Why Perrottet is not the way

10 reasons why a re-elected Premier would be bad news for teachers and public education.

All the research shows workloads have risen to unsustainable levels. A Monash University study last year found only 8.5 per cent of NSW teachers said their workload was manageable, down from 21.9 per cent in 2019. The Perrottet Government knows workloads are a huge problem but it is so uninterested in tackling it that the Department of Education secretary Georgina Harrisson has twice told a parliamentary committee she has no idea how many hours a week teachers work. That didn’t stop the Government making the nonsensical claim in December it had reduced the administration workload of teachers by more than 20 per cent and saved them 50 hours a year.

Nothing suggests the pace of change that is contributing to rising workloads will slow. Along with the rushed implementation of the new curriculum, mandatory check-in assessments and changes to Best Start, there were 65 initiatives and pilots underway in schools last year. The impact of those will be felt for years to come. That is before we even get to the bright ideas Mr Perrottet will announce if he is re-elected.

The Perrottet Government has ignored its own research that shows unsustainable workloads and uncompetitive pay are reducing the attractiveness of teaching. As a result, teachers are leaving at record rates and fewer are entering the profession. At the end of last year, 3300 permanent positions were vacant. The government is actually forecasting teacher shortages will get worse in secondary schools with rising student numbers and decreasing numbers of teachers between now and 2026. The Federal Government has estimated a shortfall of 1791 secondary teachers in NSW by 2025.

One of the first things the Coalition did after getting elected in 2011 was introduce a salary cap for public sector workers and remove the capacity of the Industrial Relations Commission to determine pay rises above it. They have maintained the cap, even when their own research warned teachers’ pay was uncompetitive and contributing to steep declines in the number of people studying to be a teacher. Last year, with inflation passing 7 per cent, the Premier increased the cap by just 0.5 per cent, delivering increases of 2.5 per cent a year for teachers. The cap will stay and with inflation forecast in the federal Budget to remain above 2.5 per cent until the 2024-25 financial year, teachers face more real wage cuts into the future.

In 2018, the NSW Coalition and the Morrison Government signed a funding agreement that will leave NSW public schools indefinitely below the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS), which is the minimum amount schools need to educate their students. NSW private schools will be funded above the SRS until at least 2029 with some elite schools overfunded by more than $2 million a year. A new agreement will be negotiated this year but Mr Perrottet has made clear that he believes the state’s commitment to public schools is sufficient. “We have secured the resources and now we need new policies to drive better outcomes,” he said.

Last year, the Coalition Government changed the way it calculated the disability funding schools receive. More than 700 schools were deemed to be eligible for less funding. Each of those schools was given a special top-up payment for 2023 to ensure that they did not get less money (surely nothing to do with the election). Despite the chronic underfunding of schools to educate children with a disability, those 700 schools (one third of the total) are facing funding cuts in 2024.

Along with getting rid of almost half the teachers and casualising the workforce, the Coalition has sold all or part of 21 TAFE campuses. In 2021, an internal TAFE plan to sell up to 19 more surfaced. Asked to rule out the sales, the minister replied: “I’m not going to rule anything out.” It is a safe bet more TAFEs will be sold off by a re-elected government and more people will miss out on the education and training they need.

The Government’s plan for higher pay for some teachers started with a splashy story last June in which the Premier said he would introduce performance pay for teachers. Teachers who excel and drive better results should be “rewarded not penalised” he added the next day. In August, he was still on the case, attacking Labor and Federation for being “against performance pay for teachers”. Somewhere along the line his idea morphed into its current form, which is portrayed as an extended career pathway for classroom teachers via a yet to be determined process offering a yet to be determined bonus sitting outside an industrial agreement.

The Premier is clearly not a fan of education experts determining the school curriculum. In a speech last year, he said he wanted less “puppetry, politics and wearable art” and more maths, reading and writing. Echoing a long line of conservative politicians before him, Mr Perrottet said: “I don’t want classrooms focused on superfluous and inherently divisive political issues that distract from the core subjects and skills our children need to learn.”

As part of reducing “barriers” to entering the profession, Mr Perrottet announced last September that participants from the discredited Teach for Australia program will be teaching in public schools in 2024. These people have undergraduate degrees but no teaching qualification. The plan is for them to teach after a short period of study. Then they complete their master’s degree while they are in the classroom.

The decision to use Teach for Australia participants was made despite strong opposition from the Department of Education, which warned in internal briefings that evidence from other states shows Teach for Australia costs are high, retention rates are terrible, and “the model undermines the status of the teaching profession by placing untrained teachers who have not yet completed their qualifications in disadvantaged schools, including in rural and remote locations”.

In January, the Premier added that a re-elected government would cut postgraduate qualifications from two years to one year. This decision comes a decade after a national consensus was reached that the increase in the skills and knowledge required to succeed in the classroom meant a one-year qualification was no longer sufficient.

Instead of paying teachers properly and reducing workloads, the Perrottet Government has focused on “fast-tracking” people into teaching and recruiting teachers from overseas. But the $125 million they are spending on the Teacher Supply Strategy has yielded terrible results so far. Just three teachers were recruited from overseas in a year. One in six participants in the mid-career entry program quit in the first year, before they had even started teaching. While the shortages grow, a re-elected Perrottet Government will keep wasting millions on failed recruiting programs.