A ‘better future’ starts here

The agenda for education and the teaching profession

IEU Assistant Federal Secretary Brad Hayes discusses our union’s federal agenda for the future of the teaching profession and education sector, and the priority reforms that must be delivered by the new Federal Government.

The new ALP Federal Government was elected under the campaign banner ‘A Better Future’.

Our schools and early childhood education centres must now be at the head of the list to bring this slogan into reality – there is no better future for Australia without radical and wide-ranging reforms to our education system.

While the workforce and professional challenges in education are many and complex, the one common element that must underpin all government plans and policy debates is the need to consult with actual education practitioners.

For too long, teachers have been excluded from crucial education debates that have instead been dominated by actors external to the reality in classrooms, often to the detriment of our schools and students.

Early signs have been positive, with the new government adopting a more inclusive and collaborative approach.

It will be a long and difficult path to repair the significant issues in our sector, but for the first time in many years we are at least heading in the right direction.

Union members have been calling out these issues for decades.

Backed by the collective strength of our 75,000 IEU members nationwide, our campaign is underway to make these changes a reality.

Teacher voices must be at the centre of education policy

Australia’s education policies and regulatory authorities have been plagued by a glaring disconnect between their decisions and the reality of classroom teaching and learning.

It is a sadly predictable outcome given the previous federal government’s aversion to listening to real-world practitioners.

Any classroom teacher or support staff member can tell you about the negative impact of successive policy changes and new government requirements impeding their core work educating students.

Our members have first-hand experience, and common-sense solutions, as to how regulatory authorities can streamline compliance procedures and reporting requirements.

Now we need employers and government to listen.

The work of bodies such as the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) is a clear example of the disconnect between policy makers and the teaching profession.

The Federal Government must act immediately to restore the voice of teachers on the AITSL board.

The IEU and Australian Education Union should be included on the AITSL board, as they were before being removed by the previous government in 2013.

We need the voice of teachers to inform all areas of review and educational reform – NAPLAN, Teach for Australia, Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programs and the Online Formative Assessment Initiative.

The impact on school staff must be at the core of any future discussions.

Government programs and school-level implementation of any new initiatives must also be supported by a foundational commitment to restore the professional autonomy and judgement of teachers.

More red tape, paperwork and bureaucratic intrusions into classrooms will continue to undermine the profession. What teachers need is the discretion and professional respect to get on with their teaching.

Returning the voice of teachers to critical education debates is an important step to rebuilding the status of teaching.

The government can lead by example through recognising the full value and respect for the profession.

Improved workforce planning and retention

Members and our union have been warning of looming staffing shortages for decades.

The pandemic has just accelerated a slow- burn crisis to the point we now see playing out across the country.

According to a July 2022 report by Monash University, 59 per cent of teachers plan on leaving the profession – the warning signs have been ignored by successive governments and employers alike.

IEU members therefore welcome the Federal Government’s plan to begin tackling the issue as one of its stated ‘first priority’ education issues.

The IEU participated in the government’s recent Teacher Workforce Roundtable where we highlighted the solutions our members have been raising for years – solutions that require wide-ranging and significant reform.

The current crisis is clearly linked to retention and recruitment. Improved pay rates, workload relief and enhanced career paths must head the list for immediate employer investment.

Early career teachers need more support to stay in the profession, with improved release time, professional development (PD) and mentoring programs.

Offering graduate teachers permanent jobs instead of insecure short-term contracts must become the new standard in all schools.

Winning the major improvements needed to wages and conditions won’t happen in a vacuum – it must be supported by a complementary review of a broken collective bargaining system that is holding back our members.

Our pay rates, leave entitlements, job security and workload protections all depend on a fair set of laws; however, the bargaining system has been stacked against employees for decades.

We need the government to restore some fairness and balance to a bargaining system that has such a major impact on the working lives of IEU members.

The government must also avoid quick-fix responses to teacher shortages like sending unqualified teachers into classrooms without adequate preparation.

Teaching is a highly complex and evolving profession, and rushing student teachers into classrooms before they are ready will only exacerbate early career burnout.

Teacher burnout and unsustainable workloads

Experienced teachers and school leaders are leaving the profession in staggering numbers and around a third of new teachers walk away from teaching in their first five years.

We know the reason – unsustainable workloads are leaving school staff exhausted and demoralised.

Teacher burnout caused by unsustainable workloads can be directly attributed to employer demands.

Additional administrative duties, new reporting formats, record-keeping and excessive testing are undermining the core role of teachers in the classroom.

However, the federal government also has an important part to play.

An obsession with data and a relentless cycle of compliance requirements are being driven by state and federal governments, culminating in competing priorities that are impossible for teachers to satisfy within reasonable working hours.

The simplification and streamlining of processes such as Nationally Consistent Collection of Data (NCCD) reporting is long overdue.

Any new government proposal should first satisfy the tests:

  • Does this initiative support quality learning in the classroom?
  • Do teachers have the time and resources to make it work?

We now have a real opportunity to make lasting improvements to the Australian education system, and our union will be front and centre to make sure the new government avoids repeating the failures of the past.