Why pay lacklustre teachers $90,000?

David Edmunds writes: Re. “Teacher education: another flop in an age-old failure” (February 15). I disagree with much of what Dean Ashenden says in his piece about education.

I looked up the course structure for a Graduate Diploma in Education at the University of Canberra, a course I completed in 1974, and found it very familiar. Sure there was quite a bit about computers, but the same holes and weaknesses that were apparent then are still apparent now. For example, this piece from a unit description:

“The unit offers a critical perspective on the ways in which macrosocial processes and events (such as globalization, social movements, Aboriginal Reconciliation, migration and refugee arrivals) impact upon and transform education in Australia. It also provides specific analytical tools for examining the micro politics of cultural diversity in the classroom. An analysis of Australia’s key social issues (including those relating to gender, race and ethnicity) is translated into critical evaluation of social justice and equity policies, and the nature of culturally inclusive pedagogical practices.”

When I completed my qualification, it was more about the thoughts of Jesuit revolutionaries who didn’t believe in schools, but the jist seems to be the same. Salaries packages have probably been reduced over the last few decades as the states have moved from generous defined-benefit superannuation schemes to less generous schemes.

The starting salary is not the problem; it is the very low final teaching salary reached after about seven years of teaching, regardless of competence. The obvious rule is that the teachers who undertake the hardest work should be the best paid, but in fact the reverse is true. That is, in the absence of extrinsic reward, experienced teachers gravitate to pleasant schools with nice students who have supportive parents, leaving the difficult job of changing the lives of young people to those least experienced, or least able to find a job in a “nice” school.

In any other profession, people are rewarded on the successful completion of difficult work, but not in teaching. There would be an argument that this cannot be done in teaching, but it would seem to be no more difficult than in most other professions. Those who undertake this difficult work should be paid a great deal more than the current top of the range salary that runs to around $90,000. The 3% mentioned by Dean Ashendon won’t do it. However, amongst the teaching professions there are many who are paid this much and are not worth it. That is, we need to set up systems that provide genuine career paths for teachers that stay in the classroom. This is often talked about, but never done.

Permanency is not the problem that he suggests. The problem is more one of accountability. All teachers up to and including principals and their directors should be appointed on about five-year contracts, after which they have to either renew their contract or find another. This system will allow those who can’t perform to filter out of the system. That is, tenure is the problem.

Similarly, class sizes per se are not the problem he suggests. Para-professionals work well in schools, but there is no career path for them and they are underutilised. Average class size has come down, but much of the reason is to do with very small classes established to cope with learning or behavioural difficulties. There are savings to be made through better ways of coping with these problems. Most of all, in this country we lack educational leadership.

Long live the entrepreneurs

Roy Ramage writes: Re. “Mostly harmless industry policy fits Labor’s broader narrative” (yesterday). Australia has always needed its ideas people, never more so than now as we continue to face a volatile and possibly recessionary future. Suppose a gadget or a process has been invented, proven in university tests and now must go to market. To patent it the free-trade way costs about $75,000 straight up. Even a successful patenting usually means a prolonged legal battle with the self-interested status quo companies.

Innovation is now uncommon in large organisations. Almost all proposals tend to be from single entrepreneurs in the small business arena. For them innovation is survival. These clever seeds are found non-mainstream in all societies. Innovative people looking to do things differently due to economic necessity and the means to compete.

The latest Prime Ministerial release on innovation reveals the effects of the various Canberra lobby lunches. More of the same. Entrepreneurship is rare and acceptance even more so. Government needs to be cognisant that the sum of thousands of small entrepreneurs will always drive larger economic developments than the rarer (but welcome) achievements of a few hugely successful organisations.

Latham Watch

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Latham v the commentariat: three howlers from Akerman” (yesterday). It’s all very well for Mark Latham to criticise Gerard Henderson, Piers Akerman etc, but when is he going to apologise for his own glaring errors?

In The Latham Diaries, he said that Kevin Rudd “doesn’t write books or policy material, and never will” (p 357), but Rudd did write a book: Jasper and Abby and the Great Australia Day Kerfuffle. As Derryn Hinch might be falsely accused of saying: “Shame, shame, shame.”