teacher pay

Housing: how to fix the teacher shortage

Legislation requires governments to provide every child with a quality education, regardless of where they live and what school they attend. 

But meeting this requirement is at risk because of  two crises: housing affordability and teacher shortages. 

As we require children and youth of a certain age to attend school, we need to be able to staff those schools. Ensuring staff can access quality housing within commuting distance of their workplace is a major challenge, one that needs new ways of thinking. 

Housing the education workforce (as with other essential workers) should be thought of as necessary public infrastructure

An adequate supply of quality housing for educators should be assured through government planning and implementation. Just as communities need roads, transport, health services, and schools – they also need essential workers. Otherwise, we risk the prospect of schools without teachers.

Research has revealed 90 per cent of teaching positions in Sydney, more than 50,000 full-time equivalent posts, are in Local Government Areas (LGA) where it is unaffordable to rent or buy on a teacher salary. Half of all statistical areas (SA2) in Sydney have a higher average salary than a teacher salary (up from 31% in 2017-2018). The gap between teacher salaries and housing costs continues to widen, with no sign of letting up.

The impact is already being felt. Nearly two-thirds of Australian schools report daily activities are being compromised by staffing issues, 10,000 classes are uncovered each day in NSW, and as of January 2024, 47 per cent of teacher vacancies (n=844) in NSW were in metropolitan areas. Schools need to pay incentives and allowances to meet rising housing costs in the city.

The state of play

Housing is considered affordable up to three times an annual salary. Using the latest data (September quarter, 2023), median housing sales costs in all Sydney LGAs are severely beyond that – five times the annual teacher salary right at the top of the range times) annual top of the scale teacher salaries. 

Across the state, over one-third of LGAs have median housing sales greater than five times an annual top of the scale salary.

Based on December quarter 2023 (latest data), across the state, 43% of LGA have a median rent that is unaffordable for a graduate teacher and 13% for a top of the scale teacher. However, if focused on Greater Sydney, all LGAs are unaffordable for a graduate teacher, and 44% of LGAs are unaffordable for a top of the scale teacher. Put simply, the long-term sustainable staffing of Sydney, and NSW (as with elsewhere) schools requires new approaches.

A case study: Parramatta LGA

Identified as one of five super-growth LGAs, needing an additional 1,347 teachers by 2036, an increase of nearly 70 per cent on present levels, Parramatta represents a key challenge for meeting staffing needs.

Median house sales are greater than six times a top of the scale salary and rents are severely unaffordable for a graduate teacher.

Current evidence shows a greater distribution of the points of origin for the workforce over time. And as a result, commuting distance and time spent travelling are increasing. Research has shown that increased commuting time has a negative impact on productivity and well-being. 

Problems and Possibilities

The NSW Government’s Shared Equity Home Buyer Helper scheme has income ($93,200 for singles, $124,200 for couples) and property value ($950,000) limits where only graduate teachers (Step 1 and 2) are eligible. Based on the latest median sales figures (Q3, 2023), non-strata properties in 89% of LGAs, and strata properties in 29% of LGAs across the city are ineligible.

AWARE Super has launched an Essential Workers Housing Portfolio, with properties in Epping, Hurstville, Miranda, and Waterloo. Rents are set at 80% market value to help essential workers live closer to where they work.

Evidence from the Center for Cities and Schools in California indicates that it can take between five and ten years from conceptualisation through to tenants being housed in education workforce housing projects.

Overall, there is an absence of context sensitive independent research to deliver the evidence needed by governments, developers, and systems, for interventions.

Where to focus our attention

There is a compelling case for change. And the window is rapidly narrowing for decisive action to avoid multi-generation implications for schools, communities, and most importantly, students. 

We know salaries cannot keep up with housing costs, that there is limited availability of quality housing stock in many areas, that commuting times are increasing adding to an already tiring workday, and that productivity, retention, and personal well-being gains can be achieved with reduced commutes.

Three things policy makers should do:

  1. Revise shared equity schemes so that income and property cost thresholds reflect the reality of current city circumstances. Success would be having shared equity schemes available for all teachers who want it and in areas nearby workplaces.
  2. Expand targeted housing developments through public – private partnership with tax incentives to house education workers near where they work. Success being the availability of high-quality housing stock within proximity of workplaces.
  3. Build the evidence base to inform interventions. Success being improved decision-making quality through robust independent research and data infrastructure aligned with interventions.

These problems are not unique to Sydney, but common throughout Australia. The ideas presented here alone will not solve the teacher shortage nor the affordability of housing. 

Initiatives to attract and retain teachers mean little if they cannot afford to live within commuting distance of their workplaces.

Scott Eacott is
 professor of education in the School of Education at UNSW Sydney. He leads an interdisciplinary research program on the intersection of the teacher shortage, the housing crisis, and the organisation of education. The central question of this program is ‘How accessible are schools for their workforce?’ His work seeks to develop tools for governments, stakeholders, systems, and educators to better understand how best to meet legal, social, and cultural expectations in the provision of education.

One day to go: the great education reckoning as parties eye the election prize

The ‘education election’?

Before heading to the polling booths this Saturday, we take stock of how the major political parties, and the newly formed Public Education Party, stack up over their policies and priorities for education. 

It has been a difficult time for public education over the last decade. Research has documented that the teaching profession is in crisis. Stress, high work demands, long working hours, excessive administrative burdens and under-valuing of teachers is contributing to a worsening teacher shortage. School leaders are experiencing poor wellbeing, compounded by reports of threats of violence. 

A decade-long legislated ‘cap’ on teacher salaries has led to wage suppression and difficulties in attracting and retaining teachers in the profession. Meanwhile teachers worked very hard during the COVID-19 pandemic to continue students’ learning, despite reports of experiencing declines in morale and efficacy. Demands on teachers are set to continue with a new curriculum being rolled out next year. And all this in a context where politicians decry ‘falling education standards’ of students, while inequity in the state’s education system continues to grow. 

What is promised for education 

NSW Liberals and National Party Coalition

A key plank of the Coalition’s policy on education is the announcement of a $15.9 billion ‘early years commitment’ that will fund universal pre-kindergarten education, increase affordable childcare places, and improve attraction and retention in the early childhood workforce. This is part of the government’s proposed ‘future fund’ for children to assist with education and home deposits.

The Coalition will also continue an intensive learning support program introduced during the pandemic, providing a $253 million funding boost for this scheme. School infrastructure is also a priority, with a $8.6 billion plan to build and upgrade schools and preschools. 

The Coalition’s Rewarding Excellence in teaching policy promises a $100 million commitment to pay ‘excellent’ teachers salaries of up to $152,000. Permanency in the teaching workforce is also a focus, with a promise to offer 11,000 teachers and 4,000 support staff with permanent roles in 2023. Finally, teachers’ administrative and workload burdens will be targeted through the hiring of 200 new administrative roles, under an initiative introduced earlier this year.

NSW Labor

Labor’s teacher workforce policy aims to “end the war on teachers and attract and keep them”. Noting key recommendations in the independent Gallop Inquiry report, dubbed the ‘blueprint’ for change, Labor’s policy recognises the excessive workloads and administrative burdens on teachers, as well as a need to make teacher salaries more competitive and address the teacher shortage problem (relatedly, there is a promise to scrap the public sector wage cap, but whether this will mean a pay rise for teachers across-the-board is unclear). 

Labor has also articulated a plan to carry out an audit of teachers’ administrative tasks in an effort to reduce teachers’ workload and cut 5 hours worth of administrative tasks per week for teachers. Greater job security is also on the cards, with a promise to convert 10,000 temporary teachers to permanent positions. 

To address historic underfunding and under-resourcing of public schools and ensure the schooling resource standard benchmark for education spending is met (a key recommendation of the Gonski reforms), Labor is promising a $400 million education ‘future fund’. This will be spent on hiring more teachers and school counsellors, as well as making permanent a tutoring program to provide intensive support for students who need it most in an effort to bolster support for literacy and numeracy. 

Other key policies include banning the use of mobile phones in high schools to reduce distractions, allowing public schools to offer the International Baccalaureate program, investment to fund the building and expansion of preschools, as well as building new schools in Western and South-Western Sydney. 

The Greens

The Greens plan to scrap the public sector wages cap and deliver a 15% pay increase to public school teachers (plus inflation) as well as increase release time from face-to-face teaching, drawing on the Gallop Report recommendations. 

Some other policies include increasing the number of school councillors in public schools, developing a workforce plan to better attract teachers into the profession over the next decade, and funding schools to 100% of the schooling resource standard. 

The Public Education Party 

It says something about the state of public schooling in NSW that a group of seventeen teachers and principals are standing for the newly formed Public Education Party. These candidates commit to “advocating for quality public education, supporting all students, championing all public educational institutions and communities, advocating for social justice and equity, and fighting for a fairer, more cohesive, and productive society”. 

The Public Education Party’s policies include fully funding the schooling resource standard for all schools, and commitment to the national, but much neglected goal, of developing “active and informed citizens”.

The scale of the challenges 

We commend many of these proposals as promising developments to deal with teachers’ workload and administrative demands, and high rates of temporary teachers in the profession. Indeed, workload and job insecurity are issues we have researched and reported on for many years. 

But promises to shave off a few hours of teachers’ administrative workload per week, we argue, are not sufficient and also open up risk of essential work of teachers being ‘carved off’ to achieve this numeric target. 

And, adding to workload pressures, no new funding is being injected into schools to support teachers in planning for the new curriculum – at present, funding to plan for the new curriculum will come from schools’ existing budgets, including already underfunded public schools. 

Pay increases in the form of ‘rewarding excellent teachers’ also don’t address the across-the-board decline in teacher salaries – an issue the independent Gallop Inquiry recommended required urgent redress. Such policies are also based on economic arguments that assume teachers are motivated by financial rewards, a position that is not well-supported in research.  

Overall, from our perspective there is a need to truly understand and appreciate the complex nature of teachers’ work, and to support this work through appropriate work and employment conditions. This goal will remain important, no matter the election outcome. 

Mihajla Gavin is a lecturer in the Business School at the University of Technology Sydney, and has worked as a senior officer in the public sector in Australia across various workplace relations advisory, policy and project roles. Mihajla’s research is concerned with analysing the response of teacher unions to neoliberal education reform that has affected teachers’ conditions of work. Mihajla is on Twitter @Mihajla_Gavin. Meghan Stacey is a former high school English and drama teacher and current lecturer in the School of Education at UNSW Sydney. Meghan’s primary research interests sit at the intersection of sociological theory, policy sociology and the experiences of those subject to systems of education. Meghan’s PhD was conferred in April 2018. Meghan is on Twitter @meghanrstacey Susan McGrath-Champ is Professor in the Work and Organisational Studies Discipline at the University of Sydney Business School, Australia. Her research includes the geographical aspects of the world of work, employment relations and international human resource management. Recent studies include those of school teachers’ work and working conditions. Rachel Wilson is Professor, Social Impact, University of Technology Sydney Business School . She has expertise in educational assessment, research methods and programme evaluation, with broad interests across educational evidence, policy and practice. She is interested in system-level reform and has been involved in designing, implementing and researching many university and school education reforms. Rachel is on Twitter @RachelWilson100.

Header image from the NSW Teachers Federation website

Dear Premier, this will not work. Not now, not ever

A select number of teachers in NSW will soon be eligible for increased salaries of up to $152,000. This comes at a time when schools across Australia are facing devastating teacher shortages, while dwindling numbers of prospective teachers are pursuing teaching as a career. According to NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, “This is seismic reform that will modernise the teaching profession and ensure we have the best teachers in our classrooms to benefit students for generations to come.”

Will it, though? Fortunately, we have decades of research about the relationship between teacher pay and performance to make some predictions. Unfortunately, the research doesn’t paint a promising picture about what we can expect.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the fact that teaching is a very complex process and something that is very difficult to measure and to reward. Even though additional pay for our ‘best teachers’ seems like a logical way of improving overall teacher quality, this position is full of assumptions that are rarely (if ever) true. Below are some of the most significant assumptions that need to be addressed.  

Assumption 1: Bonus pay will increase teacher effort (and quality)

When policymakers claim that pay increases for ‘high-achieving’ teachers will lead to better outcomes, this assumes teachers are motivated by financial incentives. This is an economic argument that assumes teachers make rational choices based on the incentives in front of them. It also means that teachers either choose to be ‘high-achieving’ or not, and that money will be the deciding factor.

Should teachers earn more money? Absolutely. However, when linked to indicators of quality (like ‘high-achieving), I’m always wary of how such decisions are made. The truth is that a lot of factors affect how teachers are classified as effective, regardless of how holistically or carefully such systems are designed. Unfortunately, these measures are not always (if ever) true reflections of a teacher’s quality, which brings us to our next assumption.

Assumption 2: Teacher quality is measurable

To be fair, the current NSW proposal does not rely on the same kind of measurement tools that other countries (like the USA) use to measure teacher quality. Some, including the NSW government, even argue that the reform cannot even be considered ‘performance pay’. I disagree, and I think the reform’s title, Rewarding Excellence in Teaching, supports my assertion. 

Therefore, the assumption here is that we can actually know what teacher quality is; we can measure it; and we can reward it. This belief alone is based on many false assumptions. First, quality itself is a slippery construct that experts have been debating for decades. Not only that, but we also know that classifying teachers as ‘high-achieving’ (or not) is always susceptible to several forms of error and bias. For example, we know that teachers who teach students from advantaged backgrounds are more likely to be classified as more effective. We also know that teachers in schools with greater concentrations of disadvantage are more likely to be classified as ineffective. While the NSW reform is not based on test-based teacher evaluation, which is arguably the most susceptible to these biases, there are still concerns about which teachers will ultimately achieve this higher status. We must look at the broader conditions and question whether some teachers will be more likely to miss out, simply because they work in more challenging and unsupportive environments. This, of course, creates new concerns about whether such efforts will actually disincentivise teachers from remaining in already hard-to-staff locations, but that’s an argument for another day. 

Assumption 3: Student performance is a direct result of teacher effort and quality

First, I don’t want to suggest that teachers don’t matter when it comes to student learning and achievement. Teachers do matter, and they can make an enormous difference in the lives of students. It is also true, though, that teachers often have much less impact on student achievement (at least as measured by standardised tests) than many would like to assume. To assume that rewarding ‘excellent’ teachers will necessarily lead to better student achievement is simply not true. We do want consistency in classrooms, and we want teachers who are qualified and proficient. But, we cannot lose sight of the fact that students’ performance and achievement are affected by many factors that are entirely outside of the teachers’ or schools’ control. When it comes to standardised tests, for example, most researchers estimate that teacher differences explain anywhere between 1-14% variation in student outcomes. That means that up to 86-99% of variation in student test scores can be explained by other factors, like socio-economic status, parents’ education levels, and other out-of-school conditions. Therefore, if we really care about raising student achievement, then we must broaden our attention to think about how society is supporting student learning and growth. Continuing to narrowly focus on the teacher will not only be inadequate for raising achievement, but it will also continue to over-burden our teachers and force them out of the classroom. 

Assumption 4: Pay increases for a small number of teachers will lead to higher retention, and it will attract more teachers to the profession

In my view, this is one of the most peculiar assumptions of the reform. The profession has made it very clear that higher pay and manageable workloads are what they need. These requests are also supported by research. Quasi performance pay is not the answer to either of these. While I always want to celebrate pay increases for teachers, I am yet to be convinced that increases for a few hundred teachers will be what keeps the rest in the profession. If anything, I wonder how this will affect school culture. If teachers must compete for promoted status, then we can reasonably predict schools will suffer from decreased morale and collegiality. Even if it’s not a competitive process, we must be careful in how we balance the additional responsibilities with the increased salary. Otherwise, we run the risk of burning out teachers who are promoted to these advanced positions. 

There is still a lot we don’t know about this reform. What I do find hopeful is that teachers and school leaders are involved in developing some of the details. In an ideal world, this collaborative effort will help mitigate some of the concerns I’ve raised. I want to be hopeful. My fear, however, is that we have too many failed cases from around the world that makes it difficult to be optimistic. I hope I’m wrong. 

Jessica Holloway is senior research and ARC DECRA Fellow at the Australian Catholic University. Her research draws on political theory and policy sociology to investigate: (1) how metrics, data and digital tools produce new conditions, practices and subjectivities, especially as this relates to teachers and schools, and (2) how teachers and schools are positioned to respond to the evolving and emerging needs of their communities.

Header photo from the Premier’s Facebook page

Distorted reports keep coming. This one will make you livid

What should we be talking about when we talk about teachers? Teachers’ pay, working conditions and the looming teacher shortage. 

What are media talking about instead? A commonly suggested ‘solution’ to address concerns about standards in teaching: pre-prepared lessons, or, as the Grattan Institute describes them in a recent report, ‘high quality teaching materials’. 

The Grattan Institute, a thinktank, notes in its summary of the report that: “of 2,243 teachers and school leaders across Australia, … only 15 per cent of teachers have access to a common bank of high-quality curriculum materials for all their classes.”

In a departure from any claims to objectivity, the report paints a picture of teachers “being left to fend for themselves, creating lessons from scratch and scouring the internet and social media for teaching materials”.

This is yet another example of a large scale survey conducted by those with only a tangential relationship to the profession. It ignores the views of many teachers and offers a ready-made solution – one likely to become another costly and wasted expense for taxpayers. It also fails to note such approaches have been tried in some jurisdictions in Australia – with limited success, for example, the Curriculum-to-Classroom program in Queensland was found to be deficient. The surest outcome of such an approach would be a new revenue stream for specifically chosen edu-businesses as they rush to be selected as the provider of choice.   

There are already a range of paid options for teachers to access similar resources through sites like Twinkl, Teachers Pay Teachers, TES and others. Admittedly, these are paid resources; we argue it is unreasonable for teachers to pay for any curriculum resources out-of-pocket. However, even a ‘free’ version seems misguided because it does not pay attention to the work – and the expertise – that is central to teachers’ practice. And this practice includes the careful design and development of learning materials. This is not something that can be outsourced. 

As we say, the assumption and positioning of highly trained and university-qualified teachers, many of whom have trained for 4 or more years, as vulnerable and ‘fending for themselves’ is odd.

Planning lessons, finding, curating and developing resources is central to the work of teachers. Many teachers take great delight in carefully crafting lessons that leverage students’ interests; education is not, and never has been a one-size-fits-all model and any claim otherwise is undermining teachers, leaders and education support staff around Australia.

Teachers delivering content via a pre-prepared script or lesson might seem easier and simpler, but it remains difficult to see who benefits from a lifeless and unthinking teacher delivering someone else’s content. The key to teaching – and learning – lies in the human relationships between teachers and students. Those human relationships allow for careful contextualisation and design. It is that which drives teachers to search for just the right YouTube clip – the one that will appeal to that particular Year 9 Science class – not a sense of ‘fending for themselves’. Whereas teachers are responsible for their school students, families and communities, creators of ‘teacher-proof’ lesson banks are accountable to their corporate employers. As Lucinda McKnight reflects, ‘who would we rather have designing learning experiences for our own children?’. 

Our new book, Empowering Teachers and Democratising Schooling: Perspectives from Australia has taken the focus of empowering teachers and outlines alternative, human-centric ways that teachers can be trusted and empowered to make decisions about their work, with the shared goal of democratising approaches to education. By combining theory, academic thinking and teachers’ best practice examples, the book provides a range of suggestions on many of the key challenges facing Australian education. For example, George Lilley outlines the way that teachers have been sidelined in favour of a rigorous adherence to educational research.Alex Wharton’s chapter   imagines what an education system might look and function like if teachers were respected across all facets of their domain. 

Polly Dunning’s chapter articulates the range of pressures placed upon teachers – and the effects this has on children. Not surprisingly, the nature of lesson planning is not mentioned, but rather the rise of administrivia and additional expectations placed upon teachers without additional time or funding provided. 

As with many things in education, the best solutions require humans to be empowered to find their own solutions.   Education is filled with complex, ‘wicked’ problems, where solutions can take time, and require contextual nuance. ‘Solutions’ such as those suggested by The Grattan Institute ultimately misunderstand the work of the teacher as technocratic and therefore something that can be standardised. Until we appreciate the complexity of what it means for teachers to teach, we will continue to be presented with claims of ‘teacher-proof’ policies and materials that ignore the diversity of the students, whilst disenfranchising the teaching profession. 

If we are aiming to recruit and retain teachers, poorly thought out solutions such as providing teachers with pre-prepared teaching materials, as suggested by the Grattan Institute, is not the answer. This will do little to reduce workload, and it will also further damage the reputation of the teaching profession by limiting the expertise of teachers. These outcomes will do little to encourage people to become or remain teachers.  

Instead, we must look towards long term solutions that recognise the expertise of the profession. Trust, empowerment and listening to the voices of the profession is key. 

Keith Heggart is an early career researcher with a focus on learning and instructional design, educational technology and civics and citizenship education. He is a former high school teacher, having worked as a school leader in Australia and overseas, in government and non-government sectors.

Steven Kolber is a teacher at a Victorian public school, the founder of #edureading founder, secretary of Teachers Across Borders Australia and a proud member of @AEUvictoria. #aussieED Global Teacher Prize top 50 Finalist

Tom Mahoney is a teacher and educator of secondary VCE Mathematics and Psychology students, currently completing a PhD in Educational Philosophy part time through Deakin University. His research explores the influence of dominant educational ideologies on teacher subjectivity. You can keep up to date with Tom’s work via his fortnightly newsletter, The Interruption, via Substack. Tom is on Twitter @tommahoneyedu  

Teachers deserve more than love and praise. They deserve a raise.

Our second post on the NSW Teachers’ strike

It has been 10 years since NSW public sector teachers have taken industrial action. 

Within that decade, workloads for teachers have exploded, salaries have become uncompetitive, and the teacher shortage in NSW has worsened. 

The education sector is at a tipping point. 

NSW public sector teachers are currently renegotiating a new award to protect and improve their salaries and working conditions. But the findings from the Independent Inquiry into the NSW Teaching Profession chaired by Professor Emeritus Geoff Gallop released in February this year found stark evidence of a profession in crisis. 

The evidence we presented to the Gallop Inquiry painted a picture of worsening working conditions for the profession and highlighted that urgent change is needed. 

Why working conditions need improving

Working hours are unsustainable 

Teacher workloads have reached an unsustainable level. Our research of over 18,000 NSW public sector teachers has highlighted that teachers are now working an average of 55 hours per week. Increased data collection requirements, constant curriculum changes, and more complex student needs have contributed to this.

Our research also found the average teachers’ work undertaken at home is consistently between 11 to 12 hours per week, indicating that work in schools is too great in volume to be undertaken on the school site. 

During school holidays, teachers also work excessive hours, on average 10 hours per week, but up to 40 hours in some cases.

Overburdened with administration

Most teachers who responded to the survey (91%) reported that administrative demands impacted their core work of teaching. Teachers reported they were coping with the challenges of this major administrative load by working longer hours. In NSW, over 96% of teacher-respondents reported that the volume of collection, analysis, and reporting of data had increased over the last five years. 

If these statistics aren’t concerning enough, the voices of teachers speak to the challenges they face:

“I am currently on leave from the head teacher position and am working as a classroom teacher. This decision was due to excessive work hours, averaging 80-plus hours per week in term and 50-plus hours in ‘holidays’ as a head teacher for six years. The stress of this unsustainable workload left me physically exhausted and mentally drained.”

“The paperwork and administrative work has increased enormously.”

“The administrative demands and all the other useless busy work are detracting from the ability of school leaders and staff to engage creatively and to be innovative in the delivery of teaching and learning.”

One teacher recently tweeted his litany of mandated non-teaching tasks. We note it is not exhaustive:

Precarious work is on the rise

Teachers are not only working harder, but undertaking their job in more precarious conditions than ever before.  Fixed-term contract teaching is a growing feature of the NSW public education system. While the category of ‘temporary’ teacher in NSW was established in 2001 in response to growing concerns around casualization and a need to ensure greater employment security for, in particular, women returning to the workforce after having children, today it constitutes an enhanced dimension of precarity within teaching. 

Around 21% of the NSW teaching workforce currently work in temporary roles. Although temporary teachers do similar work to permanent teachers, they often feel as though they work harder. Many perceive they need to ‘do more’ in order to keep their contracted jobs. 

Teachers told us that: 

“I feel there is an unspoken pressure for temp teachers to ‘do more’ in order to heighten their chances to get work for the next year.”

They are “at the whim of principals who pick and choose according to who toes the line.”

Student results are worsening while teacher shortages increase

The evidence from the survey suggested that negative impacts on students were likely to follow if current trends continued. Sadly, this is the situation that has played out with results of Australian students continuing to decline by international comparisons in particular broad-scale testing regimes.

Alongside the workload problem is the worsening teacher shortage in the State. Enrolment growth, an ageing profession and fewer students enrolling to train as teachers means the profession is at risk of “running out of teachers in the next five years”.

Poor pay plus increasing hours and intensity of work will make addressing a teacher shortage extremely difficult. Lifting pay is critical for the sustainability of the profession and is a signal of the increased attention and respect that is long overdue for teachers. Addressing teachers’ current working conditions is also critical to how shortages can be addressed.

Why strike action is on the table

There is no doubt that it has become more difficult for trade unions to legally engage in industrial action, with the parameters for legal industrial action now being so narrow. 

Indeed, after the NSW Teachers’ Federation announced its intended strike action for 24 hours, the NSW Department of Education (successfully) sought no-strike orders from the NSW Industrial Relations Commission.

Teachers are not a militant profession but have a profound sense of care for the students they teach and the work they do in their communities. This is why industrial action is so extraordinary. 

Strike action is often a last resort. But our research has found that teachers can engage in such action when they feel that policies and political decisions are deeply and significantly threatening their core industrial and professional conditions of work, intensified by an uncooperative or dismissive government. The teachers’ union has said teachers feel this way

Striking is most successful when teachers are collectively aggrieved about multiple deficiencies in the system brought on by the policies of managerialist governments, like poor job security, increasing class sizes, undermining the professional status of teachers, increasing workloads, and bureaucratic models of performance management. 

An uncooperative government can also activate teachers to mobilise when governments are either openly hostile towards teachers and their union, or fail to consult with them on policies that affect their conditions of work. 

There are few occasions in history where NSW teachers have flexed their industrial muscle to take a stand against marketization and managerialism that eroded teachers’ working conditions. In one of the largest demonstrations in Australian labour history, some 80,000 teachers descended on The Domain in Sydney on 17 August 1988 to protest against the Greiner/Metherell cuts to public education funding and market-driven policies. 

The suite of pressure points currently facing the teaching profession brought on by a challenging reform environment sets the scene to rival the success of the 1988 strike. According to Buchanan, “today’s teachers would need a 15 per cent pay rise to restore them to their wage status three decades ago alongside comparable professions”. Given that, the demands seem very reasonable. 

Teachers’ voices must be heard now. If not, it will be too late. 

From left to right: Rachel Wilson is Associate Professor at The Sydney School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. She has expertise in educational assessment, research methods and programme evaluation, with broad interests across educational evidence, policy and practice. She is interested in system-level reform and has been involved in designing, implementing and researching many university and school education reforms. Rachel is on Twitter@RachelWilson100 Susan McGrath-Champ is Professor in the Work and Organisational Studies Discipline at the University of Sydney Business School, Australia. Her research includes the geographical aspects of the world of work, employment relations and international human resource management. Recent studies include those of school teachers’ work and working conditions. Meghan Stacey is a former high school English and drama teacher and current lecturer in the School of Education at UNSW Sydney. Meghan’s primary research interests sit at the intersection of sociological theory, policy sociology and the experiences of those subject to systems of education. Meghan’s PhD was conferred in April 2018. Meghan is on Twitter @meghanrstacey Mihajla Gavin is a lecturer in the Business School at the University of Technology Sydney, and has worked as a senior officer in the public sector in Australia across various workplace relations advisory, policy and project roles. Mihajla’s research is concerned with analysing the response of teacher unions to neoliberal education reform that has affected teachers’ conditions of work. Mihajla is on Twitter @Mihajla_Gavin

The future of teachers’ pay: time to send a better price signal

Today we will feature two posts on the NSW Teachers’ strike. This is the first post.

At the peak of their careers teachers earn less than electricians, physios, PR people and chiropractors and half that paid to lawyers and finance managers.

What we pay people – especially those at the top of their game – says a lot about what we value.  

As we to look towards a post-Covid-19 world we need to think about what signals we send young people making initial career choices and those planning the rest of their working lives.  

Currently we are sending the wrong signal about teaching.  And that message has been deteriorating over the years.

There are two fundamental problems.

The first concerns the slide in teachers’ pay compared to other professionals in Australia.  In 1986 female teachers earned 102% of the female professionals’ average and male teachers earned 99% of the male professionals’ average. By 2018 the position of teachers had worsened- women teachers earning 93% and male teachers earning 84% of the respective professionals’ average. 

The second concerns their flat earnings profile compared to their peers overseas and most other professions in Australia.   While entry level wages for teachers are relatively high, the top of the teacher’s pay scale in Australia is compressed relative to that paid to their peers in many OECD countriesl

What needs to be done?

Research released last year points to the need for a sizeable increase (minimum of 10-15%) in teachers’ wages.  This would restore teachers’ pay relative to that earned by the average professional to what prevailed 30 years ago.

The most effective way of achieving this is to address the problem of the teacher’s compressed wage structure.  Top teachers need to be paid significantly more.  Compared to nearly all other professionals in Australia, experienced teachers are paid significantly less than experienced lawyers, doctors, engineers and ICT professionals.  These professionals have significantly higher rates at the top of the scale (in the range of 30 – 50 per cent higher than those at entry level).

It is time to review the structure of teachers’ pay classifications which are relatively compressed by international standards.  Importantly, in examining other professions, not all members of those professions get the same, higher, rate of pay.  Higher earnings go to particular sub-groups in the respective professions.  This is most evident when we examine those in the top 20% of any profession.  

Increasing the top wage rate would have the effect of increasing the attractiveness of teaching as a lifetime career and greatly increase the likelihood that the best teachers will be retained in the future.

Reports of looming teacher shortages are growing.  A longstanding cause is that as many as one third of new teachers leave within five years of entering the profession.   Conventional economic theory says employers should respond to this with higher wages.

In practice, pay alone is never the solution to staff shortages  – but equally it is difficult to overcome such problems without significant adjustments in remuneration.   Increasing pay is an ‘essential ingredient’ in any serious policy package devised to attract and retain labour.  

Such movements send a signal.  In this case it would make clear that teaching is as highly valued as many other occupations in society – professional and non-professional.  

An improved price signal, especially for those in the upper reaches of the profession, has the potential to profoundly change Australians’ career decisions at the beginning of their working life, retain the best teachers in the system and make it easier for those interested in making the transition into teaching at later stages in their careers.

Professor John Buchanan is based in the University of Sydney Business School.  The report he co-authored is entitled NSW Teachers’ Pay: How it has changed and how it compares is available on the NSW Teachers’ Federation website.