The Guardian November 22, 2000


NSW teachers:
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.

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