The President writes

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Teachers are committed to their students, and to the profession

August 24, 2018

No doubt you have seen the headlines and social media stories that claim teachers are leaving the profession in droves — just walking away.

Sometimes the figure quoted is 30 per cent. One article earlier this year claimed it is 40 per cent. Last year, a Sydney Morning Herald report boosted it to 50 per cent. From 30 per cent to 50 per cent? That’s a pretty large margin of error.

The impression the reports give is that teaching is such an unattractive profession that people are not willing to remain in it. Sometimes the writers purport to be sympathetic to teachers, but in reality these articles give a very negative picture of what it is like to be a teacher.

Let me declare from the outset that I believe there is no profession more important, rewarding or enjoyable than teaching. For this reason, throughout my working life, I have always encouraged young, bright students to consider teaching as a career.

However, persistent reports that huge numbers of teachers are quitting made me curious. This is not what I have experienced in any NSW public school I have taught at over the past four decades.

So, what does the actual data tell us about the NSW public school system? In essence, staffing levels are extremely stable. There are publicly available figures that are published on a semi-regular basis by the NSW Department of Education, as well as other Australian studies. They tell a very different story to the one that has received so much publicity lately. Because each state and territory has their own employment systems, I have concentrated on NSW data.

Separations from the NSW Department of Education are at historicallows and have been stable for more than a decade. The number of beginning teachers resigning from the NSW Department in their first year of teaching is less than 3 per cent. Between 2008 and 2014, the resignation rate for beginning teachers averaged 2.7 per cent. Indeed, for this period, the separation rate for new teachers dropped each year from 3.7 per cent to 1.9 per cent.

In the first five years of employment, this pattern continues. The resignation rate for all teachers for the decade 2006-2016 averaged just 1.09 per cent. The figures for all separations, including retirements, medical retirements, dismissals, resignations and deaths, for the decade 2006-2016, averaged just 4.5 per cent.

Based on evidence, it is arguable that teaching has one of the lowest attrition rates of any of the professions. Of course, there is a very significant reason for this stability: permanency. Over the years, Federation has successfully negotiated formal, enforceable staffing agreements, which have meant all permanent teaching vacancies must be filled by permanent appointments. Permanent vacancies cannot be kept open indefinitely and filled by casual or temporary appointments.

This was confirmed in the case Federation brought before the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC), which settled on 6 October 2017. The decision in the IRC has provided thousands of permanent job opportunities for people seeking a teaching career in NSW public schools.

As for the number of teachers who have worked in casual and/or temporary engagements and then left the profession, there is no known database kept by anybody, anywhere.

Federation stated in an email to all members last year, following the IRC decision: “For teachers, permanency provides secure employment and augments the likelihood of a long-term professional career in NSW public schools. For students and schools, permanency provides stability and continuity in educational delivery.”

The NSW teaching workforce data confirms our system is stable and that teachers are committed to their students, their careers and to the profession.

Maurie Mulheron, President