One in five NSW public school teachers is now in a temporary position, meaning job security – one of the chief attractions of the education profession – is no longer guaranteed, a study has found.
Since temporary positions were created by the NSW Department of Education in 2001, casual workers have remained steady but the proportion of permanent teachers has fallen by about 14 per cent.
One of the study’s authors, Associate Professor Rachel Wilson from Sydney University, said a survey of 18,000 NSW Teachers Federation members found temporary staff felt that they had to work harder than permanent teachers to prove themselves.
“Historically the job security and permanency of the profession is one of the ‘pull factors’ for attracting suitable candidates,” says Dr Wilson. “Potential teachers often offset the low pay against the fact that the work is secure – and highly rewarding.
“If we add this increasing work insecurity to the other problems with workload, low pay and a sense that teachers are undervalued for the work they do, we really do have a problem that will impact upon educational outcomes.”
The study comes as NSW suffers a significant staffing shortage, particularly in the country. There is also a chronic shortage of casual teachers. Teachers at city school Concord High on Wednesday walked off the job because they said they were unable to staff classes due to teaching vacancies.
Temporary teachers are hired to replace teachers on leave, if the school’s staffing allowance is uncertain, or if the school is hiring extra teachers with its loading for disadvantaged students, known as Gonski money, which may vary each year.
Another of the report’s authors, Meghan Stacey from the University of NSW, said the causes of the growth of temporary teachers were complex, but the corresponding drop in permanent jobs suggested permanent staff were being replaced by casuals.
“There has been concern raised by the union … that permanent position may have been hidden to generate greater [hiring] flexibility,” she said.
Some flexibility was necessary, said Dr Stacey. “There was a point in time in the past where we had different proportions than we do now. Whether or not we need to have this proportion of temporary teachers is a reasonable question to ask.”
The recent inquiry into the teaching workforce by former West Australian premier Geoff Gallop, commissioned by the federation, also criticised the “excessive use of temporary teacher employment, in particular of beginning teachers”.
However, the acting head of the Secondary Principals Council, Christine Del Gallo, said temporary teachers were used to cover leave such as maternity leave, as a teacher who had several children could be off for up to 10 years.
“It’s nothing sinister, disorganised or unplanned, but it’s just that people are on different types of leave,” she said. “Lots of schools in the state use Gonski money to have extra teachers, smaller classes, or have extra programs, and they would use temporary teachers for that too.”
Yvette Cachia, Chief People Officer for the NSW Department of Education, said schools were given a permanent staffing entitlement based on student enrolments under agreements with the NSW Teachers Federation.
Principals could not put a temporary teacher in a permanent position without good reason, such as maternity, long service or annual leave, she said.
“Typically a temporary teacher is remunerated according to the standards-based salary structure, it’s not cheaper to employ a temporary teacher,” she said. “They accrue most of the conditions of permanent teachers.”
Source: Jordan Baker, The Sydney Morning Herald