The search by the Coalition government for an issue emotive enough to make people change their vote has had at least a minor success this week with Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop pursuing the idea of performance-based pay for teachers.

Bishop knows that the idea of paying by results has a common sense appeal to many Australians but that the teachers’ unions dislike it intensely. Hence the announcement of a tender for expert consultants to develop a way of rewarding teachers for the gains of their students, their leadership and mentoring, and for taking on additional responsibilities and roles. Not an actual scheme, you will notice, just the development of a plan for a scheme but that has been enough to achieve its purpose. State Labor governments and the national teachers union have vehemently opposed it.

NSW Education Minister John Della Bosca has pointed out Treasurer Peter Costello’s unwillingness to provide any additional funding for a new pay scheme. “So from the outset,” says Mr Della Bosca, “the consultants will be drafting models that require some teachers to be paid less in order to reward others.” That may be a valid point and one that is worrying to those whose wages may drop but hardly of interest to those people who tell the pollsters that education standards are not as good as they used to be and that it is poor quality teachers who are to blame.

The Australian Education Union president Pat Byrne has wisely tried to put the issue into a broader context by linking the proposal of Ms Bishop to the unpopular industrial relations policies of the Coalition. “This is just,” he says, “a desperate attempt to get AWAs into schools and impose the Federal Government’s IR laws on teachers.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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