Why teachers need better pay and career paths - Grattan Institute

Published in The Age, 24 February 2021

A new independent inquiry into Valuing the Teaching Profession should be a big wake-up call to state governments across Australia. Teaching is a much harder job than many in government appreciate. It is extremely hard to teach well with the support and time currently available.

Over the past decade, big changes to the curriculum and expectations to ‘personalise’ teaching have made teachers’ jobs much more complex. At the same time, governments have devolved more responsibilities to schools, stripping out centrally organised support services in key areas such as the curriculum, student wellbeing, and teaching students with a disability. The upshot is that our teachers feel overworked, undervalued, and less prepared to teach effectively.

The inquiry report, prepared for the NSW Teachers Federation by former WA Labor premier Geoff Gallop and released last Saturday, rightly calls for changes to the staffing and resourcing of schools to better recognise teaching expertise. Two key reforms stand out: better teacher career paths, and higher teacher salaries.

Creating a new ‘expert teacher’ career path should be a top priority. As the Grattan Institute’s 2020 report Top Teachers showed, a coherent career structure designed to build, recognise and deploy teaching expertise should be at the heart of any reform effort to better value the teaching profession.

The first step is to acknowledge the complexity involved in effective teaching. The next step is to recognise expert teachers through dedicated roles with extra responsibilities to lead the professional
learning and development of the whole teacher workforce. The Victorian government has already
started to invest in this kind of career path, but there is much further to go in getting it right.

Increasing teacher pay to bring it into line with other professions is also important. The inquiry recommends pay increases, for all teachers, of 10 to 15 per cent by 2023. But we believe the biggest priority is to increase teacher pay at the top of the salary scale by up to 80 per cent to $180,000 – creating new expert roles for those at the pinnacle of the profession, with salaries to match. Higher top-end salaries would not only recognise the value of expert teachers, but also help attract the next generation of young high-achievers to teaching.

Young high-achievers are influenced by salaries when making their career choices, and teacher salaries fall well below other professions at the top end, as shown in our 2019 report, Attracting High Achievers.

High-performing teachers in their 20s are paid close to high performers in their 20s in other careers. But by the time teachers hit their 30s and 40s, their pay has stagnated, whereas the pay of their peers in other professions has often leapt. OECD research shows that Australia’s top teacher salary is only 40 per cent higher than the starting salary, well below the OECD average of 80 per cent.

We argue for large increases to top-end teacher pay, linked to two new expert teacher positions. New Instructional Specialists (limited to about 8 per cent of teachers) would be paid $140,000, about $40,000 more than the highest pay for regular classroom teachers in Victoria. New Master Teachers (the top 1 per cent) would be paid up to $180,000. The new positions should be created now but filled gradually over 10 years, to ensure all Instructional Specialists and Master Teachers are of high quality.

In late 2019 Victoria’s Education Minister, James Merlino, publicly supported the Grattan proposal to increase top teacher pay by $80,000, saying that teacher pay should be on par with that of doctors and lawyers.

It hasn’t yet happened, but let’s hope it’s in the new Victorian enterprise bargaining agreement being negotiated this year.

The Gallop inquiry was an impressive investigation of the many challenges teachers face. Teaching is a complex and critical task. We must invest systematically to build and deploy expertise within the profession. Over to you, Premier Andrews and Minister Merlino.