The education choice

Teachers face an important choice on 25 March, with the major parties presenting a very different view of what they want for the profession and for students

It is never the role of your union to tell you how to vote. It is the responsibility of the union, however, to lay the evidence before you. When voting, remember it’s important to exhaust your vote, i.e. number every square, so your vote is not wasted.

Labor and the Greens have recognised the perilous position that the teaching profession is in and announced policies designed to address unsustainable workloads and uncompetitive salaries, and improve school resourcing.

This is in contrast to the Perrottet Government, which refuses to acknowledge the extent of the workload crisis or the impact of its 12-year salary cap on the recruitment and retention of teachers in our schools. Mr Perrottet is instead relying on unqualified teachers and cutting qualification requirements as his answer to teacher shortages.

Click the boxes below to look at the main issues and what commitments had been made by the parties at the time our journal, Education, went to press in mid-February.

Workloads are the biggest issue for the profession with less than one in 10 teachers saying their workload is manageable. In November, government research revealed two thirds of teachers felt burnt out.

Labor has committed to a “line by line” audit of all administrative tasks that teachers do in order to find what they can cut. Its goal is to deliver a five hour a week reduction in the administration workloads of teachers.

Labor leader Chris Minns also pledged to address workloads in negotiations with Federation over a modified award (see salaries section later). The Greens are committed to a two-hour increase in release from face-to-face teaching (RFF) for primary teachers each week and two hours less face-to-face teaching for secondary teachers.

This is in line with the recommendations of the Gallop inquiry in 2021, which found there had been no change in release time since the 1950s.

The Coalition Government has promised 200 additional administrative and suppport staff for the state’s 2216 public schools.

This is another area where there are significant differences.

Labor has pledged to scrap the Perrottet Government’s 2.53 per cent a year wages cap. If it wins the election, Labor will also re-open the salaries and conditions award imposed upon the profession, Mr Minns told Federation Council in October: “We expect a full bargaining period but with a view to reaching a comprehensive agreement to reduce workloads and make salaries more competitive.”

Labor has not revealed what its position will be in those negotiations. However, if necessary, a reconstituted independent Industrial Relations Commission could assist to assess the value of teachers’ work and whether salaries have kept pace.

The Greens position is that there should be an immediate pay rise of at least 15 per cent for teachers and salaries should be indexed to inflation for the next two years.

The Coalition has promised higher salaries for one percent of teachers over the next four years. Six hundred teachers who take on new roles as “highly effective teachers” will receive higher salaries. It remains unclear how these teachers will be selected, what they will do or how much they will be paid.

Labor, in late January, proposed a $400 million increase in school funding, which will be used to fund more school counsellors and a small group literacy and numeracy tutoring program for students at risk of falling behind.

It has also pledged to reach an agreement with the Albanese Government to ensure NSW public schools are, for the first time, fully funded to 100 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard.

A Minns government would ensure this funding is achieved during the life of the next state and Commonwealth agreement, which is due to be struck by the end of next year.

The Greens have pledged to deliver 100 per cent of the SRS for schools across NSW.

Government figures released last year showed an 83 per cent increase in temporary teachers between 2011 and 2021. Permanent teacher numbers increased by just 1 per cent over the decade. In an effort to reverse the exponential growth in insecure work, in October last year Labor pledged to convert 10,000 temporary teachers into permanents in its first term of office.

On the same day as Labor’s announcement, the Coalition Government pledged “at least 10,000 temporary NSW teachers and support staff will be offered permanent roles in 2023”.

The Coalition last month upgraded this commitment, saying that 15,000 temporary teachers and other school-based staff would be offered permanent positions this year.

Labor’s education spokeswoman Prue Car on February 21 said the party would also convert 15,000 positions from temporary to permanent.

The Coalition’s $125 million Teacher Supply Strategy has been a failure. Three STEM teachers were recruited from overseas in a year and almost 20 per cent of the participants in the mid-career entry program quit within the first year, before they even began teaching.

Labor has pledged to axe the $13.5 million program to recruit overseas STEM teachers and put the money towards recruiting.

Initiatives include matching teaching graduate positions with vacant positions, providing permanent teaching job offers earlier and create a statewide system to match specialist teachers with the subject needs of schools. It will also create a $20 million innovative Teacher Training Fund.

The Greens are committed to developing a workforce plan in consultation with teachers, universities and Federation to recruit and retain 12,000 teachers in the next 10 years.

The biggest concern is the Coalition’s commitment to bring in unqualified teachers if it wins re-election in March. Graduates from the discredited Teach for Australia program would be employed in public schools in 2024. The Teach for Australia model, which was previously heavily criticised by the Department of Education as undermining the status of teaching and having poor retention rates, involves participants entering the classroom after a short period of study. They then complete their postgraduate teaching qualification while teaching.

Mr Perrottet also announced that graduate programs would be cut from two years to one year.

TAFE has been decimated by the Coalition Government. Almost half the teaching workforce has gone (4600 positions) and more than 40 per cent of the remaining teachers are employed as part-time casuals. Twenty-one campuses have been fully or partly sold-off and the sale of a further 19 are under active consideration.

Labor has pledged to review the vocational education system with a guarantee that TAFE receive at least 70 per cent of all vocational education and training funding. It has also promised to create manufacturing centres of excellence in the Hunter, Illawarra and western Sydney.

It said it would abolish the salary cap and replace it with a system that “delivers fair wages, starting with genuine negotiations to reduce workloads and make salaries more competitive”.

The Greens are committed to providing 100 per cent of state and federal VET funding to TAFE and abolishing the contestable funding model. The Greens also said it wanted the same salary increase for TAFE and school teachers, pathways to permanency for casual teachers and to reduce the admin burden of teachers. TAFE would also be made free for all students and the closure of campuses would stop.

At the time of going to press, the Coalition had made no commitments on what it would do with TAFE if re-elected.

This is an area where all parties have made significant long-term commitments.

The Perrottet Government has promised a $5.8 billion 10-year plan to provide a universal year of pre-kindergarten by 2030. A pilot project with preschools in seven locations is due to begin this year.

Labor has pledged to build 100 preschools, co-located with public primary schools, in its first term of office. The party also claimed it would deliver universal preschool for four year olds “well before” 2030. No plan for doing that has yet been provided.

The Greens are committed to delivering 100 government preschools in the next three years and providing free and universal preschool by 2030.