Victorian teachers shafted

As Red Flag reported in March this year, the Victorian Education Department has been trying to force changes to the “performance and development” (P&D) process onto teachers. Aside from adding to teachers’ already excessive workloads, the changes open the door to full-blown performance pay. And unfortunately it’s looking like the Department might get away with it.

Last year the Department failed in its attempt to insert performance pay into our EBA, due to teachers’ overwhelming opposition. But it did manage to insert a clause allowing for changes to the P&D process, provided the Australian Education Union (AEU) was consulted. When the Department then attempted to impose a new set of procedures anyway, Fair Work Australia tut-tutted and ordered it to go away and talk to the union. The catch was that our EBA didn’t stipulate that the union had to agree to anything, only that consultation had to take place.

Predictably, this “consultation” failed to produce anything more than minor cosmetic changes; the substance of the Department’s policy remains intact. Teachers will be evaluated on the basis of four separate “domains.”

They will have to meet at least three times a year with their reviewer (nominated by the school principal), and everything has to be extensively documented.

At the end of the process, the reviewer (and ultimately the principal) will decide whether the teacher “exceeds”, “fully meets”, “partially meets” or “fails to meet” the P&D requirements. Only those in the first two categories will be entitled to a salary increment. As well as being a way to keep more teachers on a lower salary level for longer, it gives principals a lot more power. There is the potential for both corruption and victimisation.

It’s a widely accepted myth that progression up the salary scale is automatic. In fact, for many years we’ve had to undergo performance reviews and demonstrate that we meet certain standards. That the vast majority have been able to do this only demonstrates how hard-working and conscientious most teachers are.

The imposition of a much more onerous P&D process fits in with the firmly held conviction of politicians – and every right wing ideologue – that if students aren’t doing well, it must be the fault of the teachers. Apparently it has nothing to do with schools being under-resourced, large class sizes and an over-crowded curriculum, the socio-economic circumstances of the students and so on. Much easier just to blame the teachers – while continuing to rip funds out of state education and give massive handouts to private schools.

The new process will go a long way towards undermining collaboration and fostering competition. It flies in the face of all the research demonstrating the pretty obvious fact that good teaching is a team effort.

To add insult to injury, the Department is insisting that the new process be implemented immediately. And as well as being extremely disruptive – many schools have already started this year’s reviews – there are no additional resources or time allowances provided.

Despite what it calls “significant reservations”, the AEU, disgracefully, is doing nothing to stop the implementation of the new guidelines. The final section of the Executive’s resolution is headed “Taking control of the new process” – which says it all. It ends with the words: “Members are encouraged to provide feedback about how the new guidelines are being implemented and seek advice where needed.” In other words, just cop it.

The officials say they will “continue to oppose” the aspects they disagree with. And what form will this opposition take? Exploring legal options, a PR campaign and, most importantly, campaigning in the state election. It’s clear they’re hoping for Labor to be elected and solve the problem. This is less a strategy than a forlorn – and entirely misplaced – hope.

When Labor was elected in 1999, there were promises to reverse the damage done to state education by the Kennett government. It was bullshit. One of the worst things that happened under Kennett was the explosion in the number of teachers on short-term contracts. Under Labor, the numbers went up, not down.

Only a serious industrial campaign can stop this new process. If it is allowed to be bedded down, history says we’ll probably end up being stuck with it. And the AEU leadership will be as much to blame as the Department.