Fixing the pay plateau

Successive governments, academics and teachers themselves have noted an increasing issue in the teaching profession. This is the 8-10 year pay plateau which was highlighted in the recent Productivity Commission report into Schools’ Workforces.

The report found that teachers initially experience a steady rise in pay over their first 10 years of teaching, generally in line with improving their skills. However, after 8-10 years teachers tend to reach the top of the pay scale and there is little advancement in their pay after this time.

To combat this problem the Federal Government launched its Rewards for Great Teachers initiative at the end of 2011. This initiative draws on the four categories of the National Professional Standards for Teaching. These standards seek to define the work of teachers and make explicit the elements of high-quality effective teaching that will improve educational outcomes for students. The standards propose four broad categories of teachers (graduate, proficient, highly accomplished and lead teachers) with teachers expected to progress through each category and on to the next throughout their career.

Under the government’s initiative up to 8,000 teachers who reach either the Highly Accomplished or Lead classifications under the professional standards will receive a one off bonus. Successful Highly Accomplished teachers will receive a one off payment of up to $7,500 and Lead teachers will receive up to $10,000.

The federal government scheme has been criticised for not properly addressing the pay plateau. In Australia there are over 250,000 teachers; with only 8,000 teachers to receive this bonus it means the initiative will reward less than four percent of all teachers. Additionally, once teachers reach either the Highly Accomplished or Lead classifications under the professional standards they will have to apply for the bonus requiring additional time and money being spent by the teacher for a bonus they may not receive.

The notion of performance pay for teachers itself has received criticism. The Productivity Commission’s Research Report into Schools' Workforce released in April this year recommended the government make this initiative temporary and replace it with a performance based career structure revolving around the four categories of the national professional standards for teaching.

Likewise, Ben Jensen of the Grattan Institute has come out against the notion of performance pay for teachers. In Jensen’s work and the
Productivity Commission’s report they find that there is no concrete evidence linking
performance pay to better student outcomes with only a few selective examples
internationally demonstrating that it may have a minor benefit.

Council has long been opposed to the notion of performance pay. Teaching is a whole of school exercise and it is difficult to objectively evaluate how a teacher’s performance has increased a student’s outcomes.

The current attempt to improve teacher performance through the payment of bonuses fails to address the two fundamental areas it seeks to fix. Firstly, the initiative fails in any way to address the pay plateau that teachers face, with it targeting less than four percent of all teachers in Australia. Secondly, the program fails to reward outstanding teachers. The limit on the number of teachers that can receive the bonus mean that even if outstanding teachers meet the requirements of the bonus there is no guarantee that they will receive it.

More importantly the initiative is a one-off payment. However, the problem is an on-going one. Any attempt to fix the problems facing teachers pay must be long term.

Teachers are one of Australia greatest resources and should be treated accordingly. Countries that consistently perform well in education value their teachers paying them competitive salaries and providing the resources they require to teach properly. If the Australian government truly values teachers and wants to lift the performance of our students it needs to start looking at major reforms to the teaching profession instead of short term bandaid type solutions such as teacher bonuses.


This article was published in ParentACTion 3.2012, September 2012.