Teachers strike – who should decide where teachers are employed?

Remote country school

Today the teachers went out on strike in NSW – over recruitment policies for schools. The SMH had two conflicting letters next to each other from teachers:

The Government’s tinkering with a fair, time-tested and successful transfer points system is just the latest unintelligent act that will make recruiting quality teachers more difficult.

and this one

As a public school teacher I am aghast at the bogus campaign waged by the NSW Teachers Federation. How can a union argue that maintaining a faceless bureaucratic system of staff appointments is helpful in getting the right staff for the right job? The NSW Department of Education, one of the largest centralised employers in the world, determines who goes where partly by using an unworkable points system. As a way to get the teachers they want, schools employ temporary teachers – full-time.

The Teacher’s Federation press release is here. From the teachers federation website, the main issue comes from this aspect of the renegotation of the “staffing procedures”:

Department proposes changes to staffing procedures that:

  • abolish Expressions of Interest Mobility for executives and principals
  • dismantle classroom teacher service transfers
  • give “exceptional circumstances” power of veto to principals and education directors to block transfers to any school
  • abolish teacher representation on selection panels for executives and principals and replace Fed Reps with teacher reps on classroom teacher panels
  • abolish requirement to base wording of advertisements on staffing codes
  • abolish the Tripartite Committee review of local selection processes

Fundamentally, to a layperson, it is making it easier for local principals to choose the staff they want. Given that there aren’t that many changes a principal can make in pay and working conditions in a state school, schools in desirable locations are likely to find it easy to find good teachers. Schools in horrible locations (either because of the student body, or where you are likely to live) will find it harder.

But that assumes that the current system works at the moment. At the moment, this document sets out how transfers between schools work. My paraphrase of what is a very beauracratic document is that schools have to fill every second position, at least, from the transfer list. They can choose whether to just take the top person from the list (prioritised by experience, date of transfer, points- of which more later, etc) or interview the top five and choose one.

Teachers get priority points from working in remote schools (I don’t know all of the schools, but they all seem to be remote country schools, rather than “tough” schools). For example, if you spend two years teaching in Wilcannia Central, you get 8 priority transfer points. While five years in Moree Public will get you 4 priority transfer points. In those schools, you will also get a rental allowance (if you can’t get government provided accommodation), extra leave, and extra training and development.

The result being that these schools are likely to be staffed with recent graduates who are desperate to get out of there. The monetary benefits are unlikely to be commensurate with the increased difficulty in the work – rents in most of those towns are low compared with Sydney. And the difficulty of the work, particularly for a fresh-minted young graduate, is likely to be much worse than a suburban Sydney school, particularly with very few experienced teachers on hand to help.

My own boys’ school (from observation of the process) tries very hard to avoid using the teacher transfer system. There are several teachers who are temporary (rather than permanent) as in the letter quoted above and apparently there are ways to reject the people who come up from the transfer list if you’d rather recruit directly. So the current system is not really getting the desired effect.

I know, as a manager, I would much rather recruit my people myself – I trust my judgement to recruit good people, particularly when I know I will be working with them for the next few years. But even though the labour market for actuaries is tight, I have the ability to pay people more (up to a point) and provide better conditions (like some control over the work they do, the ability to work from home, and access to training and development). The principal of Wilcannia Central doesn’t have that luxury.

So, I doubt if the current system works all that well in finding ways of staffing remote and hard-to-teach schools. Abolishing it without a replacement doesn’t make much sense either, but the teacher’s federation doesn’t seem to be having much constructive discussion about alternatives.

Finding doctors for remote country towns is also very difficult. But paying doctors serious money is politically possible. So serious money is paid to doctors willing to locate to country areas, particularly when staffing hospitals. Paying remote teachers more, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be an option that is seriously entertained by anyone – government or teachers federation.

  2 comments for “Teachers strike – who should decide where teachers are employed?

  1. May 23, 2008 at 7:04 am

    I really don’t know why anyone wants to be a teacher. If it isn’t the pay and conditions, it’s ethos of learning they’re obliged to subscribe to that drives out the good ones. I’m thinking of the groundswell of indignation and anger that emerged at a session on education and innovation I attended on Tuesday concerning the level of measurement and the lack of exploratory learning at schools.

  2. May 25, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    Our school does the same as yours, in terms of keeping temp teachers rather than take transfers. We did recently lose a teacher to a transfer and thus gain one via transfer. I don’t know if there was any choice involved but the resulting teacher (not my child’s) seems to fit in.

    Only a very small proportion of teachers at our school went on strike (including the new transfer!)

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