I wish to discuss the workload and its impacts on the lives of our hardworking teachers. It is timely to do so today because students in every school began sitting National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy [NAPLAN] tests to assess their literacy and numeracy. The results will be extrapolated to develop league tables that pit schools, teachers and students against one another.
NAPLAN, it is almost universally agreed, is a flawed assessment tool and its statistics are unhelpful in tracking and even measuring students' learning and the quality of teaching in our schools. The only thing NAPLAN does well is pit student against student, teacher against teacher and school against school. Labor has been on the record for over 18 months explaining the problems with NAPLAN and was steadfastly opposed to the attempt by the Government to tie NAPLAN results to the eligibility of students to sit the Higher School Certificate [HSC].
Year 9 students were required to achieve minimum NAPLAN band 8 in literacy and numeracy in order to "prequalify" for the HSC that they would sit in another four years. As predicted, more than half of year 9 students failed to meet the minimum standards in 2017. Thank goodness this Government listened to the Labor Opposition—and in particular our shadow Minister, Jihad Dib—and dumped the policy. The teaching profession has been in the news lately because of fairly ignorant and unhelpful comments by Federal Liberal member of Parliament Andrew Laming.
Mr Laming wondered aloud on his Facebook page where all the teachers were in January, when students were away for the summer holiday. The implication seemed to be that they were off bludging and not working. Many teachers in the Blue Mountains were upset by the statement. This breathtaking ignorance would be funny if it were not so fundamentally disrespectful. It is an oft-repeated claim that the best thing about teaching is the holidays. The only people who make such a claim are those who have not set foot in a classroom or a schoolyard since the last day of their own schooling.
Teachers are at work before most parents have left the house. That means they have to get their own kids ready and out the door early as well. Most teachers work through their lunch break and every teacher must do hours upon hours of unpaid lesson planning, marking, excursions and after-school activities. On top of that, a teacher must be expert in their subject matter, act as an accidental counsellor of distressed or unhappy students— and often their parents—who bring with them to school the baggage of their home lives. Teachers also work as unofficial bureaucrats on behalf of the Department of Education, doing usually unpaid, busy work and administravia that falls well outside their remit as educators.
A recent University of Sydney study of 18,000 public school teachers and principals across New South Wales found that 97.3 per cent reported an increase in administration duties over the past five years and that more than 95 per cent were spending more time on analysing and reporting data. That goes back to the pointlessness and, in fact, the counterproductivity of NAPLAN. Instead of educating students, teachers are enslaved to a bureaucracy that prioritises everything other than students' learning. A Blue Mountains constituent, himself a teaching veteran of some 34 years, contacted me recently to express his frustration at the workload that he and his son, who is also a teacher, face. He said:
I have been a teacher for 34 years and I have never thought of resigning until now. The workload, stress and hours I am doing is taking a huge toll on my health and my relationship with my family. However, I feel trapped. Who is going to employ a 56-year‑old teacher who wants a career change?
He goes on to say:
My son is a young high school teacher who is four years out of university. He said to me that he doesn't know how long he can sustain the stress of his job. He is considering an exit from teaching after four years. The education system will lose him. It's a real shame to see many young and talented teachers leave the profession because of intense workloads. The real core of teaching is being overrun by useless paperwork that does not improve the outcomes for students. The pressure placed on us by our principals has now become a real work health and safety issue. The stress is literally unbearable for most of us, as you are well aware.
Tonight I give voice to my teaching colleagues' concerns and angst.