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

By Mihajla Gavin, Meghan Stacey, Susan McGrath-Champ and Rachel Wilson

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

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

  1. I’m worried that this article, and a lot of the election coverage, is skipping over the fact that the LNP have a version of Mark Latham’s ‘anti-woke’ policy in their platform, requiring schools to publish ‘the curriculum’ (Latham called for lesson plans) to parents a year ahead.

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