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Number of temporary teachers in NSW schools of Australia almost doubles in a decade

October 11, 2022

Original Article:

The number of temporary teachers working in NSW public schools has almost doubled in a decade as experts warn surging insecure and short-term contracts are driving graduates away from the profession.

A NSW government submission to a parliamentary inquiry into teacher shortages reveals 37 per cent of the full-time equivalent workforce are in temporary or casual jobs, meaning almost 26,000 are in non-permanent positions.

The figures come as the expert leading sweeping reforms in NSW teaching salaries, University of Melbourne education academic John Hattie, said teachers are abandoning the classroom because they are “not getting promoted and not getting recognised” for their expertise.

“Most [teachers] in the first five years are on short-term contracts which is not a great incentive for them to stay in the profession,” Hattie told an inquiry hearing on Wednesday.

“The major reason for leaving, at least from the work that we’ve been doing, has to do with leadership. Teachers have been assigned positions that [they’re] not comfortable with, and they are not getting promoted, not getting recognition.”

Figures show the number of temporary teaching positions increased more than 80 per cent from 11,695 in 2011 to 21,366 in 2021. In that same period, the number of permanent positions increased just one per cent from 43,845 to 44,356.

As of 2021, there were 4557 teachers in casual jobs, although this number has declined by about 19 per cent from 5,604 in 2011.

According to the latest data from Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, more than 80 per cent of teachers in the state’s private schools are on permanent contracts.

While Hattie said performance pay has “never worked” in the profession, he said expertise was often overlooked and that NSW was “miles away” from having sufficient numbers of highly accomplished teachers.

Dr Susan McGrath-Champ, professor in work and organisational studies at the University of Sydney, said early career teachers were disproportionately given temporary or casual jobs.

She said they were sometimes exploited, believing they need to work harder in the hope of having their contract renewed.

“[They are often] at a point in their lives where they need to be able to get a bank loan, get a mortgage ... but never knowing what’s coming next,” McGrath-Champ told the inquiry.

She said when temporary contracts were first introduced, it was intended to give teachers greater security than being casual. “What it has evolved into is another form that’s insecure, precarious and which is being deployed .... as a conduit for flexibility.“

Internal Department of Education briefings from 2020 showed that 67 per cent of early career teachers were in temporary or casual roles.

“This contributes to early career teachers leaving the public system or leaving teaching,” it read.

Associate Professor Rachel Wilson, of Sydney University’s School of Education and Social Work, said security is vital, especially for early career teachers.

“Not having a permanent job is a deterrent. Young people feel rapidly disillusioned with teaching because they can’t get the security,” she said.

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said a significant increase in school funding and principal discretion in recruitment has seen record levels of staff employed in schools.

“Temporary positions are not necessarily a bad thing. School principals often use their autonomy when it comes to using record flexible funding by engaging temporary staff to support the delivery of specific programs or to support specific students,” she said.

“They can also provide cover for permanent teachers on leave or undertaking off-class activities such as attending professional development, or parental leave. This type of employment also provides flexibility and freedom to staff who do not want a permanent role.

“I absolutely want to see more graduate teachers entering the workforce in a permanent position. We are in conversations with the union on how to make that a reality.”

Government data shows 15 teachers in 2020 and 278 in 2021 were transferred from temporary to permanent teaching positions.

NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said the union had put a proposal to the government to transfer more temporary staff to permanent positions.

“This insecure work is contributing to the teacher shortage according to the government’s own internal advice,” he said. “Insecure work is not in the interest of teachers but nor is it in the interest of kids - it brings instability to our schools and our classrooms.”

NSW Secondary Principals’ Council president Craig Peterson said changes to NSW school funding over the past decade in response to the Gonski review were the main driver of the increase in temporary contracts.

“If I’ve got half a million dollars in flexible funding to meet the equity needs of my school … it lets me hire five staff members, but I can only put them on a temporary contract,” he said.

“There needs to be some discussion around whether providing flexible funding only to address disadvantages is the way to go, or should there be some additional permanent entitlement as well as the flexible funding.”

Labor MP and inquiry member Courtney Houssos said chronic teacher shortages plaguing schools meant parents didn’t know whether their child would have the same teacher next term “or even next week.”

“There has been huge increase in temporary teaching positions under the current government’s watch, which has led to more staff turnover and more vacancies,” she said.

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