Saturday, July 12, 2008

The offer that promotes strike action.

Education in Western Australia is currently passing through a time of turmoil with an industrial dispute between the State government (department of education and training ("DET") and the local State school teachers union ("SSTUWA"). Currently the dispute is in arbitration. DET has put forward its statement of claims:

1. 15 hours of PD per year in your own time;
2. One, one hour staff meeting per week;
3. a requirement to be at school 15 minutes before school and 15 minutes after school;
4. Duties of a teacher have been expanded to include planning and preparation of courses of study activities undertaken to enrich the educational experiences of students including camps, music and drama festivals and performances;
5. A clause that says that a teacher can agree to teach hours that exceed the weekly maximum with of course an equivalent reduction in their DOTT time;
6. The vast majority of teachers will receive salary increases of 8.2% by February 2010 compared with their present salary level. Administrators will get 9.8%;
7. Those over 45 with two or more years continuous good service will be required to give five weeks notice instead of the present four to terminate their contract;
(taken from a post on - a local pro-teacher lobby group)

Considering that the above is a change in conditions for a less than CPI increase, teachers are generally unhappy with the proposed changes.

At first glance the offer made to teachers was inflammatory but is underpinned by DET that is in a precarious position. Currently there are not enough teachers to staff hard to teach locations (with many non specialists teaching specialist subjects) and the employment market is buoyant enough for teachers to decline hard to staff locations. It is questionable that any amount of money would staff these locations given housing, behavioural issues and remoteness of some of these locations. Morale in DET schools is fragile with many teachers at the point of breakdown and many contemplating leaving for other employment sectors.

There is a perception that the government does not wish to be a part of the public education sector other than as a safety net provider. University entrance subject provision (commonly known as TEE subjects) in many DET schools is becoming limited with many not providing one or more of English Literature, Geography, Specialist Maths (such as calculus), Physics, Chemistry or Economics - subjects typically available as a baseline. This has been compounded this year with a directive from DET to not offer courses in schools with less than 14 students enrolled in the course. Many courses in year 11 & 12 have needed class sizes smaller than 14 to run (successfully) - typically the more demanding courses.

The current DET behaviour management programme has become teacher oriented with the onus to resolve behavioural issues within the classroom. As academic students leave the public system for private schools and students are forced to exit private schools for behavioural reasons, behaviour in public schools has become an ongoing issue between staff, students and administration.

At least 1000 teachers this year left the sector and did not renew their teacher registration. Many of these were relief teachers that at first investigation experience difficulty in being assigned work and then are faced with the typical difficulties experienced by relief teachers.

New courses were introduced this year with no capability to delay if teachers are unable to prepare adequately for 2009. SSTUWA has banned preparation of the new courses for 2009. This was recently overturned by the state arbiter. The horse though has bolted. With the teacher shortage, low morale, behavioural issues and limited ability to find relief staff for planning it is difficult to see how many schools will adequately provide these new courses for 2009 with significant goodwill from teachers that at present does not exist.

Despite these concerns the state government made no allowance for substantial teacher pay rises in the recent 2008 budget nor seemingly wishes to bridge this gap in goodwill between teachers and their employer.

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