THE CHALLENGE OF JOB SECURITY

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.

PAY OUT ON SICK LEAVE

This paper was published in the NT Suns in May 2017

UNBROKEN SERVICE DESERVES RECOGNITION

Public servants in the NT have a number of benefits attached to their employment. Included are superannuation and leave entitlements. Teachers and those working in schools often commence as supply or relief staff. In most instances superannuation and leave needs are recognised and built into the terms and conditions of their employment. Because of portability, these benefits transfer with them as they move from one school to another.

Over time, those involved with education are usually offered permanent status. Each year, three weeks of sick leave are added to the entitlement of each staff member. This leave accumulates year on year.

Health and family issues (for instance illness of family members) mean that some people need to quite regularly access their leave entitlements. However, there are many who use very little of their leave. It is not unusual for those who have been working for many years to have accumulations of up to 100 weeks of sick leave, that can be used if necessary.

When retiring or resigning from the public service, accumulated annual leave is cashed out to those who are departing. Long service leave that has built up, is generally included in the employee’s final pay package. Depending on circumstances which include the employee’s age, superannuation is either preserved or paid out.

For government employees, unused sick leave is not included in this package. I know of people who have retired or left employment with up to and over 100 weeks of sick leave credits. When they retire this entitlement is forfeited.

Because this leave provision will be lost upon retirement people may think about taking leave they would not usually consider. This would reduce sick leave benefits before employees leave the work force. It would force schools to employ relief staff or short term contract teachers. That would impact on school budgets and children in some classes, the latter because of teacher change.

It may be time to change the way in which sick leave provisions are treated. Paying a percentage of accumulated leave on a pro-rata basis would be fair and equitable. It would also reward those who have judiciously managed their sick leave.
The payment of a day’s salary for every week of accumulated sick leave would be my suggestion. A retiree with 60 weeks of leave would receive a payment equivalent to 60 days of final salary.

This would offer fair and equitable recognition to all those who have been prudent in managing sick leave.

SETTING CLASSES IS A REAL CHALLENGE

1 SUNS 3 2017 173

Published in ‘Suns’ newspaper January 2017. This issue is one with nationwide consequences, the matter being onbe that challenges Principals and staff in schools each year.

SETTING CLASSES IS A REAL CHALLENGE

Setting classes in schools for the start of each year, creates headaches for principals, teachers, parents and children. This is especially the case for primary schools. A highlight -and an anxiety – late every school year, is the publication of class lists for the following twelve months. Some schools do not release class groupings until a day or two before the new school year commences. There is always a worry about reaction and fallout.

In an ideal world, all parents will be happy with their children’s class teacher, their fellow class members and the physical location of the classroom. There would be no composite classes. All students in each class would be inclined toward work and learning. There would be no behavioural problems or discipline issues to distract teachers and children from work and learning.

This situation would also meet the expectations of teachers and principals. For teachers, an added satisfaction could be to enjoy classes of no more than 18 to 20 children in primary grades, around 15 in middle school years and no more than 12 in specialist subject areas for years 11 and 12. This is not possible in the NT because pupil to teacher ratios are set at a much higher level.

Most teachers hope that they will be allowed to teach within their areas of training expertise. However, the deployment of teachers within schools is at the discretion of principals.
‘Needs must’ often dictates why they teach unfamiliar subjects or grades. Schools have limited budgets for staff employment. This means unpalatable adjustments have to be made, in order not to overdraw the school’s salary account.

While school leaders do their best to meet parents requests on student placement, it is impossible for them to work miracles. The result can be that parents and primary caregivers, on learning about class placements for children, can become very upset. Unfortunately, these reactions are often shared with other parents and also with children. Pre-judgements can impact negatively upon the reputation of teachers. This can also mean that children start school with an uneasy attitude about how the year will unfold. It can even lead to them hating school.

Parents with concerns have every right to discuss these with school leaders. It is best that this is done by making an appointment and having a conversation with the principal or leadership team member. On most occasions this leads to issues being at least partially resolved.

THE GOOD SIDE OF YOUTH

THE GOOD SIDE OF YOUTH

It is unfair and alarming that minorities can colour opinions held for majorities. This is particularly the case for children and young people.

Popular media constantly saturates viewing, listening and reading time with stories about misdemeanours and crime attributable to young people. U Tube, Facebook and social media often embellish these stories of wrongdoing. Most run stories about children and young people, focus on negative behaviour. Assaults, unlawful entry, property damage and destruction headline these reports. That has again been highlighted in the NT and Australia by media reporting during the recent school holiday period.

An alarming outcome of this focus is that perceptions held for every young person becomes distorted. The community can lose respect for all young people because of the actions of a minority. To regard them all in this way would be a gross misinterpretation.

The Reality

The majority of young people have a positive outlook on life and are keen to succeed. From primary school through to secondary and tertiary years, most are motivated and keen to do their very best. They are respected by teachers, supported by parents and are positive generational ambassadors. They are people of fine character, building solid academic, social, emotional and moral foundations.

Many undertake part time work in the retail trade. They are shelf packers, check out attendants, floor cleaners and shopping trolley retrievers for supermarkets and stores. Some involve in the hospitality industry, working after school hours and at weekends. Some may fritter their earnings, but many save for a purpose. That might be for a car, to defray tertiary education costs or to fund travel.

Young people of all ages devote time to sporting activities, including participation and volunteering as coaches and umpires. Others involve in artistic or cultural pursuits gaining confidence and skill. Self-improvement and community service is manifest in other ways. Children join scouts, guides, junior police rangers, tae-kwon-do and karate groups, St. John Ambulance and similar organisations. A large percentage go on to become leaders and instructors of these groups, demonstrating their commitment to self-betterment and community good.

We can but hope that young people who have been involved in wrongful behaviour come to a point of self-realisation and correction. Support from families and authorities helps, but ultimately character change has to come from within.

In overall terms and as a senior citizen, I believe the future of the Territory is in the capable hands of fine young people. They deserve our encouragement, support, recognition and appreciation.

DON’T DIMINISH DOCTORATES

AT LAST: AN EARNED HONORARY DOCTORATE

Emeritus Professor Webster is a man of distinction who has made significant comment on issues of significance in South Africa. A professor at the University of the Witwatersrand he received an honorary qualification from another tertiary institution in South Africa for his contribution to development of positive social and cultural relations in South Africa. I read his paper published in ‘The Conversation’ with interest and got to thinking.

Professor Webster’s Honorary Doctorate has been well earned. He did not get it for winning a race, kicking a football, swinging a cricket bat or swimming in a pool. He did not get it for fighting a war or being a Politican.

It is a sincere and meaningful, not a trivial and meaningless qualification that devalues academe. Too many honorary qualifications are given to those who have in no way contributed on the academic front. That trivialises high level qualifications. Handing out honorary qualifications willy-nilly needs to stop.

SERVICE SHOULD BE RECOGNISED

Although written with the Northern Territory in mind, teachers and school support staff everywhere should be recognised and intrinsically appreciated for their contribution to the profession.
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SERVICE SHOULD BE RECOGNISED

The Department of Education and the Northern Territory Government tend to take service somewhat for granted. I believe that it is important for teachers and school support staff to be recognised for their service.

Interestingly, those working for the Northern Territory Police, Fire , Emergency Services, and some sections of the Health Department are recognised and appreciated with service awards. That generally doesn’t happen for educators.

I have been told that a service recognition system would be too hard to organise because of the number of teachers and support staff working in NT Government Schools. A simple database maintained by the Education Department’s Human Relations Section could be set up to record details about staff service. As particular time anniversaries come up, a simple prompt could alert the system manager to the service anniversary. The level of recognition offered should align with the number of years of completed service.The system would be maintained if staff transferred from one school to another, because of its central administration.

It should be relatively straightforward for schools to be linked with our department through an application that would recognise service. That recognition if in the school’s system, could easily transfer onto the department’s main frame.

There is a popular belief that teachers and those working in schools come and go with unfortunate regularity. Many believe that educators have only short term commitments to their school roles. From the 1970’s through to the 1990’s many came for no more than two or three years before heading back to southern states. However, this has changed and people are now coming for much longer periods. Many are making the Territory their permanent home. People deserve recognition and appreciation for long term professional commitment.

In the past

A number of years ago the Department of Education began developing a program to recognise years of service. The plan was to acknowledge those who had given ten years of service, with further recognition to be forthcoming at five yearly intervals. However, with staff turnover and the succession of people operating at the highest levels within our Department, this determination seems to have lapsed. Changes of government may have played a part in these plans being shelved.

Some consider that this level of appreciation is not very important. That is just not true.

Service recognition needs to be revisited. It is not good enough for teachers and education support personnel to remain unrecognised and unappreciated after years of devotion to their profession. This is a matter that needs urgent attention.

APPRECIATE YOUR TEAM

The principles and processes of collaboration are important to development in the field of education. What I have always abhorred is the fact that gurus seem to piggyback on the work of their research teams in away that allows them to takers the sole glory for positions that establish and findings that are reached. They are offered ‘single surname adulation’ for work that quite obviously has been done by others.

My background is in education. It seems that many noteworthy leaders do not really have thev times to do they work about which they are espousing because they are too busy running around the world talking and taking conference calls, to actually do the work they are upholding.

Certainly they have teams back at base (one or another institute or university) who are working on their behalf. These gurus are in essence the public face of research teams. Yet they speak and present in a way that suggests they are solely responsible for creating the theories and authoring the positions they espouse. That is just not right.

Those working behind thec scenes and well away from the microphone need to be acknowledged and appreciated for their contribution to research process and findings.