Austerity Britain:

Prospective RE teachers rely on family, cheap food and commercial credit for professional training

Stephanie Rothwell is 21 and is doing a PGCE in RE at Liverpool Hope University having completed a degree in Theology and RE. She is responsible for the support and care of her five year-old daughter. Despite the training bursary cut she decided to live at home and spend a year training as a RE teacher. As a young mother, her motivation is to focus on the importance of RE as a pastoral subject. 

  • Debt is inevitable and Stephanie will have hefty loans to repay, but is trying not to be reliant on commercial credit.
  • Stephanie has already had to access the learning fund for discretionary help.
  • Last month her family had to lend her money to help her buy her daughter some small Christmas presents.
  • Every professional decision is dictated by cost. Transport routes dictate the choice of secondary school to practise teaching in, opting for proximity rather than best-fit for her future career.
  • Stephanie relies on the kindness of friends and lives with a local family to make sure her daughter is looked after. Paying for any child care is out of the question.

“With money worries, studying becomes a practical juggling act, rather than an academic one. I can’t afford to buy any books on teaching practice or child development. I have strong RE subject knowledge, but it’s frustrating not to be able to extend this during the year – and this is driven by cost considerations.
No bursaries or support with costs will make it harder still for students to juggle parenting with training for a family-friendly career.”

Carl Fisher, 25, is currently completing a PGCE in secondary RE via the School Direct scheme at St Mary’s University in Twickenham. The first person in his family to graduate, Carl gained a degree in Theology and Religious Studies in 2013. His degree was part of his continuing professional development as a Lay Chaplain in a Catholic School in South East London. He left his full time paid role to train as a teacher which he describes as his "vocation, what I am called to do.”

  • Carl grew up on a council estate in Leeds, and has a strong aversion to debt.
  • Despite this he has been forced to take out a student loan of £8,200 to cover his tuition fees.
  • He survives day to day on a maintenance grant from Student Finance UK of £3,354 a year.
  • His major outgoings include travel (£300 a month),  as he has to travel from Angel in North London to Twickenham and out to school placements in Woking and Sunbury in Surrey.
  • For food, Carl buys cheap basics like pasta in bulk and tries to make it last.
  • He lives in rented accommodation owned by family friends, which is a cheaper option but Carl admits that it is still a major cost.
  • Living in shared accommodation he finds it hard to find space to study and do his marking.
  • Carl regularly uses his bank overdraft facility in order to make ends meet.

 
“If it wasn’t for very supportive friends and family, it would be impossible. I have to lean on their hospitality. I am very dependent on them.

There is also an impact in the social setting. When you are in a room full of other student teachers, you don't feel as valued, almost like a second class citizen. Everyone knows you are the one without a bursary due to the subject. You stand out like a sore thumb. You don’t feel equal, you feel let down by the system.

Michael Gove is sending out mixed messages. A couple of years ago he sent out a King James Bible to every school, and stressed the importance of good teaching standards in RE, yet he cuts teacher training bursaries for the subject.”

Gayle Impey is doing a PGCE in RE at Liverpool Hope University. She is in her thirties and holds a degree, a masters and a PhD from different top universities. She has always wanted to be a teacher and found her interest in a wide range of faith traditions and ethics a good fit for teaching RE. 

  • Gayle was prepared for financial hardship. 
  • She had delayed her teacher training for one year, working as an administrator, to build up funds to pay for living expenses and hall fees. 
  • Gayle juggles loans and maintenance grants to ensure her debt is managed. This leaves little to spend on things that would make coping with the demands of school placements and practical work experience easier; from travelling to see loved ones at weekends to being able to afford books and printing costs.
  • She is frustrated by the disadvantage placed on students with no bursaries, especially with regard to attending job interviews. Schools are prospective employers and tend to assume you have funding so can cover costs. 

“An intensive, creative and inspiring year-long course is going to be hard work. You only have one shot at a course like this so it is important to try to make the most of it. Not having a bursary means we aren’t always able to do this because we can’t afford to take advantage of the opportunities available to other PGCE students.  
 
Turning down an invitation to an evening out with other staff or a special extra-curricular trip because you can’t afford it is risky, when there are so many other teacher trainees out there with bursaries who can.”


Laura Jaggs is 22 and was the first person in her family to go to university, graduating last year from the University of Cumbria with a degree in Religious Education. She chose a PGCE in secondary Religious Studies at Liverpool Hope University as she felt it was important to teach about values such as diversity, respect and understanding. However, she has had to rely on free accommodation, commercial credit and cheap food to train professionally. 

  • She is settled, living with her partner Michael in her grandfather’s house and together surviving on a student loan of £7,500 a year.
  • The two are having to live on the same loan as Michael is out of work, having graduated at the same time as Laura, and her training ‘earnings’ are too much for him to draw any benefits.
  • To make ends meet she uses her credit card to spend, paying as much of it off as possible when the loan payments come in three times a year.
  • Living expenses are kept to an absolute minimum, buying cheap food from discount supermarkets, and at times she has to choose between eating and paying for the petrol to travel to work at her placement school seven miles away.
  • Laura is doing the course independently. Both the couple’s fathers died when they were younger and although their mothers are alive, the two have no parental support. 

“I think when word gets out among A-Level students that there are no bursaries for PGCEs in RE, in a few years’ time there will be no RE teachers at all.
“Some people are lucky to be able to do this with parental support, but with no financial backing, we’re at a real disadvantage. Opting to work in the public sector, whether as a nurse or teacher, demands a level of financial sacrifice and commitment that is hard to bear; making it a career choice for the privileged.”

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