strange, unrecognisable world I’d entered?
Oh yes… reality. At least the reality of public sector life in schools. But you know what? I didn’t mind. Yes, all those luxuries were nice I can’t deny it but there were different rewards – the moments where a child suddenly ‘got it’ after weeks of explaining, modelling and re-explaining, the times when you looked back over the year and realised the children in your care had actually progressed – their brains actually knew more than when you’d first had them in your class, the moment when you were both floored and impressed in equal measure on the school residential when the child who couldn’t simplify fractions could scale a 40ft climbing wall with utter determination and no fear.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not one of these people who is wholesomely fulfilled simply by seeing the joy of others or the new day’s glorious sunrise. We all have things that motivate us. I like a nice lunch out, a weekend away in cosy cottage but I don’t think it’s my right to have them if I can’t afford them or if I’m taking the money from something more necessary or deserving to pay for them.
And so that brings me on to my real point. I now run a recruitment agency for Primary school supply teachers and teaching assistants and I am still at heart a teacher and a Head. I get the struggle of budgets: the not being able to afford a new scheme of work without compromising elsewhere, the not affording to be able to add in extra toilets despite increased numbers, the not being able to offer more hours to the TA regardless of the fact that intervention they were running showed real promise if only it were more frequent, the slightly dreaded finance meeting where yet again you’re over budget because what you’ve got in the pot can’t stretch as far as it needs to.
And so, as a recruiter when I see other agencies offering their own recruitment staff free ‘Away Days’, all expenses paid 5-star holidays to Dubai or Las Vegas, luxury gifts, nights out ‘on the company’, subscriptions to wine/food clubs etc, I actually get annoyed. And I see it even now, quite a lot. Sure, people work hard -I’m not suggesting otherwise but just because it has ‘always’ been the case doesn’t mean the reward-based staffing approach is right in the day and age we live in today.
So, I - and my husband as a former teacher too – are putting it out there, that our agency is different. We’re small and that’s ok because in being small, we keep our costs low, we don’t take out extras from the business for lavish events or personal gifts to ourselves; we want to pay our supply staff at fair rates for the jobs they do, we want to charge schools reasonable amounts that don’t break the budget and are certainly not fuelling an extravagant lifestyle on the back of taking from what is ultimately money that should be channelled into making education better for our children. Again, it’s not about being saintly and overly altruistic - we have bills to pay just like the next person - but it is about saying that it is not ok for money from the public purse to be used in the wrong way. That isn’t what we’re about anyway.