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IPA Report Riddled With Errors

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A report released by right-wing think-tank, the Institute for Public Affairs, attacking the role of enterprise agreements in defining salaries and conditions, is riddled with factual errors and superficial argument.  

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Plain Wrong on Teacher Salary Structure

In Freedom to Teach, Vicki Stanley & Darcy Allen, analyse the Enterprise Agreements covering public school teachers in every jurisdiction in Australia.

On the basis of their analysis, they claim that:

“All teachers must enter at the bottom of the classroom pay band, and incrementally move upwards within each range, regardless of individual performance or effectiveness in the workplace.” (p.7)

They further claim that: “… there is no opportunity for the recognition of non-teaching experience or workplace application of subject knowledge.” (p.7).

On the basis of these claims, the authors offer the following hypothetical:

“… a mature, career change scientist with a PhD must enter the teaching profession constrained to the same entry salary as a young, inexperienced teacher.” (p.6)

Justine Ferrari quoted IPA Executive Director John Roskam on the front-page of The Australian ($), who threw in a Nobel Prize for extra emphasis: “Under existing regulations, a Nobel prize-winning scientist who wants to be a teacher must be paid the same as a 22-year-old ­inexperienced graduate,” Mr Roskam said.

The Australian was so pleased with the scenario it repeated it in its editorial the next day.

“As IPA executive director John Roskam told Justine Ferrari on yesterday’s front page, existing regulations are so rigid that even a Nobel prize-winning scientist wanting to teach would progress through the system at the same rate as an inexperienced gradate.” (sic)

The only problem with this hypothetical and the claims underlying it is that, in respect to one jurisdiction at least – the ACT - they’re wrong.

The ACT Government Education Training & Directorate’s Guidelines for recognition of prior experience state:

“In accordance with clause N1 of the ACTPS Education and Training Directorate (Teaching Staff) Enterprise Agreement 2011-2014, prior experience may be recognised… Recognition of completed years of service as a qualified teacher (teaching, lecturing or tutoring) at a non affiliated/ certified school or educational institution, including post secondary education institutions such as TAFE, institutes of technology, universities and registered training. One prior experience step… will be recognised for each period of two full years, to a maximum of nine steps.

The ACT Education & Training Directorate’s Guidelines for recognition of additional qualifications state:

A permanent classroom teacher may be awarded an additional single incremental advancement in recognition of an additional tertiary award. The additional tertiary award must be over and above the minimum four years full time (or equivalent) tertiary study leading to the award for recognised teaching qualification…”.

In the highly unlikely situation that a Nobel Prize-winning scientist did not have sufficient prior experience and additional qualifications to propel them to the top of the classroom teacher salary scale, they would be very likely to be eligible for accelerated incremental progression. Section O8.7 (p.85) of the ACT Public Service Education and Training Directorate (Teaching Staff) Enterprise Agreement 2011-2014 outlines how a teacher can ‘undertake assessment for accelerated incremental progression on the basis of outstanding performance’. Stanley & Allen do acknowledge accelerated incremental progression (p.8) but don’t consider its application to their hypothetical.

Additionally, a teacher with this kind of expertise in their subject area could be very well suited to apply for an Executive Teacher (Professional Practice) position, outlined in Section O8.6 (p.84) of the Agreement, which has a focus on ‘exemplary classroom teaching and capacity building in teaching practice’. This position receives the same salary as a head of a department and allows the teacher to remain in the classroom at all times, either teaching students directly or mentoring other teachers.

So, contrary to the picture provided by the IPA report and repeated by The Australian, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who decided to teach in an ACT public school would very quickly, if not immediately, find themselves at the top of the salary scale earning considerably more than a first-year graduate. 

Stanley & Allen fail to mention the Executive Teacher (Professional Practice) position at all and this omission leads to an additional element of misrepresentation. They claim:

“Earning capacity is limited to the upper threshold of the payment band. Once the top of the scale has been reached the only potential for salary progression is through a move to a non-classroom band to the higher promotional or principal bands.” 


“Rather than recognising and rewarding excellent performance in classroom teachers this creates an incentive for the loss of specialist subject knowledge from the classroom.” (p.7)

In fact, the Executive Teacher (Professional Practice) position enables teachers to progress beyond the teacher salary scale while continuing to teach in the classroom. Their role mentoring other teachers is specifically designed to allow them to impart their pedagogical and subject expertise.

This series of inaccuracies, which materially impact on the case the IPA seeks to make, involve at least a number of sloppy oversights. It raises the question as to whether there are further inaccuracies when the report is considered in relation to Agreements in other jurisdictions.

Moreover, the errors are symptomatic of the attempt to wield a broad brush that would discredit any and every meaningful system-based enterprise agreement. A closer look reveals there Agreements include provisions that address the putative problems Stanley & Allen raise.

 

No Consideration of the Cost of Shifting the Burden to Schools

There are plainly significant costs associated with school managers making a high-stakes assessment of the value each individual teacher adds – as the IPA advocate.

For instance, Jensen in Better Teacher Appraisal and Feedback: Improving Performance (2011: 32), estimates the cost of an improved system of teacher appraisal as follows:

"If we consider an extreme example, in which no savings are made in teachers’ working time, these four methods [peer observation and collaboration; student surveys; student performance and assessments; and 360-degree feedback.] will take up about 8.5 days in each teacher’s year, 17 days in each leading teacher’s year and 17 days in each school leader’s year. This is equivalent to, on average, 3.5% of each teacher’s annual working time and 7% of each school leader’s time. The estimated annual cost of this time across the government school system is $678 million. This is almost 4% of government school system employee-related expenditure and about 2% of total expenditure." (Jensen, Better Teacher Appraisal and Feedback: Improving Performance, 2011: 32)

Stanley and Allen's proposal is likely to be more costly than Jensen's because it is high stakes, yet they give no consideration to this cost, let alone attempt to calculate it. Thus they do not present a case that the cost of their recommendations is less than the consequent benefit; or whether this activity would improve student outcomes more than activities currently performed using this time.

Similarly, they do not acknowledge, let alone justify, the issues associated with workload burden for school leaders (including how it will be resourced). The recent Principal Health and Well-being Survey conducted by Philip Riley at the ACU found that half of principals work upwards of 56 hours per week and 13% work upwards of 66 hours per week.

“Too many participants in the survey are working too many hours and it is taking a toll on their greatest support group; their families. Work-Family conflict occurs at approximately double the rate for the population generally. The amount of emotional labour expected of principals and deputies/assistants is 1.7 times that of the population.” (Executive Summary, p.8)

An additional cost, that Stanley and Allen again do not consider, is reduced individual motivation and reduced team collaboration resulting from actual or perceived errors in assessment of teacher-added value.

There seems to be considerable scope for perceived and actual inconsistency between schools as well as within them. Minimising this undesired consequence would require accurate and sophisticated measurement mechanisms. Accuracy and sophistication are themselves likely to cost more. For example, lesson observations might have to be increasingly regular (once a fortnight or month rather than once a year), thus becoming an increasingly significant pressure on teacher/ school leader time.

No consideration is given to the training, skills, qualifications, resources and professional networks teachers and school leaders need to assess other educators in a satisfactory or optimal way.

The negative attitude towards the 2016 transition in NSW to a structure based on professional certification is indicative of Stanley & Allen's underlying assumption of management by fiat, and the vague, criterion-less, personality-based mode of assessment they are implicitly envisaging.

It is also indicative of their lack of understanding of the effort and complexity involved: they criticise the NSW process on the basis of the burden of preparing a portfolio, reasonably enough, but do not consider how any kind of objective evidence-based process would work at school level - and the burdens it would necessarily impose.

The NSW standards-based structure is criticised on the basis that it effectively incentivises performing well on the assessment instrument, the portfolio of evidence, rather than performing well in the classroom itself.

But this is an inherent limitation of all assessment. If a principal was, for example, to determine pay on the basis of lesson observations it would create an incentive for teachers to disproportionately invest in that lesson at the expense of others. No consideration is given to how school-based assessment of teacher performance would mitigate against this inherent limitation.

In Better Teacher Appraisal Jensen identified the following mechanisms of teacher appraisal: Student performance and assessments; Peer observation and collaboration; Direct observation of classroom teaching and learning; Student surveys and feedback; 360-degree assessment and feedback; Self-assessment; Parent surveys and feedback; and External observation (p.9). The merits of these or other mechanisms, the appropriate mix, and the consequent costs are simply not considered by the IPA.

 

What’s the real constraint?

In Justine Ferrari’s coverage of the IPA report, AEU Federal President, Angelo Gavrielatos, agreed that:

“There are currently few career options for teachers but to move to administrative and leadership roles after they have reached the top of the salary scale after eight or nine years,” and that “Proper career structures and competitive professional salaries for all teachers is the best way to attract and retain the best teachers and to improve educational outcomes in the classroom.”

The argument that we need to reward teachers for staying in the classroom is correct and already widely accepted.

The point he made was that it was State and Territory Governments, rather than the AEU, who have proved reluctant to innovate in this regard. “The AEU has repeatedly indicated a preparedness to negotiate additional, enhanced career structures underpinned by standards; it is governments who have refused to put money on the table to achieve such an outcome.”

The resource constraints behind the refusal to put money on the table won’t be solved by the IPA’s prescriptions.

 

No international evidence  

No international or interstate comparisons are made that indicate that hollowed out agreements are a feature of high performing jurisdictions. Their only reference to international comparisons is to acknowledge that: “Compared to other OECD countries, Australia is currently able to provide a relatively high standard of student outcomes at reasonable cost. (OECD, Education at a Glance (2014), 215), (p.5).

No evidence is provided to suggest that this is the most cost-effective way to improve student outcomes, as opposed to, say, enhanced professional collaboration (a reform their proposals could well mitigate against).

Even if the IPA view of common features of teacher enterprise agreements were accepted, the report doesn’t establish that school-based agreements or hollowed-out system-based agreements are the only way of remedying the issues it raises. What such agreements would achieve, however, is a massive increase in employer power and a consequent decline in teacher salaries and conditions. In turn, this would dramatically undermine attraction and retention of teaching staff.

 

False equation between Stand-down and Annual Leave

The IPA argue that: “The industrial relations regime that teachers work under means they sacrifice salary in exchange for more time off work.  For example, a teacher earning $75,000 a year has 11 weeks away from work and 17.5% holiday leave loading.  On a ‘standard year’ of 48 weeks work this equates to a salary of over $95,000 a year.”

The argument that, in reality, teachers are partly paid with holidays has an element of truth in it. However, the way the IPA quantify this trade-off is highly erroneous. It treats stand-down time (aka term-break, holidays) as annual leave. This is plain wrong: teachers do a considerable amount of work during stand-down periods. The correct calculation would subtract the work performed during stand-down from the 11 weeks the IPA characterises as annual leave.

The equation of stand-down with annual leave also does not account for the way, in practice, many teachers partly regard it as a kind of Time Off In Lieu (TOIL). In other words, it is likely that many teachers would not be prepared to work 50 hour weeks in term time (as measured by the 2014 Staff in Australian Schools Survey) if they did not receive what they reasonably regard as compensation during stand-down.

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