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Inquiry finds teachers' pay and conditions floundering, amidst radical changes to work load and job

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An independent inquiry has recommended major changes to the salaries and working conditions of teachers to address a crisis caused by rapidly escalating workloads, uncompetitive salaries and significant teacher shortages.

The report of the inquiry, Valuing the Teaching Profession – an independent inquiry, chaired by former WA Premier Dr Geoff Gallop, was released over the weekend. 

The first investigation of teachers’ work since 2004 found the dedication and commitment of teachers remained high but there had been profound changes in the volume and complexity of their work, leading to unsustainable workloads.

Teachers’ work had increased due to constant policy changes, significant increases in student need, rapid changes in technology, the expansion and frequent reform of the curriculum, new compliance measures, administration, data collection and reporting responsibilities and higher community expectations of what schools and teachers can do, the inquiry found. The extent of change dwarfed changes any other era of investigation dating back to 1970.

The inquiry found teachers had not been compensated for the rise in their skills and responsibilities and salaries had declined significantly compared to average of other professions.

“At the same time as these increases in work, complexity and responsibility there has been a decline in the relative position of teacher salaries alongside that of other professions and a reduced attractiveness of public sector teaching as a career; this being a contradiction that needs urgent attention by way of a significant upgrade in teacher salaries and an improvement in career options,” the report states.

Without a significant increase in salaries, the government cannot end teacher shortages or recruit the additional teachers required to meet an enrolment boom in public schools.

The inquiry recommended:

  • Salary increases of between 10 and 15 per cent for public school teachers over the 2022 and 2023 period
  • An increase of two hours in the time teachers that have to prepare lessons and collaborate with colleagues. The inquiry found that despite the intensification of teachers’ work, the hours of preparation time had not changed since the 1950s in secondary schools and the 1980s in primary schools.
  • An overhaul of staffing arrangements to provide more specialist support for teachers and an increase in permanent teachers to overcome casual teacher shortages. School counsellor numbers should also be increased to reach a ratio of 1 to 500 students by 2023. New expert teaching positions should be created.
  • The scrapping of the government’s timetable to introduce a whole new curriculum by 2024. Starting the introduction in 2022 should only happen if teachers were provided with more time and support and administration workloads were significantly reduced.

NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said: “These finding have to be a wake-up call for our politicians and the recommendations must be acted upon. 

“The NSW Government must act in a way that is proportionate to the crisis we are facing. This is the first inquiry into the work of teachers since 2004 and it reveals a devastating picture of unsustainable workloads and uncompetitive salaries, leading to shortages and difficulty in recruiting and retaining teachers.

 “Teachers need more time to concentrate on teaching and learning and improving student results. 

“We need a significant reset of their salaries to recognise that teaching is a far more difficult and complex profession and to help recruit the thousands of additional teachers we will need to meet an unprecedented 25 per cent increase in enrolments expected within 20 years. 

“We must act to ensure every child is taught by a qualified teacher and class sizes are not increased as enrolments boom.

“Covid has reminded us of the critical importance of education to our children, to families and to the functioning of our society.

“Tinking around the edges on workloads and imposing a rigid public sector wages cap that limits salaries to up to 1.5 per cent a year is a recipe for disaster given the crisis we are facing.”

The inquiry was commissioned by the Teachers Federation after the imposition of a wages policy in NSW made it impossible for the NSW Industrial Relations Commission to continue hearing work value cases involving teachers as undertaken each decade between 1970 and 2004.

Those cases assessed the changing nature of teachers work, the salaries they were paid and the attractiveness of the profession. Following each case, salaries were reset at a significantly higher level to recognise the changing role of teachers and the higher skills and responsibilities they had.

Mr Gavrielatos said the years since 2004 had been a period of unprecedented change. 

“Almost every aspect of teachers daily life has been altered in some way,” he said.

“We are talking about the change from blackboards to smartboards, from chalk to computer coding.

“The composition of the classroom has been transformed: a 300 per cent increase in students with disabilities along with higher numbers of students from disadvantaged and non-English speaking backgrounds. Teachers have become far more skilled at determining the needs of each student and the teaching and learning strategies that will help them succeed.

“But this is time-consuming and highly specialised work. Instead of giving teachers more time to prepare lessons and collaborate with colleagues over the strategies that will lift results, they have been saddled with huge administration, data collection and compliance workloads.

“Teachers have two jobs now: teaching and administration. They are run off their feet and caught up in more red tape that the public could possibly imagine.

“Principals are working, on average 62 hours a week while teachers are working, on average 55 hours a week now, attempting to meet all the needs of students while dealing with the compliance and administration burden that the NSW Department has saddled them with.”

The Federation will now seek meetings with the leaders of each political party to discuss the findings and recommendations of the inquiry.

The Report can be accessed here: https://www.nswtf.org.au/files/gallop_inquiry_report_2021.pdf