Performance pay on the agenda – again

You have to give it marks for persistence. The Victorian Education Department is once again attempting to pave the way for the introduction of performance pay for teachers.

This time it’s under the guise of changes to the existing performance and development process. If implemented, these changes will lead to many more teachers being denied progression up the salary scale – even if they meet all the professional standards – and will open the door to full-blown performance pay. Final decisions on progression will be made by school principals, further entrenching their power at the local level.

Teachers will be assessed, among other things, on “student outcomes”. It’s not stated what that means, but the department document ominously refers to “a range of qualitative and quantitative data” – NAPLAN, anyone? The new process will also consume an inordinate amount of teachers’ time – time that could be much better spent actually doing our job.

Throughout our last EBA campaign, finally concluded last year, teachers’ hostility to the whole concept of performance pay was so strong that the department was forced to take it off the table.

But this didn’t stop the department trying it on late last year, when it sought to impose changes similar to what is being proposed now. The teachers’ union (Australian Education Union) took them to Fair Work Australia, which looked at our agreement and instructed the department to back off and consult the union.

Unfortunately, the relevant clause in the agreement only requires the department to consult the union; there’s no stipulation that the union has to agree to any changes. This is precisely what the rank and file group, Teachers and Education Support Alliance (TESA), warned when arguing that the agreement should be rejected.

So the department has now gone through a farce of “consultation”. Discussions with the union took place over the summer holidays; then in late February, union reps received a bulletin with the draft proposal. We were told that the union had to respond to the department by 14 March, so school sub-branches should discuss the proposal and respond to the union by 7 March.

To expect teachers at the busy start of the year to read lengthy documents, get their heads around the implications of the changes and formulate a detailed response in the space of a couple of weeks is outrageous. A meeting of the inner city region unanimously voted to reject the proposal on that basis alone. But anecdotal evidence suggests that many teachers still haven’t even seen the proposal, because it was emailed only to sub-branch representatives.

One reason for this indecent haste is that the department wants the changes to take effect in this year’s cycle. The AEU has complained about the timeline, but meekly gone along with it. And while the union has some valid criticisms, AEU president Meredith Peace wrote in the AEU News that “elements of the Government’s proposal [are] acceptable”.

Making such concessions is a recipe for disaster. The AEU should be rejecting the proposal in toto as completely unacceptable. But don’t hold your breath.