This column was published in the NT Suns in May 2017
THE CHALLENGE OF JOB SECURITY
The way in which staffing works in NT schools can be difficult to understand. One issue recently raised (‘Teachers in class limbo’ NT News May 11) pointed out that the number of teachers on temporary contracts in our schools appears to be growing.
Temporary status poses problems for teacher lifestyle, particularly in the area of housing. Unless educators have a steady income they find it extremely hard to negotiate home loans and this locks them out of the home purchase market.
Temporary contract employment is an outcome of Department of Education organisation. Over time, permanently employed teachers may take maternity leave, long service leave, family leave, or lengthly sick leave. Their absences create temporary vacancies in classrooms which have to be filled. However, those appointed can only be offered end-dated contracts because permanent officers are entitled to return to their positions at the end of leave periods.
This issue is one that creates uncertainty for schools, students and for teachers on short term contracts. School principals and staffing officers within the Department of Education do their best to ensure that end-dated contract teachers are offered contract opportunities in other schools. They aim to support staff about to become unemployed so there is no break in their service. This of course does not overcome the issue of teacher changes for students and schools.
The matter is exacerbated by staffing policies in rural and remote schools. Personal and family circumstances mean that many CDU graduates, relief and contract teachers are not able to accept positions in schools outside urban centres. In order to attract teachers to rural and remote schools the Education Department has to offer inducements. Two of these are the early offer of permanency and an undertaking that after a few years, efforts will be made to place these teachers in urban schools. This adds to pressures on the offering of permanent positions to contract teachers in Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs.
The Education Department has periodically offered permanency to contract teachers, holding them against the system rather than schools. This goodwill gesture has meant that excellent temporary teachers have had to move on because permanent officers have appointment priority to urban schools.
The issue of staffing is vexed. There will always be winners and unfortunately some losers.