Do NSW teacher salary changes discriminate against women?

Andrew Munro 14 July 2016


Critics say females are being unfairly targeted by the new changes

The NSW Department of Education has made changes to how public school teacher salaries are determined that it says will ensure higher standards of education across the state. In its broadest terms, the whimsically named Great Teaching, Inspired Learning reforms will reward teachers based on their professional accreditation rather than simply years of experience. Proponents say new teachers can achieve a higher salary more quickly, and the scheme encourages teachers to continue their professional development both inside and outside the school.

The downside is that this effectively penalises teachers who are not able to keep up with the requirements. All teachers who apply for a leave of absence of more than five years, for any reason, will need to maintain their accreditation by performing casual teaching work and completing at least one hundred hours of professional learning over that period. If they fail to do so, they must start over again at a beginner teacher’s salary if they return.

The problem is that women are far more likely than men to take a five-year leave of absence for childraising, and that with small children it’s almost impossible to remain available for casual teaching work at the level required. Anna Uren of the NSW Teacher’s Federation has said that many teachers are being told that their casual work does not meet requirements.

The changes have been widely criticised as having an inherent bias against women. Uren has pointed out that one of the effects of these changes is that many experienced teachers will choose not to return to work, or change occupation rather than accept a sharply reduced salary, which undermines the priority of attracting and retaining skilled teachers.

While these changes were not deliberately targeted at women, and were rooted in cost-reductions and expediency rather than sexism, they do disproportionately impact female teachers and arguably can be classified as discrimination. Whether it will raise the overall standard of public school education in NSW or cause a shortage of experienced teachers remains to be seen.

The NSW Teacher’s Federation says it is considering taking legal or industrial action against the Department of Education.

Overall, salaries in Australia are rising, but at lower levels than in the recent past.

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