11 June 2021


Ms JODIE HARRISON (Charlestown) (19:30): Last year, as lockdowns designed to combat the spread of COVID-19 changed the face of our State, our teachers were thrown in the deep end. Transitioning to online lesson delivery involved, for many, an enormous learning curve and was incredibly stressful. Our teachers rose to the occasion and did everything they could to ensure that students were able to continue valuable learning. That is not surprising; it is what our teachers do. Under-resourced and underpaid, they have long been accustomed to the art of improvisation when it comes to teaching the children of this State.

Our teachers are used to change. As the report from the Valuing the Teaching Profession inquiry, chaired by Dr Geoff Gallop, noted, despite dramatic organisational and policy change affecting schools and systemic underpayment, the dedication and commitment of teachers in New South Wales has remained high. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has represented merely the latest hurdle teachers across the State have had to clear. This Government chose to repay its commitment and ingenuity by withholding a modest scheduled pay rise. The Gallop report spells out the problem in no uncertain terms:

… we have seen significant (and still ongoing) increases in the volume and complexity of work generated by government decisions and heavily influenced by the social, economic and technological environment.

Many factors are driving the intensity of teachers' work: constant policy changes; significant increases in students' needs; rapid technological changes; an ever-expanding and constantly changing curriculum; new responsibilities for compliance, administration, data collection and reporting; and higher community expectations of what schools and teachers are trained and equipped to do. When I recently met with the Lake Macquarie Teachers Association, the associates brought up a range of issues, but a common theme emerged: Teachers are simply not paid enough for the work they already do, and more and more work is being piled on. What is more, schools and teachers are not resourced enough to help to deal with the challenges confronting their students. The local teachers with whom I met talked about the increasing number of children in out-of-home care over recent years. Those students have often had challenging childhoods and often have complex needs. They have individual education plans, but teachers are not being provided the resources they need to give those students the support they deserve.

The Local Schools, Local Decisions policy, which stripped away specialist support services for teachers, has led to an increase in precarious employment since it was implemented in 2012. On top of that, many teachers are being forced to work outside their specialty. That means we have geography teachers teaching maths, science teachers teaching history, and the result is that students are losing out because of inadequate staffing. Teachers are now expected and want to sit on cross-faculty committees, which are great tools for improving communication and problem‑solving within a school. But doing so adds to their already staggering workload and it is extra work for which they are not compensated. The National Education Standards Authority accreditation has become a burden on teachers, particularly those who work on a casual basis and are responsible for organising and funding the professional development required to keep them working.

All of this, combined with the fundamental underlying issue of salaries—which are declining rapidly when compared with other professions—is driving many away from the teaching profession. No-one becomes a teacher to get rich—and I am sure you know that, Madam Temporary Speaker—but the profession has challenges attracting the best and brightest because the remuneration being offered is nothing short of dismal. Not that long ago there was a 10-year waiting list to secure a permanent teaching position at public schools in the Charlestown electorate. Now schools are struggling to attract and retain qualified teachers.

Our teachers are dedicated and hardworking, but even the most idealistic young people thinking about a career in teaching are facing the cold arithmetic of a high-stress, underappreciated job with inadequate pay. They are reaching an inescapable conclusion: It is just not worth it. As the Gallop report points out, "the scale and intensity of change experienced by the public school teaching profession in NSW … dwarfs the findings in each of the previous" work value cases, all of which resulted in significant salary increases. I urge this Government to carefully consider all of the recommendations of the Gallop inquiry. Our teachers do so much; they deserve to be fairly compensated for and supported in their vital work.