“I don’t want to have a system where, every three or four years, the minister, or the government, and the teachers’ union declare war on each other.”
So said former Western Australian Labor premier Alan Carpenter. He said it in 2004, as the then-state education minister engaged in a pay battle with WA teachers. Nearly a decade later, teacher pay continues to divide; just last week Victorian teachers and the state government reached a pay agreement after a vicious two-year battle that included numerous strikes, teachers refusing to write comments on report cards and government claims that teachers weren’t working the whole time they were on school camp.
But just how much does a teacher in Australia earn?
That mainly depends on two factors: first, in which state they work and second, whether they work for a public, Catholic or private school.
Western Australia is currently the leader in teacher pay in the state system (WA is known for funding its education system well, as seen in its debate over the Gonski reforms). New graduate teachers earn $60,545 this year. Their pay increases in annual increments based on experience until level 2.9, which this year earns a salary of $91,567. Exemplary teachers can apply to become a level 3 classroom teacher — the top teaching position available, which involves community engagement and curriculum development — which earns $101,853.
The other top payers are the NSW and ACT private school systems. Independent schools traditionally follow state government agreements quite closely, and Catholic school teachers earn the same as the public school teacher counterparts. “Independent schools across country on average pay around that rate,” Chris Watt, federal secretary of the Independent Education Union, told Crikey. “There’s a small number that pay less, and in most states there’s a small number that pay more.”
But the Professional Excellence program at the NSW Institute of Teachers and the ACT’s Highly Proficient Teachers standards mean that ACT and NSW private school teachers can go through extensive professional development that results in earnings of up to $8000 more than government school teachers. All states have a teacher standards regime, however in most states, “it’s a pretty large hoop with no flames or no crocodiles on the other size,” said Watt. “In NSW [and ACT], hoops are smaller and there’s flames, plus maybe a lion, maybe a hungry crocodile.”
Graduate teachers earn more than many other professional graduates — assuming they’ve completed a four-year degree. The main issue in teacher pay is often that while graduate pay starts out well, there is often little room for advancement if you want to remain teaching and not move into administration. “Teachers are paid badly … It’s a poor career structure for teachers. I left because of it,” Dr Jill Blackman, a professor of education at Deakin University, told Crikey. “There are very limited levels of advancement. Increments are small.”
The Australian Education Union has a great document outlining what different state governments pay their teachers. Queensland’s 2013 public school graduate teachers started at $58,437, and its most experienced senior teachers will this year earn $85,557. In NSW, graduates are on $59,706, while top teachers earn $89,050. The Northern Territory offers $62,017 to graduates and $114,737 to specialist teachers (top standard classroom teachers earn a maximum of $88,941). The ACT pays $58,041 to its grads and $86,881 to its top teachers. South Australian teachers start on $59,629 and earn up to $85,999, although additional training can bump that up to $89,201. Down in Tasmania, graduates earn $57,565, with the highest paid teachers on $84,184. In Victoria, graduates this year started on $60,220, and top “leading teachers” earn $94,408. The latest Victorian pay agreement will result in teachers earning an extra 16.1% to 20.5% over three years.
“You don’t even get paid well [as a graduate] because you’re on contract the first five years,” noted Blackman. Graduate teachers often struggle to secure a permanent role, and according to the Productivity Commission, last year, 20% of primary school teachers and 13% of secondary school teachers were on fixed-term contracts. This means they are not paid for summer school holidays, as the contracts run just for the school year.