Redundancy rush signals crisis in morale
by Peter Mac The NSW Department of Education's recent offer of a special redundancy payment for 400 positions has been met with a flood of applications. More than 1800 of the state's 55,000 public school teachers enquired about the offer, of whom 700 have formally applied for redundancy. The response to the offer has revealed an ominous state of affairs in NSW public education, with low morale and serious misgivings among teachers about the government's plans for the future of public education. The situation has not been assisted by the Federal Government's new criteria for allocating funding to private schools. If implemented, this would mean that the wealthier private schools would receive an even larger share of the money — a sort of means-testing in reverse. The result would be proportionately less money for the public school system, with larger class sizes and more pressure on teachers as the education system tried to meet increasing demand for service with even fewer resources. However, that's not the only aspect of the story. Although the offer involved an apparently generous special $50,000 "golden handshake", the government does not give money away for no reason, and many teachers are asking why the offer was made at all. In other areas of government employment, tempting offers of redundancy "packages" have foreshadowed partial or total privatisation of the organisation concerned. In many cases this has involved shedding large numbers of staff by means of special redundancy payouts, the breaking up of the organisation into smaller units and its eventual sale to the private sector, with redundancies offered throughout the entire process. Significantly, NSW teachers were advised that there would be no barrier to them entering the private education system if they took redundancy. Although it is not clear at this stage whether the offer does signal an intention to radically modify the education system, it is abundantly clear that the system is at a dangerously low ebb. The current offer has ostensibly been made with the intention of replacing "tired and disenchanted" teachers with younger members of the profession. This represents an implicit attempt to blame older teachers for the critical state of government schools. It also assumes, incorrectly, that the numbers of trainee teachers and new recruits to the system are adequate to meet the current demand for teacher positions and to fill the vacancies created by the 400 redundancy payouts. The Government has given no guarantees that it will replace the 400 retirees. The Deputy President of the NSW Teachers' Federation, Jennifer Leete, commented that the low morale was associated with the lack of career opportunities for senior teaching staff, and that the education system would be better served by offering teachers inducements to teach in hard- to-staff areas rather than redundancies. The offer also seems to assume that low morale is restricted to older teachers, whereas the problem is widespread. Ms Leete noted that the state of morale was in large part a result of last year's protracted pay dispute, which was characterised by vicious anti- teacher coverage in the bourgeois media and was described by Ms Leete as a government "war" on teacher pay. Ms Leete commented: "Teachers are constantly getting the message: not only does the community not value them, but their employer doesn't value them either." She also pointed out that many teachers were disillusioned with having to work for years without the prospect of a pay increase. The process of application itself was hardly likely to improve morale, or to improve the successful applicants' chances of gaining future employment in education. As the Chairman of the Public Schools Principals' Forum, Mr Brian Cudleigh pointed out, in order to apply for the redundancy the teacher concerned had to present a self-assessment as "pretty disillusioned, burnt out and lacking in motivation". Not only that, but in order for the applicant to be successful the principal of the school had to endorse that assessment! For public school teachers, and for public education in general, the redundancy offer is shaping up as a very nasty lemon.