A recent report found that the academic standards of young teachers have dropped, and schools are finding it hard to recruit talented staff.

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Teachers are leaving the system in droves, unhappy with increasing demands and decreasing salaries.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop believes the problem can be alleviated by the introduction of performance pay. Her proposal would see teachers who get the best results rewarded financially.

Teachers’ unions are opposed to the plan, and leading principals and educationalists around the country are dubious.

Next week on Insight, Julie Bishop unveils her plan in more detail and faces her critics. If performance pay is to be introduced, how will teachers be assessed? What’s the test of a good teacher?

At the same time the Minister is advocating a new national grading system for school report cards as a condition for funding. Students would be ranked from “A” to “E”, but this too has been widely condemned by the teachers’ union.

Joining the Minister in the studio are major players from the current education debate: Pat Byrne from the Australian Education Union, former principal Judith Wheeldon, economist Andrew Leigh and a lively bunch of school students, teachers and parents.


Transcript

JENNY BROCKIE: We'll talk about all that in a moment, but first, here's Amanda Collinge with a teacher who may well deserve a bigger pay packet.

THE ‘MISS MAC’ STORY:

REPORTER: Amanda Collinge

MELANIE MACDONALD, TEACHER: What do you think's been some of the good things about doing this particular project, which was individual choice? What did you think?

Melanie MacDonald, known to her students as Ms Mac, has been teaching in disadvantaged schools for more than 20 years.

MELANIE MACDONALD: Give Abdi a hand and some of our best wishes.

For the past six years she's been here at Bellfield Public School in Melbourne – one of the most disadvantaged schools in the country.

MELANIE MACDONALD: Well, I've actually been just sitting here with kids after school working with them on projects, helping them, some of them don't have computers, we can't assume everybody has a computer in their home, so I sit with them and access information for them. Sometimes just to chat to them, if they've got problems, you know.

REPORTER: Do they have problems?

MELANIE MACDONALD: Yes, a lot of the children do have problems. They have unsettled home lives, and they just need someone to talk to, and they relate to me on that level, and I'm really proud of that.

GIRL: May I go on the computer?

MELANIE MACDONALD: Yes, you may.

GIRL: Thank you.

85% of students here receive the Education Maintenance Allowance – a welfare benefit paid to the State's poorest families. Yet, despite the challenges, Bellfield students' results are near the top of the State.

MELANIE MACDONALD: Alright, well done, everyone. You're working beautifully, as usual.

Ms Mac's Year 6 students quite simply adore her.

GIRL 1: She's just a grouse teacher to be around all the time.

GIRL 2: She teaches us really high standard things and she expects good quality of work.

GIRL 3: Probably one of the best teachers in the world.

GIRL 4: Ms Mac is a good teacher, and I owe her a lot.

GIRL 5: She's really good. She loves to help kids and it's, yeah she's just…she's great.

REPORTER: Do you feel like she cares about you?

GIRL 5: A lot. She does.

REPORTER: How do you know that?

GIRL 5: She just does this all the time.

MELANIE MACDONALD: Keep going, Suede. What's the problem, sweetie? Why haven't you started?

Ms Mac often works up to 60 hours a week, on weekends and after hours, dealing with the extra issues of discipline and behaviour, family therapy and social welfare, on top of the curriculum. Yet, despite her talent and success as a teacher of 20 years, Ms Mac is paid around $60,000 a year. She's reached the top of the teachers' salary level and can go no further.

TERRY HOWARD, PRINCIPAL, BELLFIELD PRIMARY: They start on about $33,000, $34,000, which is probably in the ballpark when it comes to starting graduate salaries in a lot of professions. It will take them 12 years then to move up to a level of – at the top of expert teacher, which is around about $60,000, but then there is just a barrier, you just don't go anywhere, and a lot of people then just finish their careers at the top of that salary level with nowhere to go.

JOHN FLEMING, PRINCIPAL: Matty show us what you did, champ.

Bellfield's former principal, John Fleming, has now left the state system and is at Halebury College in outer Melbourne. It was under his leadership that Bellfield was transformed from failure to high academic success.

ALL: Warranty, war-ran-ty, W-a-r-r-a-n-t-y. Consultant, restaurant. Res-tau-rant. R-e

John Fleming is adamant that a very structure and formal approach to teaching is what gets good results.

JOHN FLEMING: Wonderful. Next word?

CHILDREN: Deodorant.

So why did he leave Bellfield Public?

JOHN FLEMING: I had 14 years of Bellfield and I loved every second of it. Going to that school every day was just a great joy and I got so much pleasure out of it. And I would say I envisaged spending my whole career at Bellfield, but you have families, and my family comes first. You can't wait to see what happens next.

John Fleming says his decision was not purely about salary. More important to him was that his own children could go with him to attend Halebury. But he firmly supports the Federal Government's proposal to reward outstanding teachers.

JOHN FLEMING: I think, like in any industry, you reward the people who can demonstrate that they are doing the best jobs. Sales reps who get the most sales – they get rewards, they get bonuses. I think we need to take a more professional approach into teaching.

MELANIE MACDONALD: You're it now, sweetie. You're the reward point monitor.

I've taught in these schools for 21 years and that's my choice – no-one's forced me to do it – but I feel there are extra demands placed on us and, as a result, I sometimes feel underpaid and undervalued. Yeah, I do.

Principal Terry Howard is frustrated that state schools can't always retain their top teachers. Last year Bellfield lost five to the private system.

REPORTER: So if you were able to pay your teachers more, you think you'd be able to keep those sort of people on for longer?

TERRY HOWARD: I have no doubt.

MELANIE MACDONALD: Have a good night. If you've got anything more at home I can wrap up for lucky dip, please bring it.

JENNY BROCKIE: Julie Bishop, you're the Federal Education Minister. You're proposing a merit pay system for teachers. Would someone like Ms Mac get a salary increase under the system you're proposing?

JULIE BISHOP, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND TRAINING: Absolutely. Teachers are a precious national resource. Teachers should be recognised for the role they play, they should be respected for the role they play and they should be rewarded for outcomes, and I believe very strongly in the merit-based pay system for teachers. Unlike any other profession, teachers reach a particular ceiling and can go no further. It's artificial.

JENNY BROCKIE: How would it work? When you look at a teacher like that, a lot of what she's doing isn't measurable by academic results necessarily. She's doing things that aren't easy to measure. How do you determine whether someone like that gets more money?

JULIE BISHOP: It depends very much on the merit-based system you introduce. It could be from incentives or bonuses through to AWAs. But the point is these competencies can be assessed as in any other profession. You can tell who are the people who deserve more money.

JENNY BROCKIE: So who will be deciding? Will it be the principals?

JULIE BISHOP: You ask any parent, any student, any other teacher, and they can tell you who the good teachers in the school are. You'd have a combination of criteria, specified measures. It could be student performance, it could be contribution to the wellbeing of the school, it could be peer review, references from parents and other teachers and students. So you could have a combination of criteria that would lead to performance-based pay.

JENNY BROCKIE: Judith Wheeldon, you were until recently the principal at one of Sydney's top private girls' schools and you've also worked in the state system in WA as a teacher. Is merit pay a good idea, what the Minister's proposing for teachers?

JUDITH WHEELDON, FORMER PRINCIPAL: I think merit pay is a good idea if we define it somewhat differently, and that is to recognise that every teacher has merit, or else that teacher shouldn't be teaching. What I would advocate, Minister, is that we pay all teachers adequately and properly and not make distinctions which are going to be divisive in the work force. Teaching is a very collegial profession. People have to get on and work well together. I think we'd be creating problems where parents feel, “I've got one child in a merit paid teacher's class and the other child isn't, and that child is being disadvantaged.” We start to bring schisms into the parent community and how people feel about the group they're in.

JENNY BROCKIE: But those exist already, don't they? Parents will look at the best teacher and say, “Why isn't my child in the best teacher's class?”

JUDITH WHEELDON : To some extent that may happen but the money is not being attached to it at this point, and using a merit pay system doesn't address the problem of getting rid of the teachers who shouldn't be teaching children, and there are some of those. I maintain that most teachers work as hard as Ms Mac does and may or may not have exactly the same kind of results, but get good results from their children, and they deserve to be paid well.

JENNY BROCKIE: But you think all teachers should be paid the same according to experience, rather than to their skills?

JUDITH WHEELDON: And to what their job involves. Not all teachers are doing the same job. If they're taking on extra pastoral care jobs and so on in the school, you might recognise that, but I think that we have a mass education system, so we need a lot of teachers, and they all have to be good, not just some of them, and the way to do that, I think, is to pay all teachers a real professional salary that relates to what, say, accountants or good lawyers, not necessarily partners

JULIE BISHOP: But accountants and lawyers have performance-based pay. This is the whole point. Teachers are currently in an artificial environment where their pay increases by the years in the job, and then it reaches an artificial ceiling and can go no further, and we've got to attract and retain the very best people for teaching jobs and I don't believe that we're achieving that at present.

JENNY BROCKIE: Kevin Donnelly, you're a former teacher and you're now an education consultant. Why not just pay teachers more across the board, as Judith's suggesting?

DR KEVIN DONNELLY, EDUCATION COMMENTATOR: I think the reality is as somebody who taught for 18 years and a parent with children at school, who were at school, we all know that there are teachers who are doing a great job. Unfortunately, there are also teachers who are not up to it, I'd say, and parents know that, students know that. Worse still, the other staff, know that. And I know nothing's worse for morale than to be in a school where you've got a couple of duds and you know that they're getting their pay every fortnight, and there's no pressure on them to perform, to improve, so I'd argue with what the Minister said that we need to be more realistic in terms of valuing teachers, making sure the teachers who go into the profession actually stay in the profession, because one of the problems we will have is that many young people go into teaching, and they leave after four or five years.

JENNY BROCKIE: So are you saying the way to push the bad teachers out is to pay the good teachers more, they will just go eventually. Is that the idea? Is that the idea, Julie Bishop?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, you will differentiate between those who are really performing in an outstanding way and those who are not. Teachers will tell you that it's quite demoralising to put in long hours and perform over and above what is expected, and yet be paid exactly the same as somebody who's not putting in the hours, and under the current system the principal has no way of getting rid of the underperformer.

JENNY BROCKIE: Pat Byrne, isn't this part of the problem – that we all know there are dud teachers in schools, we all know there are brilliant teachers in schools as well, but we know that there are some teachers in schools, sometimes, who just shouldn't be there. Isn't that part of the problem?

PAT BYRNE, AUSTRALIAN EDUCATION UNION: Well, that is an issue but it's not an issue that should be dealt with by way of merit pay. I think it is just as demoralising for teachers who put in hard work and long hours to, in fact, find that other teachers are getting more than they are because of an arbitrary judgment. It will create just as much division or just as much resentment, if you like, as what Kevin is saying and Julie are saying in relation to what happens now.

JENNY BROCKIE: Elizabeth, you're a teacher. What do you think? You teach at a private school, high school, I think. What do you think of the idea?

ELIZABETH STONE, TEACHER: In principle, I don't know anybody who says “Well, you know, someone who's better should be paid more is bad in principle,” but everybody's objection is, how do you do it in practice? I see some teachers who put in hours and hours more and they get exactly the same as those who are watching the clock, waiting for their super to tick up to retire, and that's really a disgraceful thing that we can't remedy at the moment.

But one thing that really strikes me talking to teachers is this deep, deep unease with this process of differentiation, teachers and I'm personally not uneasy about it. I suspect I've come in from an area where that differentiation happens all the time. But if you talk to teachers, the word that comes up again and again, it's happened here, is 'divisive' and they feel very, very uneasy.

JENNY BROCKIE: Pam Cupper, you wanted to say something. You teach at a public high school. Would merit pay work there?

PAM CUPPER, TEACHER: I'm in favour of merit pay. I think teachers ought to be paid for the hard work that they do. They ought to be rewarded. But I'm very concerned about who would make those decisions and how they'd be made. We saw in Victoria, systems that were introduced such as the AST1 system, for example, that some people know about, which was a very arbitrary decision and it was really

JENNY BROCKIE: What was this about? Deciding what?

PAM CUPPER: Deciding on more pay, basically, for teachers who were near the top of the scale, and then they were rewarded with a little bit of extra money, but it was never a very equitable system and it didn't really reflect what was happening in schools.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you think the problem is how do you actually, how do you make those decisions? What do other people think? Mercurius, you're a student teacher, I think, aren't you?

MERCURIUS GOLDSTEIN, STUDENT TEACHER: As an incoming teacher this is something, which, over my career, I could personally stand to benefit, so when I say to you there are serious problems with it, you know I'm being serious. The Minister referred to people who get paid performance bonuses like lawyers and accountants – that's true. There's another group who gets bonuses and that's CEOs, and our own prime minister has told us this situation is getting out of hand with those sorts of bonuses.

JENNY BROCKIE: I think teachers are a long way from CEO salaries.

JULIE BISHOP: It's all relative, it's all relative.

MERCURIUS GOLDSTEIN: It's an interesting point because you've seen the sort of corporate governance problems that bonus schemes like that bring about. We've all seen the Barings Banks and the Enrons. Now, do we really want to look at a bonus system

JENNY BROCKIE: Julie said it won't be that sort of funding.

JULIE BISHOP: It's just not that sort of money.

JENNY BROCKIE: We'll get on to funding a bit later.

JULIE BISHOP: I'd love to share your optimism.

JENNY BROCKIE: Melina, can I just ask you, you wrote 'Looking for Alibrandi', the book which I think gives you hero status, by the way, with a whole generation of children, including my own daughter, and now you're a teacher. Do you think merit pay is a good idea? What do you think?

MELINA MARCHETTA, AUTHOR AND TEACHER: I think it's like what everyone said here. On paper it sounds fantastic but I'd like to know who's holding the measuring stick. You know, I think the Minister was saying before that it could be based on what students think or what parents think. Sometimes what happens there is the most popular teacher in the school isn't necessarily the most hard-working teacher.

JULIE BISHOP: But you'd have a range, you'd have a range. It wouldn't be just be one or the other. You'd have six, seven, maybe eight different categories of assessments, and it could be the contribution the teacher makes to the wellbeing of students in the school. It could be based on classroom performance. I'd like to see our best teachers going into our most challenging schools and being rewarded for the results that they are able to achieve, for example.

JENNY BROCKIE: So how are you going to reward somebody who might just succeed in getting a child to come to school, forget about academic results or forget about measuring anything else, just getting them there is a major achievement. How do you measure that?

JULIE BISHOP: As I said, it could be about the wellbeing of the students and the school community. There are a whole range of factors. This is not beyond the wit of the collective genius in this room to come up with a set of assessment criteria that would be a fantastic starting point.

JENNY BROCKIE: Lady up the back, yes?

LYNDY CLARKE, TEACHER: Hi, I find one of the things we haven't actually discussed here this evening is the fact that so many of us that go into teaching don't go in it for the money to start with and, you know, I've been teaching 27 years. It was not the reason I went in. People joke about our holidays – that is not the reason we do it. It's a calling. And I think we're ignoring that from the beginning of the evening.

JENNY BROCKIE: Fletcher, I'd like to bring you in at this point, because you actually left teaching, didn't you, in the private system for a job as a nursing recruiter. Now, your new job pays twice as much. Is that right?

FLETCHER HULKS, FORMER TEACHER: Yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: So was it about the money. Is that why you left?

FLETCHER HULKS: No, not really. I mean, it's much nicer, you know.

JENNY BROCKIE: What's much nicer?

FLETCHER HULKS: Earning a lot more money

JENNY BROCKIE: Oh, earning a lot more money, OK.

FLETCHER HULKS: But I'd say the big thing for me was the fact that I mean, teaching – if you put teaching into the corporate sector, you'd be employing three people – you'd have the classroom teacher, you'd have their PA and you'd have their researcher. I found myself doing a huge workload, being paid not that much, you know, compared to other people, and I guess the reason for leaving was that I found I was getting overwhelmed by this huge workload.

For me, I think if you want quality, if the Minister wants quality, and I imagine that that's what is behind this, at least, you know, that's what we'd hope, then you need to look at resourcing schools and you need to look at, you know, equipping teachers

JENNY BROCKIE: So you're not in favour of merit pay or you are?

FLETCHER HULKS: Not at all.

JENNY BROCKIE: You're not?

FLETCHER HULKS: I'm not, no.

JENNY BROCKIE: Even though you've left teaching to get more money?

FLETCHER HULKS: I didn't leave it for the money – I left it because I felt the workload and the way schools were managed was so bad that I, as a classroom teacher, could not educate. I spent all my time trying to discipline and be a social worker, which was not my passion. My passion was to educate, and even though I set the standards high and got great results in the end, it was really tough – really, really tough.

JENNY BROCKIE: Gentleman here, yes.

MARK DIAMOND, PRINCIPAL: Teaching is about relationships and that is extremely difficult to measure. I want people that are, you know, passionate about making a difference in classrooms, and as a principal, I don't want the responsibility of, you know, differentiating between my committed staff, those that are really there to make a difference every day. It's about resourcing, it's about attracting the best possible candidates to public schools and giving incentives to better resource those schools.

JENNY BROCKIE: But, Mark, don't you ever feel tempted to want to reward your best teachers, to be able to give them a pay increase if they're really excelling in their profession?

MARK DIAMOND: Teaching is about teaching passions and diversity prevails, and that's the important thing. Kids – it's relationships between children and their teachers, teachers and parents, and it's about overall improvement.

JENNY BROCKIE: John, we saw you in that film story. What do you think?

JOHN FLEMING: Having spent 14 years at Bellfield, I don't think it's about resourcing at all. We had all the resources we needed to do, to make a significant difference to the children. It's about the quality of teachers, and I agree totally with the Minister. Let's reward the teachers who are making a difference in kids' lives and let's give them some financial rewards. I know it's not all about money for teachers, but I think there needs to be recognition for those people who are making a significant difference to the kids they are working with.

JENNY BROCKIE: Lynne Rolley, you represent teachers in independent schools and you're opposed to this idea of merit pay as well, aren't you, and yet it does operate in independent schools, some independent schools.

LYNNE ROLLEY, INDEPENDENT EDUCATION UNION: Well, it does – that's right – or higher salaries are paid in a number of those schools. Look, I don't think it's a bit blunt to say that the union doesn't agree with recognition of highly accomplished teachers. Now, whether there's a terminology, whether merit pay or highly accomplished teachers, we don't…we would support that. We support teachers getting paid properly and getting paid for the value of the work they do.

JENNY BROCKIE: But you don't support some getting paid more.

LYNNE ROLLEY: Look, we need a system that is not going to divide and be divisive, we need a system that encourages and strengthens collaboration and cooperation, because that's the work of schools, that's what we need.

JENNY BROCKIE: Christine Hatzi, you're from the South Australian Principals Association. Now, your State already has a system, doesn't it, in place, that rewards teachers with merit pay. How does it work in South Australia?

CHRISTINE HATZI, SA, PRIMARY PRINCIPALS’ ASSOCIATION: And it's, interestingly enough, we call it the Advanced Skills Teachers, Level 1, and I believe that one of the problems we have at the moment is the terminology. I think merit pay, performance pay is just the barriers go up straightaway. So I think, for a start, we need to change the terminology. We have an advanced school teacher level one operating in South Australia and it actually operates really effectively, but it isn't based on student outcomes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Now, how much extra money can a teacher get under this system per year?

CHRISTINE HATZI: $750 – it isn't much.

JENNY BROCKIE: $750?

CHRISTINE HATZI: It isn't much, but what it does is it's about it actually incorporates the notion of collaboration, so the five criteria include the way in which teachers operate collaboratively, the way they support other teachers, the way they communicate with parents.

JENNY BROCKIE: And who decides that? Who in the end decides?

CHRISTINE HATZI: A panel of peers from the school, the principal and there's an outside assessor that comes in as well. It's a long process. It isn't an easy process – it is actually very rigorous, but it's also rewarding, and what it doesn't do

JENNY BROCKIE: So you go through torture for an extra $750 a year?!

CHRISTINE HATZI: You do, and that's why not a lot of people do it, but what it doesn't do is divide the staff, because you actually have the other staff members involved in the process.

JENNY BROCKIE: What does some – given some of the principals here would be playing a reasonable role in this, we've heard from a few of them, and I'd like to ask a couple more. Des Fox, you're principal of a Catholic primary school. How would you approach this idea of rewarding individual teachers in your school? Would it be easy or hard?

DES FOX, PRINCIPAL: It's very difficult, partly because of the way the schools do work but I just fear that the incentive for some may well be disincentive for others. The reality is that not all teachers are excellent teachers.

Now, that's the reality that we're faced with. How we make our lower performing teachers better is not by monetary reward, but by improved professional development – all of those things that impact on quality of teacher, not on quality of remuneration, so we need to be and how we're funded is entirely different than the corporate world. So there again is a significant difference about how we would get the money.

JENNY BROCKIE: Julie Bishop, how would they get the money and is there extra money being proposed?

JULIE BISHOP: As I said earlier, there's a whole range of options. I'm asking for a public debate about it and this is obviously what's happening. And so I've been putting forward a whole range of suggestions.

JENNY BROCKIE: So, Julie BishopWHERE is the money going to come from? Will there be extra money provided by the Federal Government for this incentive pay scheme?

JULIE BISHOP: It depends upon the system that the States and Territories embrace. The Australian Government doesn't employ the teachers in the public sector – they're employed by the State and Territory governments.

JENNY BROCKIE: But you've got the purse strings, you've got the purse strings.

JULIE BISHOP: Not all of the purse strings. The State and Territory governments own and operate and manage, and are meant to fund State Government schools supplemented by Federal Government funding. Most of the funding comes from State Government, from the State governments.

JENNY BROCKIE: But there have been reports there won't be extra funding. Can you give us an indication now of whether it's a possibility that the Federal Government might consider extra funds?

JULIE BISHOP: I want to sit down with the State and Territory education ministers and discuss this issue. We have in place a current funding agreement that goes from 2005 to 2008. When that agreement expires, I would like to be able to put ideas such as merit-based pay – however you want to describe it – on the table as a matter of negotiation with the States. That's why I'm keen for us to have this

JENNY BROCKIE: If they all agreed. If they turned around to you tomorrow and said, “Great idea, fabulous idea,” would you give them more money to do it?

JULIE BISHOP: It depends on the model. If the model were to be an incentive fund from the Commonwealth Government, well, you would. If the model were to be some form of flexible workplace arrangements between the States and the teachers, well, you might not. It would depend very much on the model.

JENNY BROCKIE: OK, hands going up everywhere – over here, yes.

DAVE GILBERT, PRINCIPAL: The Minister is really unconvincing. We've been there in NSW, we had advance skilled teachers. It failed dismally because you could only pay or reward a certain number within a school, not every advance skilled teacher in the school got the money, and I'm not convinced from what I heard here today that there will ever be enough money to pay the quality teachers you're seeking.

JENNY BROCKIE: OK, who else?

JULIE BISHOP: One issue that I'm really concerned about, and that is nobody's focusing on the feature – trying to attract and retain quality teachers. Currently 40% of students that graduate from teaching courses do not go into teaching. Now, we need to look at that and work out ways that we can attract people and retain people as quality teachers.

JENNY BROCKIE: Pat, yes.

PAT BYRNE: No disagreement, absolutely no disagreement with the need to attract and retain teachers, but the problem is, or the issue is, not simply to pay some teachers more – the issue is to lift the salary for the whole profession so that people are, in fact, encouraged to stay in the profession, to come into the profession, to stay in the profession and also

JENNY BROCKIE: But why reward not-so-good teachers?

PAT BYRNE: Just a moment. And the issue that was raised earlier about the workload, workload is the single biggest factor that teachers complain about, if you like. The work intensification over the last 10 years has been huge, and it's because of our focus, if you like, on the individual needs, a greater focus on the individual needs of a student as opposed to what was the case 10 or 15 years ago. The workload issue, coupled with a proper salary structure, is what will keep teachers in the profession.

JENNY BROCKIE: OK, I'd like to move on to the question of standards, and this question of retaining teachers, because there is this recent research that shows that teachers' own academic standards aren't that fantastic. Now, Andrew Lee, you're an economist and one of the authors of this research. What did you find when you went looking at standards?

PROFESSOR ANDREW LEIGH, ECONOMIST, ANU: Chris Ryan and I looked at the literacy and numeracy standards of those who entered the teaching profession. We compared those who entered the teaching profession in the early ’80s and those who entered the teaching profession in the early 2000s. In the early '80s the typical new teacher was at the top 30% of her class.

JENNY BROCKIE: Her?

PROFESSOR ANDREW LEIGH: His or her, but most three quarters of teachers are women. Now, the typical new teacher is about the top 40% of his or her class, so about a 10% drop in the literacy, numeracy standards of new teachers.

JENNY BROCKIE: Are declining academic standards, do you think, connected with the salary issue? Do you think they're entwined?

PROFESSOR ANDREW LEIGH: Yeah, Chris and I thought salary mattered in two respects. One is that the salaries of new teachers relative to bachelor graduates fell by about 10% over this period, average salaries. The other is pay dispersion in the rest of the labour market increased. If you like, the rest of the labour market moved more towards merit pay and the teaching sector stayed as it was on uniform salary schedules, and we think both of those two factors caused the decline in literacy and numeracy of new teachers.

JENNY BROCKIE: John Hughes, I wonder what you're seeing with your student teachers at Sydney University.

DR JOHN HUGHES, EDUCATION AND SOCIAL WORK, UNI. OF SYDNEY: Our research is indicating that top young students at both the undergraduate and the postgraduate level are entering the teaching profession, and I think that's something we should really celebrate. It's interesting in the research that we've been undertaking that the UAIs have been going up very dramatically over the last six years, and I don't really know why Federal and State ministers don't pat themselves on the back for that sort of increase of talented young students in that period.

JENNY BROCKIE: There had been a drop, though, hadn't there?

DR JOHN HUGHES: Earlier there had been a drop, but it's dramatically increasing now. The students we've been looking at – most of them in the 90 UAI or over. They are committed to teaching, because they're committed to social justice, because they want to make a difference, because they love their subject, because they love their students, and very few of them say it's because of the salary. Now, I don't want to argue that salary isn't important, because I think in NSW the starting salaries for beginning teachers are very good they're about $47,000, $48,000.

JENNY BROCKIE: They're certainly better than Victoria.

DR JOHN HUGHES: And I think that teachers make a difference in NSW has made a big difference, but passion, empathy and care for students is the big motivating factor of the young people that are here with me tonight.

JENNY BROCKIE: Mandy, you're one of the people here tonight. You scored over 99% in your final school year in NSW last year and you chose teaching – why? Why did you choose it?

MANDY MALONE, STUDENT TEACHER: Well, for me it's all about people and that teaching is a job where you're interacting with students all the time and so for me, like, choosing a profession, when I could have chosen a lot of things, for me money wasn't the most important thing, because I just value the fact that I can have a huge impact on students every day, being able to benefit them by teaching them academically, but also assisting them socially and making a difference.

MERCURIUS GOLDSTEIN: May I add to Mandy's comments? I mean, this idea that the standards are dropping, as you can see from Mandy's experience, it's not only inaccurate, it's insulting. By the time we've done our courses, we will have had over 100 days of prac teaching, 18 months of curriculum development, a year of classroom management, special-ed training, a semester of observations, and I really don't appreciate studies like this taking pot shots at incoming graduates before we've even had a chance to demonstrate what we can do.

JENNY BROCKIE: Response from you, Andrew.

PROFESSOR ANDREW LEIGH: To say that the average standards of literacy and numeracy standards of new teachers have fallen is not to say there are no great teachers – there are plenty of great teachers, and we just need more of them.

JENNY BROCKIE: What about some parents here? Lindy, you're a teacher and a parent. I wonder what you think about this and about standards?

LYNDY CLARKE: I think we need to stop apologising for what we do. I just think as teachers we're an extraordinary group of people and I'm lucky to have a child who I'm very happy with her education. I am very comfortable and she was… she had some learning disabilities which I found very frustrating because she had both parents were educators, we produced a child that couldn't even write her name properly in about Grade 2 or 3. We believed in the government system, we, unfortunately, took her out of the government system, we put her in a system that works for her, and I'm not saying government systems don't, but for our child's learning disability, it worked, and we're very, very happy with the system and the standard of education she's getting.

JENNY BROCKIE: Dave Gilbert, just before we leave standards, what do you think about standards?

DAVE GILBERT: I think we do have a problem with standards and it's to do with the lack of federal funding of universities. I've got currently, got four student teachers in my school who have done degrees not related to teaching, and now they're doing a 12-month course, which is going to make them a general primary teacher. When you question them about what they're doing within that course, I asked them about mathematics, “Are you doing any mathematics?” “No, it's an option.” Yet I will expect that teacher, if she's appointed to my school next year, to be teaching primary mathematics. The universities are being squeezed, the education faculties are being squeezed and they are not – they don't have the funding to provide outstanding teacher education.

JENNY BROCKIE: Julie Bishop, there's a lot of things that are being delivered here to you that need improving – better funding for schools, better funding, better teacher salaries, better funding for universities. Are you going to tackle all of it?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm not in this alone. The Australian Government is just one component of education in this country. I understood that historically and constitutionally State and Territory governments were responsible for public education, and the Commonwealth supplements that funding, and we support non-government schools. So I'm happy to work with State and Territory education ministers on all of these issues.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what about funding of universities?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm getting a very mixed message here. On the one hand, I'm being told that students coming out of the current education courses are the best they've ever been and we have people from education courses saying what a fantastic job they're doing and universities, of course, receive significant funding from the Australian Government – an extra $11 billion over the decade. Our universities are well resourced, and teaching is a national priority.

JENNY BROCKIE: But that's not what the universities say. We hear the universities complaining about their resources all the time.

JULIE BISHOP: Would you expect them not to?

JENNY BROCKIE: We've heard a lot from teachers, we've heard a lot of principals, but the big consumers of all of this, of course, are the kids and they have pretty clear ideas about what they think makes a good teacher. Let's hear what the kids at Bellfield Primary might be looking for if they were deciding which teachers should get merit pay.

WHAT THE KIDS THINK:

REPORTER: Amanda Collinge

GIRL 1: Well, I think they should be loving, caring, and I think they should be funny.

What do you think makes a good teacher?

BOY: Interacting with the kids well and encouragement.

GIRL 2: Communicating with the kids properly and try to make stuff fun for them as well as try to make them learn stuff.

GIRL 3: They need to have, like, maybe patience, like, if a kid gets stuck.

BOY 2: Respect.

JENNY BROCKIE: Well, Julie Bishop, is any system going to be able to measure those sorts of things, and it is in the end the kids who quite often have very perceptive thoughts about what a good teacher is.

JULIE BISHOP: Teachers are a precious resource. My point is that good teachers should be rewarded, great teachers should be treasured, and that we should be able to put in place a system of pay with the flexibility that rewards those teachers.

JENNY BROCKIE: We've got some other students here. Claire, I wonder what you think makes a good teacher. Do you

CLAIRE CAVANAGH: Well, I think someone who doesn't just go to the staffroom at the end of the lesson, that, if you need a bit of help with the last unit of maths you've just done stays and says, “This is what you've got to do,” and helps you there, and someone who knows what they're talking about and doesn't just, you know

JENNY BROCKIE: OK, and have you got many good teachers at school, in your view?

CLAIRE CAVANAGH: I think they're good teachers, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what's a not-so-good teacher, from your perspective?

CLAIRE CAVANAGH: Someone who's boring.

JENNY BROCKIE: Someone who's boring. Ariana, what about you? What do you think makes a good teacher and how would you measure it if you were asked?

ARIANA ARULAMPALAM: : Well, really, and I think I've just had great teachers, especially this year, and throughout my high school, and it's really because they can inspire, and when you get to Year 7 and Year 8, you're exposed to so much new stuff, it's a huge jump, and then when you get a teacher which can really inspire you and get across that, yes, this is a subject that you should love and adore, that's what makes you go on and do those subjects and that is what I got. And I really don't understand how you can get a merit system which is going to be able to have a criteria, which is going to be able to pay people to do that. That is something which comes from the heart and that's the passion and everything that everyone's talked about, yes. So, really, you will be paying all of my teachers this merit thing because all of them are great.

JENNY BROCKIE: OK, yes, young girl here.

GIRL: I agree with what both of them said, but I also think a good teacher is somebody that just doesn't give you the worksheets and say, “This is what we're learning,” that makes the work fun and that's also the best way to learn, because you really get into the work if they make it fun. Like, in Year 4 when we learnt life cycles, we actually got baby chicks to look after and that sort of thing, not just getting a sheet and it says, “What comes first? What comes second?” And I think teachers that actually take the time and effort to make our learning fun should be rewarded, if we're talking about rewards.

JENNY BROCKIE: And how often do you have teachers like that, like you've described?

GIRL: Pretty often, actually. There're quite a lot of good teachers and then there's teachers in between and very few teachers are the ones that give you the worksheets and say, “Sit down and do these.”

JENNY BROCKIE: Melina, how supported do you feel as a teacher?

MELINA MARCHETTA: By the kids or by the rest of the staff?

JENNY BROCKIE: By the kids and by the system.

MELINA MARCHETTA: Well, I'm in a fantastic school. I've been there 11 years.

JENNY BROCKIE: You're in a private school?

MELINA MARCHETTA: No, I'm in a Catholic school and I think it is, it's about respect, we don't have an “us and them” mentality with the boys. It's tough some days, other days, it's… you're laughing your head off, but you have got that support system. We do have a mentor scheme. As soon as someone comes in, one of our, you know, first year outs, they're looked after. If someone comes to the school new, they're looked after. There's a lot of things that properly need to be addressed, but I feel as if the staff is supported and, more than anything, there's this fantastic respect between the kids and the staff. And that makes it such a joy to go to school every day, you know. It's just, it's fantastic.

JENNY BROCKIE: Mark, can I just ask you whether you think merit pay would actually bring more men into the system, perhaps?

MARK DIAMOND: Again, you know, I think quality of the graduates are more important than the gender. I've been in schools, thoughWHERE there's gender balance, and there's some benefits to that. No, again, teachers want to land in schools where they feel supportedWHERE there's a blurred line between the casual and permanent members of staffWHERE they're professionally developed and good stories are shared.

JENNY BROCKIE: Judith, why do you think more men aren't teaching? Do you think merit pay would make more men become teachers.

JUDITH WHEELDON: I don't think merit pay is actually going to attract very many teachers to teaching, very many people to teaching, because it's a bit of luck of the draw. You don't know when you go in that you're going to get that extra pay, so I don't think the merit pay would particularly attract more men.

But I think the main problems with men, to some extent, it's that we judge people, give status, by salary, but it also is a more difficult profession right now for men than it is for women. All the child protection issues focus much more on men, men are possibly subject to victimisation by disturbed or upset students and there's there is always an air of, “You're a man, you have to be extra careful,” and I think that is discouraging, especially in primary schools, and I think it's unfortunate, because both boys and girls very much need male role models as much as they need female ones, and I think they especially need male role models in pastoral care situations – that is the kind of caring we've heard children on the screen and here talking about, that men can care as much about other people and be as nurturing as women can. We need them.

DR KEVIN DONNELLY: Just very quickly, my daughter Amelia, when she was in Grade 4, my wife and I discovered she couldn't read. Now, I wasn't really interested in the teacher giving her self-esteem or that care, share grow approach, I wanted my daughter to be able to read, to write, to do arithmetic. She couldn't read – we had to teach her at home. So I'd argue that you need to look at teaching not just in terms of these more effective domains. At the end of the day, parents want their children to be taught, they need to, especially if they're going on to Year 12 to tertiary, they need to be properly equipped.

JENNY BROCKIE: This leads us perfectly into talking about grading, because, Julie Bishop, while we have you here, we have to ask you about the A-to-E grading system. Why is the Government insisting on these new report cards, this new way of reporting?

JULIE BISHOP: This legislation came in in 2004, it was agreed to by all State and Territory education ministers to provide a nationally consistent approach to grading and the requirement was that they be plain English report cards, that is, free of jargon, and that they be graded on an A to E or equivalent scale.

JENNY BROCKIE: Let's have a look at one, and can you talk us through it?

JULIE BISHOP: It's a parent's right to understand how their child's performing at school.

JENNY BROCKIE: Let's have a look at one of these grading. Now this comes from your own department, I think. Can you just talk us through that, how the system works?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, schools across Australia are being required to provide report cards that are in plain English and not use terminology like achieving or preliminary achieving or maybe achieving – some of the jargon that was in report cards prior to this – and on a 5-scale form

JENNY BROCKIE: So what does an A mean and what does a B mean and what does a C mean?

JULIE BISHOP: Schools are being required – we've asked for the regulations set out 5-point scale – A to E or equivalent – in plain English, and we've left it to State and Territory education authorities and schools to determine how they will do that.

JENNY BROCKIE: Now, does that mean a C means you're performing to standard and anything above a C is extra, is better than the basic standard? How does it work?

JULIE BISHOP: Everybody understands what A to E means.

JENNY BROCKIE: I don't know that they do. I don't know that they do. What does an A mean, and what does a C mean? Does a C mean that you're underperforming or does it mean you're performing to a particular level?

JULIE BISHOP: Average.

JENNY BROCKIE: C means you're average.

JUDITH WHEELDONN: Is it in the school or is it statewide or is it national? Are we going to have a school that is all As and another one that's all Bs and then a whole lot of schools that are all Cs? Is it a national standard? Is the C – or let's – C is going to be the bulk, so let's look at a B and a D. Is a B in this school going to be the same as a B in another school around the country? Ditto for a D. Are you going to have a school that's primarily Ds and Es because the statistics have to balance across the country? How are we going to explain this to the kids who want to see their work at school, that they care very much about, be given a little bit more respect than a letter?

JENNY BROCKIE: Julie, a response?

JULIE BISHOP: C means the standard expected and B means higher than that standard and A means excellent.

JUDITH WHEELDON: Expected in the school or in the State?

JULIE BISHOP: Across that year.

JENNY BROCKIE: Is it a universal standard or does it vary from school to school?

DR KEVIN DONNELLY: Well, each State and Territory, if I may, because I looked at this last week, researching the show, each State and Territory has done their own approach, Victoria, NSW, for example, and I disagree with what they've done, they've said a C is at that level across the State in terms of the expectation in terms of that curriculum. So if it's Year 5 or Year 6, a C is 70%, 80% of the students across the State get that C. That wasn't the Federal Minister's decision. That was the State and Territory ministers, and I think, in fact, they got it wrong.

JENNY BROCKIE: Let me ask some of the students what they think about A to E. Claire, what do you think getting somewhere between an A and an E on a report card?

CLAIRE CAVANAGH: I think if C is, like, average that's going to make me feel that I'm not doing as well, because just C – if you have, like, a reporting system of A to E you'd think that if you got a C, it seems not as good as anything else.

JENNY BROCKIE: Hannah, how would you have felt about it?

HANNAH STANTON: I would have thought that it would be beneficial probably from Year 4 to Year 6, not earlier than that, because you're still new to school. But yeah, really encourages competition between students, which I think is really valued, and it really gives you an incentive to work harder, yeah, and shows you clearly where you need to put more work in.

JENNY BROCKIE: Mark, will you be implementing A-to-E reporting at your school?

MARK DIAMOND: No, look, I find it's been quite insulting in terms of schools have worked with their communities over a number of years. We have an outcomes-driven syllabus documentation, and that may have its faults, but we've developed a common language, and our parents are very satisfied with comparative assessment that we give them, and the primacy is on the quality of the teacher comment. Teacher comments, if written in such a way that a child is compared to their own potential, they're dramatically important to parents, and I think to have this “one size fits all” model imposed upon us – it's been quite insulting.

JENNY BROCKIE: Julie?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm concerned that children who need support, who need intervention, need to get that support early on, and I have had letter after letter. In fact, just before I came here tonight, a woman came up to me, she's a teacher, sorry, she's a mother, and she said that prior to the A-to-E report cards, she got these reports that said her son asked critical questions, or her son did this, that and the other, and she had no idea how he was performing. His latest report card gave him an E and that was the first time that she realised her son needed help in that area and she's arranged for that help. Up until that time she'd been totally deceived at his level of ability and his level of achievement, and so she welcomes the A-to-E report cards, and that is the kind of response I'm getting with parents – they want to know how their child is achieving, they want to know the truth.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yes?

WOMAN: The reports were designed or the objectives behind the reports were to provide meaningful reports to parents and consistency. Now, I don't think we're there yet. I don't think that parents fully understand the reports that they're getting, even though they say they might be satisfied with them, and by that I mean I think there is still some misunderstandings about what A, B, C, D, E means and in particular understanding is around C. A lot of parents still consider C to be the same as it was 20 years ago and parents still believe that there was a bell curve, that's there a normative distribution of the grades across A to E. Now, that's not the case anymore.

JENNY BROCKIE: We are going to have to wrap up. Pat Byrne, final comment from you on all the things we've talked about tonight, I suppose – the idea of merit pay and particularly this last issue we've been dealing with about grading. What's your position, and what do you think is the reasoning behind this? Can you see good reasons for some of these changes?

PAT BYRNE: Well, we've never been opposed to change, and I think we'd be the last group of people that would say that everything was so perfect in the education system that it didn't, in fact, need change. But it's, I guess, the manner in which that change is being imposed, that teachers resent everywhere in Australia to be, in fact, told “If you don't implement this, funding will be withdrawn or withheld.” It's not a way that teachers appreciate being treated.

To be bullied in the way that we have been over the past several years now with threats of funding withdrawal every time the Federal Government wants to do something – that, in fact, teachers may not want, only succeeds, in fact, in alienating teachers, in getting their backs up, which actually makes it then much harder from the Government's point of view, I would have thought, to implement something in a way that genuinely improves the quality of what's happening in schools.

JENNY BROCKIE: Julie Bishop – bullying you're being accused of.

JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government doesn't own, operate or manage the State Government schools, yet we invest some $33 billion, $33 billion, of taxpayer funds in the government and non-government sector, and we're accountable to the taxpayers for how that money is spent and how it's invested, and so I believe that the Australian Government is entitled to ask States and Territories to agree to certain conditions in return for Australian Government funding. We are accountable to our taxpayers.

JENNY BROCKIE: And when will you be releasing firm details of exactly what you want to do with things like merit pay? When will we have a clear idea of how that kind of system would work?

JULIE BISHOP: The current funding agreement is in place until 2008, and so I would expect I'll start sitting down with State and Territory education ministers next year, because legislation would have to be passed in 2008 for 2009 funding arrangements, so that's the timetable.

JENNY BROCKIE: And would there be a financial penalty for the States that didn't go along with the idea of merit pay?

JULIE BISHOP: I haven't even started negotiating, I haven't even sat down with the States. I've raised these issues publicly, I'm appreciating the opportunity to discuss it in public and the feedback that I've been getting, not only tonight, but generally, as this type of issue, whether it be performance-based pay or professional development or A-to-E report cards, these are issues that need to be discussed, and I appreciate their feedback.

JENNY BROCKIE: I'm sure there will be a lot more discussion.

WOMAN: Will it be released before the next election? Will we know before we go to the polls in 2007?

JULIE BISHOP: This is to do with funding agreements. The funding agreement is in place from 2005 to 2008, so there's nothing I can do about it before then.

JENNY BROCKIE: But you can flag it before then.

JULIE BISHOP: But I am flagging it, I'm flagging it now.

JENNY BROCKIE: You can flag the detail before then.

JULIE BISHOP: I'm flagging it now. I'd like to progress this in discussion with the State and Territory education ministers because I don't employ the teachers, the Australian Government doesn't employ teachers, so I need to work with the State and Territory education ministers, and we'll be sitting down in 2007 to start discussions for this funding.

JENNY BROCKIE: We are going to have to leave it there. I'm really sorry – we're out of time.

MAN: This was a teacher's program – we find you unsatisfactory.

JENNY BROCKIE: We are going to have to leave there, I'm afraid. I'd like to thank everybody very much for joining the discussion tonight and I'm sure there will be many more before that funding agreement runs out.

THE TEACHER TEST