Victoria has been accused of having one of the country’s worst public school hiring systems — with more than half its graduate teachers on fixed-term contracts — which fails to keep new teachers in its ageing workforce.

The claim comes as the Education Department in South Australia finalises its plans to reduce temporary employment in the teaching sector and generate more ongoing jobs for its teachers.

A review by the Victoria Auditor-General showed the majority of Victorian teachers would reach retirement age by 2018, with 36% over 50 years old in 2008.

Meanwhile, education lobbyists say the profession’s growing lack of job stability or incentives have caused new teachers to lose faith in the industry and explore different career paths. “It certainly says to newer people to the profession that you are, to some extent, expendable,” Victoria Education Union spokesperson James Rankin said.

In Victoria, a survey on more than 1000 new teachers found 52% planned to stay in public schools for 10 years or less, with 34.1% expecting to change professions.

After failing to appease unions on a promised increase to teachers’ wages, Victoria’s state government has been accused of cutting corners by neglecting to address the growing number of fixed-term contracts — allowing schools to dodge annual wage increases.

“The situation is probably worse in Victoria,” South Australia’s Education Union vice-president David Smith said. “We’ve just had some success with a conversion to permanency rather than temporary employment so things are on the mend here.”

The Education Department in South Australia said it would increase ongoing teaching jobs by scrapping its 10-year rotation policy and allowing schools to select their teachers and decide upon the form of employment.

But in NSW, the Teachers Federation feared a “devolution” of decision making to schools to meet state budget cuts would cause limited tenure contracts to soar. “Devolution is used to introduce local ‘hire and fire’ of teachers and replace permanency in teacher employment with limited tenure individual contracts,” the federation said in a statement last August.

Rankin accused schools of wasting money by training teachers who they plan on letting go after a short period.

“They’re actually spending a very large amount of money training people who aren’t going to stay as teachers because the employment arrangements aren’t satisfactory enough to keep them there,” he said.

The Australian Education Union survey found 58% of new teachers were on fixed-term contracts, with 70.3% saying their employment status had a negative effect on their teaching. Cessation rates among teachers in their mid to late 20s dropped when offered ongoing conditions of employment, according to a study by Victoria’s Department of Education and Training.

“Teachers must be offered permanent positions early in their career,” Centralian College’s Don Zoellner wrote in a submission to the Department of Education in 2003. “One reason so many leave early is that they are on medium-to-short-term contracts with little job security.”

While furthering the standard quality of teaching, investing in teachers’ professional development played a major part in retention, a report by the Ministerial Council for Education revealed.

But Rankin says short-term employment impacted on teachers’ performances and skills development. He says teachers’ abilities to develop effective relationships with young people, or implement and assess quality teaching programs were compromised.

“The process of teaching children requires someone to develop a deeper understanding with the young people that they’re working with,” he said. “That can’t be done in a term.”

Children with learning difficulties or experiencing psychological or behavioural problems were hit hardest by the nature of transient educators, he says. English teacher Michael Vona says jumping from one short-term contract to another also weighes heavily on new teachers’ morale.

“You invest so much time and effort into a school, getting along with the kids and the staff and building new learning models,” he said. “To be told there’s no job at the end of your contract and all that hard work hasn’t paid off is just crushing. You just pack up and start all over again at a different school, and so the cycle goes.”

After being on four 3-6 month contracts over the past three years, the 28-year-old has chosen to complete an education masters to enhance his employability. “Even after I finish my masters, I’ll still be competing for the same jobs the same salaries as before,” he said. “Only, I’ll have a bigger HECS debt to pay off. It’s ridiculous.”

Victoria’s Education Department was unable to comment as it said fixed-term teachers were part of its current negotiations with the union.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW