Temporary contracts, long-term problems

Alarming new research confirms what our union has long campaigned on – the substantial difficulties teachers on contracts face due to their insecure employment status, journalist Emily Campbell writes.

A recent survey of 18,000 members of the NSW Teachers’ Federation regarding their workload and experiences has reinforced the importance of our union’s ongoing work in fighting back against fixed-term contracts and abolishing precarious working arrangements.

This survey on the issue in government schools, echoes the long-term trends identified by our union in the non-government sector.

Through surveys and member engagement, the IEU has continued to campaign and achieve substantial change when to comes to insecure jobs.

Fixed-term contracts concern The use of fixed-term contracts remains a major issue in the non-government education sector, causing teachers and school support staff uncertainty and stress.

IEU branches are fighting for better protections for members, including limiting the use of fixed-term contracts by employers so they are only used for genuine short-term needs. Fixed-term contracts should also not be used as a probationary period.

IEU members employed on fixed-term contracts who have any doubts about the validity of the reason should immediately contact their union branch for advice.

Pressure to outperform

The results of this latest survey in the government sector showed teachers employed on short fixed-term contracts feel forced to compete with their colleagues to stay employed.

Dr Meghan Stacey, lead author of the study and academic from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) School of Education, said despite having a similar workload to their counterparts employed in continuing roles, teachers on fixed-term contracts felt compelled to go above and beyond to impress.

“There’s an unspoken pressure on these teachers to ‘do more’ to increase their chance of getting more work,” Dr Stacey said.

“They feel they have to jump through extra hoops or take on extra work just to have their contracts renewed or to be considered for a continuing position.

“Temporary teaching work is not like casual work – the hours and demands are considerably higher.

“There’s a frustration because they’re essentially doing the same work as teachers employed on a continuing basis, just without any security,” she said.

Animosity between colleaguesSome teachers on contracts also reported feeling tension with permanent teaching staff, having to compete with others on fixed-term contracts in uneasy one-upmanship to secure a full-time position.

One respondent claimed they felt “being a temporary teacher is something that is consistently held over my head”, causing them to “have to increase my workload to ensure that I am a more desirable employee, and someone they would keep over others”.

“They know that their continued employment comes down to impressing those around them, particularly the school principal,” Dr Stacey said.

Career progression hindered

Dr Stacey said the negative, discouraging experiences of teachers on contracts could also affect their career progression.

“The uncertainty, and that sense of being undervalued, can be quite demoralising,” she said.

“It can also have a scarring effect for job prospects, not only on wages via promotion opportunities, but also professional development opportunities.”

The research showed women were more likely to be employed on fixed-term contracts than men, and less than a third of those teachers working on fixed-term contracts were doing so by choice.

“Our data also suggest that women may also stay longer on fixed-term contracts than men do, with potential implications for future career opportunities and leadership positions in schools,” she said.

Dr Stacey said converting long-serving temporary teachers into continuing positions would help manage workload demands, reduce turnover and promote career progression.

“New teachers working in today’s classrooms are tomorrow’s leaders, and we must do better to look after them and the future of public education.”


Stacey M, Fitzgerald S, Wilson R, McGrath-Champ S & Gavin M 2021 Teachers, fixed-term contracts and school leadership: Toeing the line and jumping through hoops Special Issue: Leadership and Policy in a Time of Precarity. Journal of Educational Administration and History. DOI: 10.1080/00220620.2021.1906633.