A new year of discontent
Next year is shaping up to be one in which secondary teachers will need to fight for ourselves,, the future of our profession and the futures of the young people we teach, writes Melanie Webber
More than thanks. That’s the campaign slogan of our New South Wales Teachers’ Federation colleagues who are heading into the second year of their push to achieve better wages and conditions for their members. They’ve been out four times, fined by the government, and are still yet to achieve a settlement.
Meanwhile international research describes a teaching profession that is overworked, underpaid and undervalued. Teachers are being asked to do much more with fewer resources. Unsurprisingly, more and more teachers are leaving the profession, and fewer young people see teaching as an attractive career.
Teacher shortages a global problem
Attending the Council of Pacific Educators conference last week, we heard how teacher shortages were resulting in class sizes of over sixty. Many teachers in the Pacific can make more money by becoming seasonal workers in Australia and New Zealand. Teacher shortages are increasingly a global problem, and not one that can be solved by countries continuing to poach workers off each other. We need to make sure that teaching is a first choice career in our own countries. Part of being a first choice career is about making certain that pay remains comparable with that of other professionals, and unfortunately that’s something that the ministry isn’t so keen on.
I’m writing this in early November, before our executive meeting, and before the paid union meetings (PUMs) that you will be heading into as this lands in schools. We’ve received our first offer, and it seems that asking nicely hasn’t worked when it comes to the improvements in pay and conditions that we need to ensure that our schools continue to be staffed, and our ākonga get the support that they need. Mark Twain spoke of ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’, and the ministry certainly seems to be pulling out the statistics to suggest we’re being unreasonable when we ask for our salaries to match the rate of inflation. One of their latest tricks is to look at increases from the last settlement which included significant ‘catch-up’ after years of teacher salaries slipping behind.
Fighting for the future of the profession
We have a ministry which is all too ready to rely upon teacher goodwill and our reluctance to inconvenience or disadvantage our students. We know that there is a cost in taking action, to our students and to us, but the cost of not sticking up for ourselves is higher. We are not just fighting for ourselves, we are fighting for the future of our profession, and the futures of the young people that we teach. How hard we are willing to fight and what we are willing to settle for is ultimately up to you, and I am pleased that we are able to hold PUMs face to face to discuss this. As a member-led organisation, ultimately it is for you the members to decide.
Timing of course isn’t great. Looming over us is the possibility of a government change at the end of 2023 and while PPTA Te Wehengarua is not affiliated to any political party, promises from National that charter schools will be back on the agenda should they get in is hugely concerning. If a new government chose to follow the UK model we could this time see schools being encouraged to convert to charter schools or academies. There is an ongoing narrative that ‘school choice’ and ‘greater autonomy’ will provide better outcomes for young people, but what we have seen in England where nearly 80% of secondary schools are now being run by ‘not-for-profit’ organisations is a breaking down of community input into schools, and students more likely to be being taught by untrained teachers. While some of these schools are successful, this comes at a cost to other schools in the community, and overall results show ‘regular’ schools providing a better education for their students.
You are not alone
An unsettled collective under a new government could also be a risk, as they could push to put all teachers onto individual agreements, chipping away at our hard fought for entitlements.
Heading into our fourth year of COVID it seems there is to be no respite for us, and so I encourage you to take this break to rest and recover. Know that while it is not an easy year ahead, you are not alone and that when we work together as a collective we will carry each other through. Thank you for all the mahi you have done this year.
Waiho i te toipoto, kaua i te toiroa – let us keep close together, not wide apart.