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The teaching system needs more than money and smaller classes

By Kevin Donnelly - posted Thursday, 25 September 2003

Is there a teachers’ crisis in Victorian schools? Judged by a survey of 998 primary and secondary teachers the answer is “yes”. The survey, organised by the Australian Education Union, discovered that some 42 per cent of beginning teachers did not see themselves remaining in government schools any longer than ten years.

According to the AEU’s State Secretary, Mary Bluett, the record numbers of teachers taking stress leave and early retirement provides further evidence that Victoria’s education system is failing our teachers.

While there are misgivings about a union survey that is being used as evidence to argue for better wages and conditions, the reality is that, across Australia, teachers are doing it hard.


In 1996 the results of a national teacher survey related to the Third International Maths Test were released. When asked whether they would change to a different profession if they could, some 50 to 60 per cent of Australian teachers said “yes”. The response internationally was between ten to 25 percent.

In 2001 the Australian Council of Education released a survey involving approximately 10,000 teachers. Twenty-six per cent answered that they wanted to leave the profession and just under 25 per cent said they would seek retirement at the earliest possible age of 55 years.

Finally, according to a survey of NSW teachers related to the inquiry into public education (the Vinson Report), 60 per cent of teachers responding expressed moderate to fairly low to very low levels of satisfaction with teaching as a profession.

That many teachers are under stress, suffer from anxiety, feel devalued and want more money is true. The real debate arises when solutions are sought. As expected, the union’s answer, despite the research proving the opposite, is that more money and smaller classes will lead to better results.

In the draft certified agreement, dated December 2002, the union argues that the starting salary for beginning teachers should increase from $38,000 to $55,000 and that payment at the top of the pay scale should be increased from $66,000 to $75,000. Class sizes for prep to year12 are also to be capped at 20.

While better conditions and more money are important elements in teacher renewal and improved morale, by themselves they are insufficient. If the profession is to attract, nurture and keep good teachers far more needs to be done.


Firstly, as evidenced by the NSW Vinson Report, the approach to curriculum and accountability adopted across Australia, including Victoria, is unnecessarily complex, bureaucratic and wasteful.

The report concludes: “Syllabi are seen as being “dumped” onto the schools, without adequate consultation, with little or no staff development, and with insufficient time or additional resources for successful implementation. Syllabi are thought to be developed remote from the realities of schools and classrooms and the actual conditions for learning and teaching.”

On listening to teachers, there is a distinct feeling that governments and education bureaucracies, in their haste to impose accountability and to raise standards, have been guilty of making a difficult job even more stressful and time consuming.

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This article was first published in The Age on 17 September, 2003.

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About the Author

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and he recently co-chaired the review of the Australian national curriculum. He can be contacted at He is author of Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars available to purchase at

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