Teachers oppose performance pay

June 22, 2007

Federal education minister Julie Bishop has announced a tender process to trial performance-based pay in schools. Australian Education Union (AEU) federal president Pat Byrne described the scheme as "cash-for-grades", and called for more federal funding for state education.

Bishop wants teachers, currently paid according to years worked, to be paid according to student results and principal, parent and student evaluations. She argues performance-based pay will reward good teachers and attract talented people to the profession.

Bishop argues that performance-based pay is needed to prevent teachers from leaving. However, 31.9% of beginning teachers identified workload as the main reason for leaving. A 2005 survey of new teachers by the Victorian branch of the AEU found that 47.2% said they'd leave the public system within 10 years, and 44.7% of those intending to leave within that time said they'd be looking to work in another profession. The survey also found that 80% of first-year teachers were employed on short-term contracts.

Bishop admitted on ABC TV in April that some teachers would be worse off under her system as they wouldn't get their annual increment. After Treasurer Peter Costello said that there will be no extra federal funding for the scheme, Bishop argued that performance-based pay would be self-funding, meaning that "high-performing" teachers would be paid because "low-performing" ones wouldn't get a pay rise.

Costello and Bishop's comments expose their real agenda — the introduction of individual contracts into the school system. With Labor state governments responsible for teachers' pay and conditions, most state public sector workers have yet to feel the full force of the Coalition's IR policy. Performance-based pay would allow for the introduction of individual contracts and undermine union-based collective agreements.

The Victorian branch of the AEU opposes performance pay as it fails to recognise the collegiate nature of teaching. A motion passed at the AEU Victorian State Council in April noted that "the current career structure discriminates against outstanding classroom teachers forcing them to focus on administrative duties rather than teaching, if they wish to receive higher pay".

The Victorian and federal AEU will develop national proposals for "professional pay", based on professional standards that enable teachers to remain in the classroom and be rewarded for their skills and commitment.

Victorian AEU state councillor and Teachers Alliance activist Mary Merkenich told Green Left Weekly that teachers and school staff deserve an immediate pay rise and a dramatic reduction in workload, along with smaller class sizes. Performance-based pay does none of this.

"Teachers are constantly being told to do more administrative tasks, implement curriculum changes and changes to assessment and reporting methods. Bishop wants to make funding contingent on schools implementing testing and reporting: this has already been done with mandatory testing for years 3, 5, 7 and 9 students and A to E student report cards."

State school teachers in Victoria face an annual review before receiving a pay rise. The Victorian AEU leadership has argued that this is a type of performance-based pay and that therefore Bishop's proposal is unnecessary.

Merkenich is concerned with this approach. "By claiming that our annual reviews are a form of performance pay, the AEU is not challenging the notion that performance pay is divisive. What's needed is a massive injection of funding into state education to improve teachers' pay and conditions, and to allow those teachers in positions of responsibility to be able to adequately carry out their jobs."

[Bronwyn Jennings is a member of Teachers Alliance, a rank and file teachers group in Victoria. Teachers Alliance can be contacted at teachersalliance@hotmail.com.]

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