Into the Naughty Corner


Sometimes okay, most times it’s hard to work out what drives the Federal Government’s industrial relations policies. The latest pronouncement by the Minister for Education, Julie Bishop, is a case in point.

There is widespread recognition that Australia is facing a shortage of teachers as many veteran teachers in our schools prepare to retire. These retiring teachers are from the baby boom generation. They entered teaching via a well-established system that gave them a free education and a generous allowance in return for bonded service and secure employment.

In the last 30 years, they have seen their salaries decline in real terms, while the status of teachers has deteriorated. Until the 1970s, teaching was a reputable trade and, as most people did not complete high school, teachers were respected for their education as much as for their ability to convey knowledge.

For women, it was one of the few jobs that paid the same as men and enabled them to continue in employment after babies were born. Since then as more choices have been offered to bright working-class children, and as teachers have been faced with an eroded work environment it isn’t surprising that teaching has become a less than appealing option.

Today, a first year accountant earns more than a university lecturer no wonder there’s a shortage of maths teachers.

So, how does Julie Bishop hope to encourage students to become the next generation of teachers? The answer is one simple slogan: ‘Performance Pay.’ As she has made abundantly clear, this does not mean ensuring that all teachers employed in schools are well-qualified, suited to their jobs and supported in their professional development. Nor does it mean that under-performing teachers will be offered retraining and, if that fails, eased into something more suitable. Instead, the pearl-clad mistress of discipline is offering teachers a whipping.

One of the biggest problems facing those who love to teach is that State school systems are structured so that promotion inevitably take the best teachers away from the classroom and into management even though management and teaching have no necessary connection. Teachers who want to stay in the classroom suffer a long-term financial penalty.

Bishop’s solution does not reform this underlying bias. The Minister fails to address possibilities of creating new categories such as ‘leading teachers’ or ‘senior teachers,’ who could mentor junior staff while continuing to teach. That pathway would motivate teachers to undertake professional development and would keep the best ones close to their students. Instead, Bishop has gone into punishment mode.

As ‘Nanny Whip,’ Bishop has made it clear that she wishes to drive education in a climate of fear, crime and punishment. There will not be more money so that teachers may be paid well rather, Bishop proposes a redistribution of wealth within schools and within systems, so that the good are rewarded and the rest punished.

I am still trying to work out how the Government thinks this kind of grading of teachers will promote collegiality. Perhaps someone has forgotten to tell Canberra that education is a collective act, and if teacher is pitted against teacher, the schools and the children will suffer.

Then, of course, there is the problem of recruitment. Who in their right mind will take up a profession if it is turned into such a political football? Why would anyone who has a real choice agree to work for an employer who is not committed to lifting professional standards, but would rather hunt for reasons to reduce real salaries? The answer is that they won’t.

Instead, the country will be faced with increasing shortages of teachers, and the Minister will only have herself to blame.

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