Teachers and the Waiting Game: Why Decentralisation is Vital for Public Schools

Jennifer Buckingham
05 February 2007 | IA80
Teachers and the Waiting Game: Why Decentralisation is Vital for Public Schools
  • On the most important aspects of education policy, state governments are in the grip of teacher unions. Public school staffing systems work for the benefit of teacher unions rather than students or even the majority of teachers.
  • With the exception of Victoria, public school principals and school communities have very little say over who is hired to teach in their school, who stays and who goes. These decisions are made by government bureaucrats and merit is typically at the bottom of the list.
  • New South Wales has one of the most rigid systems of public school teacher allocation but it is indicative of centralised systems in other states where teachers are allocated to schools using a hierarchical pecking order.
  • Centralised staffing systems are the bastion of teacher unions, which fiercely protect regulations that shelter poor teachers and privilege longevity over performance.
  • Despite recent changes to disciplinary policy it can still take up to 12 months to get rid of an incompetent teacher and principals have little authority over the final outcome. Poor teachers are more likely to be shuffled between schools than disciplined or dismissed, with serious repercussions for the teaching profession as well as students.
  • Centralised staffing delivers neither quality nor equality, and many teachers and principals are deeply dissatisfied with it. It puts the least experienced teachers in some of the most challenging schools, creating the added problem of high turnover rates. Put simply, students who most need quality teachers and consistency are least likely to get them.
  • Evidence from the largest and most credible international studies indicate that one of the hallmarks of effective schools is the ability to self-govern and to make important decisions that impact on the quality of education they can offer.
  • Schools should be given their entire personnel budget, which should be proportionate to the school’s needs, to recruit the mix of staff they require. Often it is not a matter of convincing teachers to move to a country town but rather to move out of their comfort zone.
  • Many teachers want flexibility and self-determination in their career paths and to be rewarded for hard work. Strategies to ensure an adequate supply of quality teachers for Australian schools into the future routinely fail to address this.
  • If public schools are to thrive and flourish into the future, the power nexus between teacher unions and state governments must be broken. Decentralising teacher employment allows teachers to make professional career choices. It allows schools to employ the teachers that are most suitable for their students, rewarding excellence over patience.

Jennifer Buckingham is a Research Fellow with the Social Foundations program at The Centre for Independent Studies.

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