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SENATE EMPLOYMENT, EDUCATION AND TRAINING REFERENCES COMMITTEE - 14/10/97 - Status of teachers

CHAIR —I call the committee to order and welcome the witnesses from the Northern Territory Joint Council of Professional Teaching Associations. The committee prefers that evidence be given in public but, should you at any stage wish to give your evidence, part of your evidence or answers to specific questions in camera, you may ask to do so and the committee will consider your request. I point out, however, that evidence taken in camera may subsequently be made public by order of the Senate, as has happened in recent years. Is there any material that you would care to table at this stage?

Mr Laird —Yes, there is. We apologise for the late submission. We have responded to the elements set out by the Senate committee that we thought were relevant. We would like to table that.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. I would ask you now to make some introductory remarks and then the committee will put questions to you. If you could confine your opening remarks to about five minutes, then we will have more opportunity to hear from you exactly what the senators would like to hear. Could I encourage you to do that? Thank you for your document.

Mr Laird —I will confine my opening remarks to giving some background to the Northern Territory Joint Council of Professional Teaching Associations. It is a voluntary organisation, which partially explains our late written submission. It is a peak organisation representing other professional associations, all of whom exist on voluntary labour. Teachers put in their own time to form professional associations to provide mutual support to each other as professionals and to engage in service delivery by way of professional development activities and advocacy.

This appearance this morning, of course, is one of the roles as advocate for professional associations in the Northern Territory, as well as being an advocate to the Northern Territory Department of Education and other relevant authorities on matters concerning professional development and teachers. We also provide a forum for professional associations in the Northern Territory to make their views known on a range of matters relevant to professional development.

We would like to confine our statements mainly to the public image of teachers

and matters concerning professional development, both in-service and pre-service, and have made in our written submission some recommendations which go to the nub of what we have to say concerning professional development. I invite Rhyl to butt in at any time if he wants to.

We have a concern about the public attitude to teachers, especially during the last few years, where it seems prevalent that media bashing of teachers is encouraged. It has been prevalent, and it seems to coincide with the era of enterprise bargaining. Whether it is a result of that process is perhaps not for us to say. We would welcome any initiative which gives teachers a much more positive public profile, and we think that it is the role of employer associations and the government to provide a much more positive image of teachers as an attractive and important profession for the future of all Australians.

We regard the professional development aspects as pivotal to the future of those already in the profession and also those entering the profession now, so that is why we make some comments about pre-service as well as in-service professional development. We think that there needs to be an extension of funding for innovative and collaborative professional development opportunities like was provided through the previous national professional development program. It provided funding for a collaborative professional development venture here in the Northern Territory called `Renewing teachers' knowledge', which brought together both employer and employee associations, the Northern Territory university and professional associations to work together and allow teachers themselves to identify their needs and develop units of work which were relevant to those needs.

We think the recent granting of release time for primary teachers in the Northern Territory to be crucial, and it should be maintained and extended to allow for professional reflection and the development of strategies for identifying and working with change, and we make some comments about change in our written submission.

In terms of work force planning, we think that the funding of relief teacher days for professional development should be provided separately to schools. Currently in the Northern Territory it is provided in a minuscule lump sum to schools, an average of 6[half ] days full-time equivalent teacher, and is meant to cover both sickness and professional development. We see it as harmful to professionalism to link those two.

We think that additional teachers need to be employed to provide professional development and to enable the release of teachers from their school for professional development activities to continue the renewal and regeneration of the profession.

As far as pre-service courses are concerned, we think that the status of teachers would be enhanced by higher tertiary entrance scores for education courses, more relevant course content, and professional development of student teacher supervisors. Currently there is minimal support given to supervising teachers in schools, and we note with

concern that the university does not seem to be making a submission to the Senate committee today.

Finally, we think that there should be more opportunity for networking in the Northern Territory where teachers are often teaching in isolation. As a joint council, we have provided funding for some professional development opportunities for teachers from remote areas to get together and have small but important conferences to deal with issues which they have identified as important. The isolation of our teachers means that this is a very expensive exercise and it takes place all too rarely, and we think that more opportunities to do that should be provided by the Department of Education.

The department currently provides some orientation by way of a few days at the start of the year for those teachers who are employed then, but teachers starting after the start of the year miss out on that opportunity for orientation. We think that the provision of an orientation recall is vital to reinforce the learning and orientation that takes place at the start of the year as well as to reinforce the networks which start with your peers when you enter the teaching profession. I think that there should be more opportunities for workshops and conferences like that.

ACTING CHAIR —Would you like to add anything?

Ms Watkins —No, I think that pretty well sums up the nature of our evidence.

ACTING CHAIR —Senators, any questions?

Senator ALLISON —Are you in favour of a national registration board?

Ms Watkins —We could only give our own individual views on that, rather than the views of the NT joint council. We do not have a policy on it but, from a personal perspective, it would seem to be a reasonable thing to happen, particularly for the Northern Territory where we depend so much on the recruitment of teachers from interstate and we are unable to train sufficient teachers for our needs here for either primary or secondary schools. Therefore, if there was a national registration system, there would be more likelihood that we could control or have some sort of guarantee about the quality of the people being employed.

Mr Laird —Can I just add there that, personally, it would also enable portability. Because teaching is a very mobile profession, or seems to be a mobile profession from the perspective of the Northern Territory, it would enable more portability both of entitlements and ease of transfer between the states and territories.

Senator ALLISON —What is the relationship between your organisation and the teacher unions? Do you simply represent teachers in relation to professional development and leave the rest of the negotiations with government to the unions? How do you work

together, firstly, and what is the difference between your organisation and the unions in terms of what you do?

Mr Laird —Both education unions in the Northern Territory are members of our association and engage in some professional development activities. So that is their relationship with us. We leave the negotiations with the government about enterprise agreement matters to the unions.

Senator ALLISON —Are there similar bodies in other states? I do not think we have come across any others.

Mr Laird —Yes, in most other states, and there is a federal peak organisation called the Australian Joint Council of Professional Teaching Associations.

Senator ALLISON —Thank you. I note your comments about the need for time to be set aside for meaningful professional development. You would be aware then that the Northern Territory government intends to go into an EBA process, as I understand it, and negotiate that professional development be outside normal teaching hours. Are you aware of that, and what is your view?

Mr Laird —We are not aware of that.

Ms Watkins —Every time awards come up for renegotiation, there are rumours that this is on the table. So far, that has not actually come to fruition. I know that there is a view that perhaps teachers have plenty of time to do such things as professional development out of work hours, but I think that, with their existing work, they are already using an enormous amount of their own so-called private time on their classroom duties, on duties for the school.

Although we have these so-called extended holiday periods during the year, during stand down periods you can go to any school and find teachers there working, getting ready for their students in the next term. My own personal point of view is that putting the professional development of teachers into after hours and stand down time will impose an enormous burden on already overloaded and overworked teachers.

Mr Laird —It will add to the devaluation of the teaching profession in the Northern Territory because already, as Rhyl has said, lots of these activities take place on weekends and during stand down time. What teachers would really like for that is some recognition that they do engage with these in professional dialogue during this time, and that is not currently there.

Senator ALLISON —So you would agree with the proposition that even to go into negotiation with this perspective on the part of the government is damaging to the status of teachers? Does that send a message to the community that teachers have lots of time in

which this sort of development might be used? You would agree with that?

Mr Laird —Yes.

Senator ALLISON —Thank you. I am interested in your comments about the 6.5 days set aside for sickness and professional development and your discussion about the harmfulness of that link. I would invite you to expand a bit more on that. Why is it harmful and how does it work? Does it mean, if somebody is sick for 6[half ] days of the year, that they would get none for professional development? If they take no sick leave, does it mean it is all available for professional development? How does it actually operate?

Ms Watkins —Perhaps I could comment because I work with reliefs in a school. It is a notional amount of funding, I guess, which the folklore suggests includes one day a year for professional development and the rest for sickness time. It has not been identified as being like that; that is the kind of folklore that goes with it. I guess initially, when that funding was given to schools, rather than having the relief teacher days paid for automatically by the department, it was worked out on the basis of past experience. Of course, the perception is that, when the department gives money to schools to undertake certain functions which it used to undertake, there is an element of cost cutting involved in that, and therefore the responsibility was given to schools to curtail teacher absence.

There have been times within schools where teachers who were supposed to be going out onto professional development activities have been recalled because of other teacher absences where teachers could not be spared from the schools. The system is that if a teacher is absent for 15 days the department will pay for the relief teacher that is employed. In my school last month we had 183 days of teacher absence. Only 26 days were for illness. The rest were for official activities like sporting activities, professional meetings, professional development activities and, of course, moderation activities for senior courses.

ACTING CHAIR (Senator Carr) —Could you repeat those figures for us again, please?

Ms Watkins —There were 183 teacher absence days in September. That is from 1 to 26 September.

ACTING CHAIR —One month?

Ms Watkins —That is one month. Of those, there were only 26 days of illness included. The rest were various professional activities.

ACTING CHAIR —How big is your school?

Ms Watkins —We are a small school. We have about 470 students and we have

one principal, two assistant principals, six ET2s or senior teachers, and 26 teachers.

ACTING CHAIR —So that is a staffing establishment of 37?

Ms Watkins —Yes.

ACTING CHAIR —So 183 absences in one month.

Ms Watkins —Yes.

Senator ALLISON —I understand that there are some 35 places—I think from memory—which are not able to be filled in the Northern Territory currently. What happens in those schools where they cannot put a teacher into a classroom?

Ms Watkins —Again, speaking from experience in my school, we hire relief teachers, whatever relief teacher is available—not necessarily the one who would be best qualified to do the job. We had, for example, a special ed. teacher who resigned halfway through last term, and we hired just one of our relief teachers to do the job, but that person did not have any special qualifications for relief teachers. We have a teacher librarian who is currently working with another section on an information technology project. We have hired a relief teacher to do her job, but the person hired has no teacher librarian qualifications.

Senator ALLISON —So if there is a pool of relief teachers, why are these people not employed in those positions?

Ms Watkins —There are relief teachers, but many of those people are taken up through the year by being offered contract positions such as the ones that I have just identified, so the number of relief teachers seems to diminish through the year.

Mr Laird —And there is a shortage of relief teachers in remote areas. My work in the department takes me to lots of the remote schools and, in cases where there are not teachers available to fill those teaching positions, often the positions are not filled. Sometimes the schools remain closed after the stand down holiday period.

Senator ALLISON —So the government is not providing education in those areas where they cannot get teachers? The school closes and education is not provided; is that correct?

Mr Laird —You would have to ask the Department of Education that.

Senator ALLISON —We will. I am interested in what you described as an innovative program in professional development, `Renewing teachers' knowledge', in the Northern Territory. I invite you to tell us a bit more about that, but has this program now

finished, and can you just confirm that that particular one was part of the national professional development program funded by the federal government?

Mr Laird —Yes, it was funded by the federal government. It is finished in one aspect and not in another. It developed courses largely for external delivery through the Northern Territory university. Professional associations were invited to identify needs of their association members in terms of renewing their knowledge and professional development issues, and then were invited to develop courses to address those needs.

Those courses were courses in mathematics education, music, education for both primary and secondary teachers and that sort of thing. They were available externally, and there was a core unit, which was teaching for change, which dealt with changes in pedagogical issues. It was the only one that was a face-to-face contact unit, and it was delivered in the middle of the year during the stand down and was fully funded. Participants were funded to travel to that and were paid accommodation allowance and all that sort of thing. That is actually continuing. The Department of Education has continued to fund that core unit from the start of the year. In that sense the project continues because it is still offered through the university and will be maintained accreditation for the next couple of years, I believe.

Ms Watkins —So teachers can now enrol in something called a Graduate Certificate in Education (RTK)—renewing teachers' knowledge.

Senator ALLISON —Having done that course, are their salaries adjusted upwards? What sorts of rewards are there for doing that kind of training?

Mr Laird —Some teachers who have done it who perhaps do not have their fourth year of training can then access the top of the scale because in the Northern Territory the teachers' salaries are such that there is a barrier at 0.7 on the scale above which three-year trained teachers cannot progress unless they have done point allocation of professional development and/or formal study requirements. So that course would enable them to cross that barrier and access the top of the teachers' scale.

Senator ALLISON —What is the cost of that course?

Mr Laird —The cost of delivery or of participating?

Senator ALLISON —The cost of accessing it by teachers.

Ms Watkins —It is a HECS course now. It is not a full fee-paying course. The university has managed to maintain it as a HECS course.

Mr Laird —And it was collaborative in the sense that the Department of Education, both unions, the professional association, the Catholic Education Office and

independent schools all worked collaboratively on it, managed the project, managed the development of the core unit, and have all made commitments in some form or another to the continuation of that course.

Senator ALLISON —If I can move on to the subject of literacy, the minister has made some remarks about how to remedy the current situation. I wonder if you could give us your perspective from the Northern Territory. Are more English classes—I think 90 minutes a day is stipulated here—an uncrowding of the curriculum? I would like your comment about whether or not the curriculum here is crowded. Is it helpful for the students in the Northern Territory who might have difficulties with learning? Can I ask you to just expand on the particular difficulties, learning disabilities, that might be experienced by particularly the Aboriginal community? I am thinking of some of the diseases related to poor hygiene and general standards of living.

Mr Laird —I do not think that these statements are very helpful—the proportion, the third, who were behind in terms of literacy—which have been commonly bandied about in the media. We have at least a third of our school population being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and they face compound disadvantages when attending school, one of which you have mentioned, which is health, and the other is a not necessarily English-literate home life which the mainstream of the Australian student population has—and also English as a second, third of even fourth language when they attend school.

There is not the full resourcing of schools in order to deal with those compound disadvantages, let alone the ability to achieve significantly changed outcomes within a year, after which there is the threat of withdrawal of some funding. I believe the previous minister made that suggestion. So I do not think the comments are very helpful. I think that there has been continuing and ongoing debate about literacy within the profession and we should await more considered deliberations on it.

Senator ALLISON —Can I ask you what the response of the teachers you represent was? What did it do for teacher morale to have those kinds of remarks made?

Mr Laird —Nothing.

Ms Watkins —Absolutely nothing at all. I guess teachers see it from a different perspective. Speaking from a secondary schooling perspective, we take in students in year 8 whom we and the primary school know have severe learning difficulties. Some of the students coming in may have literacy levels of six or seven years of age. One of the problems that high schools have faced is the reduction of resources available to help students with learning difficulties. Not so long ago, the criterion for getting special education assistance for students with identified learning difficulties was that they were three years behind the mainstream. Now it is five years behind. They keep moving the goalposts, but there has been nothing put in place to assist teachers to help the people who now fall outside that safety net.


At five years behind, it means that in mainstream classes in high school in year 8, where most kids might be 13, you have kids with reading ages and numeracy ages of eight. Certainly high school teachers, as a whole, have not been trained to develop literacy and numeracy skills. The traditional high school teaching has been to deliver bodies of knowledge assuming that those levels of literacy and numeracy are there. Without the introduction of more resources in that area, people just scratch their heads and say, `Well, what can we do?' Certainly, it is not helpful then for politicians and others to say that the schools are not doing their jobs.

Mr Laird —Your comments about the crowding of the curriculum are relevant. The Department of Education last year, if memory serves me, set up a committee talking about the rationalisation of the primary curriculum due to the perceived overcrowding of it. Every primary teacher is very conscious that they are trying to deal with all of the areas of a curriculum in a fair and equal way, but are also conscious that literacy is a threshold issue, if you like, and try to teach literacy across all of those curriculum areas. It is a continuing battle to keep incorporating new improved exciting curriculum initiatives, no doubt, but there is a lot to be done during the day. There are not necessarily the resources to deal with those literacy difficulties.

Ms Watkins —The notion that schools and teachers spend only 90 minutes a day on literacy issues shows a gross misunderstanding of what actually happens in classrooms.

ACTING CHAIR —We are rapidly running out of time, so I would ask Senator Ferris if you could conclude this session for us. It is just that we are due to finish at 11 o'clock. Have you questions that can be put on notice?

Senator FERRIS —I will restrict my question to one only so there is time for Senator Stott-Despoja. I think you were here when I asked the question of the previous witness. The area of interest that I have is in attracting teachers and keeping them in the profession, taking into account the likely shortage in the years to come. I am particularly interested in the number of young people who decide on teaching as a profession and then, either part-way through their training or soon after graduation, they decide to use those skills in another profession altogether. The opportunity for those people to lift the level in a modern approach is lost. I would be interested in hearing any practical reasons why you think that might be happening and any practical suggestions that might improve the situation. Could you take into account what I see is a very sad commentary and that is the use of what are known as campus cops? One of the submissions—and we are yet to question this witness—says that a policeman is based at a school and is responsible for assisting with discipline. Is discipline one of the issues that removes teaching as an attractive profession for young people?

Ms Watkins —Could I just make a comment about the campus cop. We do have a system of school based policemen in the Northern Territory, but that is not their function. Their function is not to assist with discipline. Their function is to contribute to the

development of a positive relationship between young people and the police. They carry out education functions. They deliver, in particular, the DARE program to primary school kids. They may be based in high schools, but they go out to the primary schools in the region to develop the drug and alcohol resistance education programs. They are also an education resource for high school teachers in the area of law and health in the schools. They are certainly not there to discipline.

Senator FERRIS —As I say, the witness is yet to appear and obviously we will be interested in questioning that witness in due course. I would just like you to take into account whether the discipline issue is one which makes the teaching profession look less attractive for young people.

Ms Watkins —That is a point we made mention of in our written submission. We believe that inadequate attention is given to the whole question of behaviour management within the pre-service education courses. It certainly is an area that new teachers, whether they be young or mature age, have quite a lot of difficulty with and need a lot of support with when they get into schools.

I think many people go into teaching with very idealistic views of what they are able to achieve. Maybe they have forgotten what it was like to be students themselves and how unappreciative the children appear to be of their efforts. That often comes as quite a shock. They think, `I'm doing this to help you. Why don't you listen to me?' So that whole question of how to deal with what may not necessarily be naughty or violent children—although we do have those—but just kids who may need a little bit of energy channelling and so on, we believe, is just not given sufficient attention within the pre-service. If it is, it is done in such academic terms that it does not have a great deal of relevance to what happens in the classroom.

Senator FERRIS —Do you think that is a reason why young people are leaving teaching?

Ms Watkins —Yes, it is one of the reasons. It is not the only reason, but it is one of them.

Senator FERRIS —Do you have any comments, Mr Laird?

Mr Laird —I think part of the reason for the exodus from teaching—I hesitate to call it that, but it is the attraction of talented people out of the profession—is the stress related with the job because teaching is a very complex and demanding task. Part of the complexity is managing that and part of the complexity allows teachers to develop a whole range of skills. Those who develop a capacity for that will see that they are able to apply those skills to other positions which probably earn better money than is offered in the teaching profession.


Senator FERRIS —It has been informally suggested, if I can just introduce a slightly wider dimension, that either formal or informal mentoring in schools from teachers with several years standing at the school or certainly longer in the profession might be of assistance. How would you respond to that?

Mr Laird —I think it would. In the Northern Territory, there is a scheme of mentoring for Aboriginal teachers in the profession. There is sometimes an informal mentoring network amongst teachers, and part of the work of professional associations is to encourage that. Perhaps a formalisation of that would assist in maintaining and attracting teachers into the profession as well.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —I will put some questions on notice, but I will ask one in two parts. Firstly, do you have a view on the so-called feminisation of the teaching profession? I found it interesting reading the statistics in relation to the male-female teaching ratio in the Northern Territory.

Secondly, Mr Laird, you mentioned that one of your roles is as an advocacy group. You also mentioned you were concerned by the recent comments by Minister David Kemp. Did the joint council make some representation to the federal government on the matter of not just literacy per se but what I perceive as the attacks on teachers?

Mr Laird —I will take the second one first, if I may, because that is easier. We did not make a comment. We considered it informally and thought, `We're not going to stir the nest and encourage the debate to deteriorate any further.' That was our response. Given that we are a voluntary group and there were other demands on our time, that perhaps was an easy response to make, but that is what we did.

As regards feminisation, I am particularly interested in the concept because my background is primary teaching and I do not think there are enough males in primary teaching. I think that is for a whole range of reasons, not least of which is the status of the profession. It has been seen largely as a low status profession, and comments were made to me personally of, `Why don't you do secondary teaching? You're a male. Therefore, it's more important.' But I think primary teaching, with all due respect to secondary teachers, lays the foundation for all students' learning. It is a vital aspect and there needs to be more encouragement of males to enter the teaching profession generally.

CHAIR —Has there ever been encouragement for male teachers to stay away from primary education because of fears of paedophilia?

Mr Laird —Encouragement? Innuendo?

CHAIR —An off-the-record direction by the education department to male teachers to not be bothered. I should say, Mr Laird, that heads are nodding behind you, so maybe we will get them up to the table and ask them later.

Ms Watkins —Not as far as I am aware.

CHAIR —No official policy, ever?

Mr Laird —No official policy.

CHAIR —No any high status rumour?

Ms Watkins —Not that I have heard.

CHAIR —It is an interesting point that follows what Senator Stott Despoja said. A number of witnesses have told us about their fears in primary school, particularly as male teachers but also as women. Even if you touch a child in school now, you may finish up being charged with harassment. Do you know whether there is an element of that in what is turning young men off going into school?

Mr Laird —I think there is a fear for male people entering the profession, yes.

CHAIR —Much more than women?

Mr Laird —Yes.

CHAIR —In secondary school, too?

Ms Watkins —There is certainly no doubt that the constraints that recent publicity about such issues both in the Northern Territory and interstate has received has led to people being even more guarded about their relationships with students. It makes it very difficult for many of them to do their job in the way they feel they can best do it.

CHAIR —Thank you, Ms Watkins. Senator Stott Despoja, I think you have got the second part that you wanted to ask.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —No, I actually did the two parts. I will put on notice questions in relation to the TER as well as the questions I asked previous witnesses in relation to Abstudy funding cuts and the changes to HECS. I note that one member is from the Science Teachers Association, I think it is. I would be curious to know how they feel about the new tier system that penalises you if you decide to undertake science teaching.

Ms Watkins —But does not if you do education, and therefore gives a lower status to education forces.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —That is right.


CHAIR —My trouble is that we are now well past time and my colleagues Senators Carr and Campbell have not asked any questions. Senator Carr, do you have a burning desire to put something on the record?

Senator CARR —Does your association cover early childhood development teachers?

Ms Watkins —Yes.

Senator CARR —What role do they play in terms of the professional development? How much energy do you devote to early childhood development in your deliberations?

Ms Watkins —Each of the associations is able to apply to joint council for funding to run professional development activities, and the Early Childhood Association has done that. So we facilitate the provision of professional development by associations for their members.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —I have just one quick question in relation to the national schools network. Are you familiar with the national schools network?

Mr Laird —Yes.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —Did it function in the Northern Territory? What was your experience with it?

Mr Laird —Yes, it did. There were very positive reports of the experience in the Northern Territory of the functioning of the national schools network, and it continues. Those teachers who have engaged with it in those schools which have become pilot schools for the national schools network have continued their work.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —You see it as a very positive experience?

Mr Laird —Yes, because it talks about partnerships and allows that professional engagement with others. That is all I am aware of.

Ms Watkins —As a final comment, last year the joint council, along with many other bodies, contributed to a document called Enhancing teacher professionalism , which was commissioned by Dr Kemp. The outcome of that was the recommendation of the establishment of a national body for enhancing the professional status of teachers and for providing advice to the minister.

The Australian Joint Council of Professional Teaching Associations, along with other nominated groups, has provided names to Dr Kemp for his consideration. We did that back in July, but there seems to be a lack of feedback about the future of that body.

Given recent ministerial changes, we just do not know where that is. We were sort of hoping that there would be a national body with some profile that would be able to contribute to improving the way in which teachers are regarded by the community.

CHAIR —Thank you both very much. Could the committee have a copy of your submission to that report?

Ms Watkins —Certainly.

CHAIR —Thank you very much.

Mr Laird —Could I just make a follow-up comment about fear of paedophilia and all that. Perhaps the teacher registration board may provide a solution in dealing with the issue and the trivialisation.

CHAIR —Provide the committee with information?

Mr Laird —Yes.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. Is that what you are saying to us, Mr Laird, that, if we speak to them, we might find out information?

Mr Laird —No. Your idea of a national teacher registration board might provide a solution, but we do not have one. There are only two states, I believe.

CHAIR —That is right. I was a bit surprised. Sorry, I jumped the gun. I should have kept listening. Thank you very much.


[11.18 a.m.]