Two hundred teachers rallied outside New South Wales parliament on October 23 to demand that education minister Verity Firth renegotiate the teacher transfer system.
Nichole Benton, social sciences head teacher at Chester Hill High School in Sydney's south west, told Green Left Weekly at the rally that her teaching load had more than doubled as a result of a teacher vacancy not being consistently filled since the end of Term One.
Delegations of teachers from across the state took part, and more than 20 schools from rural and regional areas also took stop-work action.
"Interviews have just started — in Term Four — for a vacancy from Term One. In the meantime, parents have been complaining about the number of casual teachers filling in. The local ALP MP, Barbara Perry, has even rung the principal to ask what was going on!", Benton said.
The new transfer system allows principals to ignore teachers on the transfer list with the most service points (often earned after years of service at challenging schools) and to conduct interviews to fill positions.
Teachers argue that this is unfair on both students and teachers. The previous system meant that teachers were able to shift schools based on a point system awarded for length of time spent in the profession and the school in question. The new system does not have to take service points or challenging schools into account.
Benton also believes that the new system is putting an unfair load onto schools. "Teachers and principals should not have to solve staffing problems. The government should", she said.
Benton said that the system had failed to come up with a replacement teacher at her school and this meant greater stress on existing staff. "With all the after-hours work needed to help students catch up, the stress has got to many of us. I have a five-year-old who I barely see because I don't get home from work until 6.30pm each night."
Another teacher at the same school, Pat Donohoe, told GLW that while the service transfer point system remains, a clause allows principals to ignore the list and go straight to an interview. "This makes it a joke", he said. "The state government is using the new transfer system to break solidarity across the teaching staff in schools."
"This government thinks it can run 2240 state public schools in NSW along neo-liberal lines. Public education should be about teaching and learning. The new transfer system is badly affecting the public school students, who have a right to be taught by professionals", Donohoe said, referring to the fact that vacancies can be filled by less qualified people.
The rally was called after a Sackville Street Public School teacher was denied a transfer despite having the highest number of transfer points. She had wanted to transfer to Engadine Public School and, under the old system, would have been able to do so. Under the new system, she has to compete for the position with other teachers.
NSW Teachers' Federation (NSWTF) general secretary John Irving said on October 23 that the case showed how useless the new procedures were at attracting and retaining teachers.
Speakers at the protest included Sharon Schwartz, a union delegate from Sackville Street Public School, and NSWTF acting president Bob Libscome. A solidarity message from Greens MP John Kaye was read to the crowd.
The teachers vowed to come back "again and again" until Firth and the very unpopular education department head, Michael Coutts-Trotter, agreed to negotiate with the teachers over the transfer system.