The most urgent task in improving the quality of NSW school education is in improving the quality of teaching. We need to face some basic facts. The State’s teaching profession is old and getting older. Yes, it has some good, dedicated people in its ranks but overall, its structure and rewards are substandard.
This has resulted in NSW schools going backwards, both by international standards and by comparison to other Australian States and Territories (see data in Appendix below). NSW schools are in decline yet Labor and Liberal never talk about meaningful education reform. NSW One Nation regards schools policy as the number-one long-term issue facing the State. A vital starting point is to lift teacher quality.
As a vocation, teaching no longer attracts the best Year 12 graduates into studying education at university. Whereas in the 1960s, bright high-achieving secondary students would pursue a career in teaching, today they are more likely to want top-paying jobs in information technology, finance and business management.
The status of teaching has dropped. It is no longer seen as a prestigious, well-paid profession. For many school-leavers, it is now viewed as the equivalent of social work – a job for ‘hard triers’ uninterested in earning decent money. In communities around NSW, you are more likely to find a young, switched-on person running your local coffee shop than running your local government school.
Amazingly, people who failed at school are now teaching in schools. University admission levels for teaching degrees have dropped alarmingly. The problem is so bad university administrators have tried to keep it hidden from public view. In September 2018, a Sydney University whistle-blower released a report showing that, in NSW and the ACT, students with ATARs in the 0-19 band have been admitted to university courses for teaching.
In 2015 students who scored in the bottom 50 percent of school leavers made up one-half of those offered places in teaching degrees. Only 7.2 percent of offers went to NSW/ACT students with ATARs above 90. Just 0.3 percent scored above 98.
In some subject areas, the situation is even worse. A 2015 study by the Australian Primary Principals Association found that every second primary school principal “could not teach mathematics to a reasonable level”. In two out of every five Year 7-10 mathematics classes, the ‘teacher’ at the front of the room does not have any maths qualifications.
Urgent action is needed to lift the status, rewards and effectiveness of the teaching profession. State Government policies over many years have put NSW schools in a bad situation. To avoid salary increases and extra budgetary costs, successive governments have negotiated industrial provisions with softer working conditions, as a trade off for decent teacher remuneration. This is especially true of ‘pupil-free days’ at the end of the school year (when any professional development benefits are lost over the long Christmas/New Year holiday period).
It is virtually impossible to remove substandard teachers from the system. Workplace arrangements have been set for the comfort of staff, rather than the best interests of students. A long-serving NSW teacher, for instance, can take six months of accumulated leave (with a relief teacher looking after her class) and then return to the same school working part-time. This industrial entitlement creates disruptive job-sharing arrangements in the class (with two part-time teachers).
Nobody inside the system, and certainly not the students and parents using it, knows exactly which teachers are performing well and which ones should be removed. Under the current government, high school principals with a proven record of failure have been promoted into the new departmental unit designed to mentor other principals. Having wrecked their own school’s results they are showing others how to do it.
NSW is yet to develop a teaching cohort and performance measures fit for educating children to the highest international standard. Imagine the reaction if trainee doctors, vets or engineers had tertiary admission scores of 0-19. Why should teaching be regarded differently, given its critical importance for the nation’s future?
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation will put the needs of students and parents first. We acknowledge research showing that the most effective policy lever in improving a child’s education is to lift the quality of teaching. We believe in improving teacher pay and measuring teacher performance. As with all parts of public administration, what gets measures gets done.
NSW One Nation policy is to:
Improve the prestige, pay and performance of the teaching profession. To teach in NSW government schools, graduates will need to meet a 70/70 minimum quality standard: a school-leaving ATAR of at least 70 and a university degree average of at least 70 percent. NSW can afford to be selective in this regard, as the labour market is already flooded with teaching graduates.
Introduce performance-based pay. High performing classroom teachers will be eligible for bonuses of up to $50,000 per annum, while substandard teachers will be removed from the system. With classroom teachers in NSW typically earning $80-110,000 per annum, the $50,000 bonus represents a 45-65% salary increase – going a long way to restoring the status of teaching and the profession’s financial appeal.
We recommend the following funding source for upgrading teacher quality and remuneration in NSW: doubling the additional Efficiency Dividend (ED) announced in the 2018/19 Budget (targeting back office savings, including workplace programs such as ‘unconscious bias’ and ‘diversity’ training, and affiliation fees to associated bodies). Overall, the ED will increase from 3 to 4 percent. This will raise $1.6 billion over 4 years – a crucial investment in teachers and students.
Measure teacher performance through a rigorous, regular system of classroom testing, with the emphasis on value-adding – the value each teacher adds to the education of their students. For example, testing a class at the beginning and end of the year and assessing the improvement (or regression) in results over the 10-month period.
Modernise the government school industrial relations system through the introduction of performance-based employment contracts. Archaic industrial provisions disadvantaging students should be abolished.
Appendix: NSW School Results Falling Behind the Rest of the World and Rest of Australia
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), measures the skills and knowledge of 15-year-olds (as they near the end of their compulsory school years) across 72 OECD countries or partner economies. In every discipline NSW has experienced a hefty decline in academic attainment over the past decade.
In reading literacy, Australia now ranks behind comparable countries such as New Zealand, Canada and Ireland, plus Asian competitor nations Singapore and Japan. More than 40 percent of NSW students failed to reach the National Proficient Standard, ranking the State behind Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia and the ACT. Since 2000 our results have fallen by 36 points (the second biggest drop in Australia).
In mathematical literacy, Australia’s performance was significantly behind 19 countries. Forty-five percent of NSW students failed to reach the National Proficient Standard, ranking us behind Victoria, Western Australia and the ACT. Since 2003 NSW has experienced a 32-point decline in results (while Victoria and the Northern Territory had no decline).
In scientific literacy, Australia ranked 10th internationally, again behind Singapore, Japan and Canada. More than 40 percent of NSW students fell short of the National Proficient Standard. Since 2006 NSW has suffered the biggest decline in scientific literacy scores in Australia, with a 27-point drop.
Some of the results are straight-out embarrassing. In 2016, in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Australia fell behind Kazakhstan – making us the butt of Borat jokes. Over a four-year period, we fell from 18th place internationally to 28th in Year 4 maths; 12th to 17th in Year 8 maths; 12th to 17th in Year 8 science; and stayed at 25th place in Year 4 science.