When it comes to pay packets, not all teachers are equal. Suzanne Kowalski-Roth from the NSW/ACT Independent Education Union (IEU), explores this much-needed campaign, and outlines why pay parity needn’t be a utopian daydream.

In a utopian Australia, young children would be valued by our society, and the role of early childhood teachers in nurturing and educating children would be truly understood, articulated and affirmed.

In a utopian version of Australia, there would be no reason to run a campaign to demand early childhood teachers be remunerated at the same rate as their peers.

In a utopian Australia, teachers, especially those who teach the youngest members of our society, would be paid at a rate that recognised the importance of this role.

Getting the pay we deserve

Early childhood teachers in long day care services and community-based preschools earn up to 20 per cent less than teachers in State Government preschools and independent and Catholic primary schools.

This pay disparity impacts on the sector’s capacity to recruit and retain teachers, to encourage school leavers to enter the early childhood teaching profession and, of course, on early childhood teachers’ economic survival.

Declaring, ‘Teachers are Teachers: Fund Equal Pay For Early Childhood Teachers‘, the Independent Education Union (IEU) has launched a far-reaching campaign to ensure early childhood teachers achieve pay parity with their professional peers.

Launching the campaign, IEU General Secretary, Dick Shearman said: ‘In NSW, the Government gets early education on the cheap… It is about quality, it is about respect and it is about recognition for the work teachers do’.

In a recent survey of IEU members, 53 per cent of respondents said they have considered moving to primary school teaching to earn more money.

‘No wonder it’s difficult to recruit teachers for early education and care services, when a teacher could earn up to $14,000 per year more for teaching primary school children,’ Mr Shearman said.

Pay parity could well remain a utopian daydream unless early childhood education and care services receive increased government funding.

Recognising this, the ‘Teachers are Teachers’ campaign calls on both the NSW Government and the NSW Opposition to commit to funding pay parity for all early childhood teachers.

‘Unless funding for services increases, services will not be able to pay our members what they deserve. That is why the campaign is directed at the NSW State Government rather than individual employers,’ Mr Shearman said.

Pay parity is even more important when the success of the National Quality Framework depends so much on recruiting and retaining teachers.

Demand for teachers will also be driven by the Universal Access commitment to provide 15 hours of preschool per week to all four year olds, to be delivered by a four-year university-trained teacher by 2013.

Speaking at a rally in Sydney to launch the campaign, Charles Sturt University academic Dr Frances Press, outlined a range of reasons why early childhood teachers deserve pay parity.

She spoke of the fact that a child who enters fulltime long day care shortly after birth can spend almost as many hours in the day care environment as they will for the rest of their schooling—a total of 12,500 hours.

Ms Press said: ‘Research about outcomes for children in such environments has identified the quality of early childhood programs as a key issue in determining whether the effects upon children are adverse or positive. As a result, the general community has an expectation that not only will children be kept safe, but that their learning and development will be actively nurtured’.

Ms Press also spoke of the ways in which early childhood teacher’s jobs were more difficult than the jobs of their counterparts in schools:

  • Teachers in the long day care sector are likely to work longer days and have shorter holidays than other teachers.
  • Attendance patterns in children’s services are highly variable—teachers in early childhood have to develop meaningful relationships with a much higher number of children and their families.
  • The volume and extent of regulation and quality related policy require high levels of accountability from teachers.
  • As early childhood programs are considered effective forms of early intervention, children with additional or specialist needs are often enrolled as a remedial measure.
  • Thus teachers must also develop and implement an inclusive curriculum for a wide range of variation in development.

Ms Press also pointed out that: ‘Teachers within the school system receive a much greater level of systemic support, have much less administrative responsibility, and do not have to assume a leadership role with lesser trained staff. In addition, they work shorter hours and for fewer weeks in the year’.

Three voices, one message

Rattler talks to three early childhood professionals about the fight for pay parity STUDENT TEACHER Melinda Ferris just completed her four-year Early Childhood Degree and is employed as a teacher at Mia-Mia Child and Family Study Centre at Macquarie University.

‘In a recent discussion in a tutorial group, I was shocked to learn that in a class of 25, only two graduating students intended to teach in priorto- school settings.

This inspired me to consider this notion further, and as part of an assessment, I conducted a survey to gather data around which educational setting graduating teachers intended to work in, and what would entice them to remain in priorto- school settings.

A cohort of 99 early childhood students in their third and fourth years of university were surveyed; sadly, only 35 participants said they would use their early childhood education teaching degrees to work in a prior-to-school setting.

The most influential factor and rationale for choosing not to were the pay and poor working conditions. In response to the question what would entice them to work in priorto- school settings, 45 participants stated that pay parity would motivate them to seek employment in early childhood settings.

It is important to acknowledge that this goal is a realistic one—that pay parity is achievable. In New Zealand, pay parity was achieved in a bid to lift the profile of the early childhood sector.

Pay parity is a reasonable request from the early childhood profession— and I believe all early childhood teachers should join the fight to improve our conditions. My very inspirational director has empowered me to believe I can be an agent of change, and that together early childhood teachers can make a difference.’

TEACHING DIRECTOR Ariane Simon is the director of St Stephen’s Preschool in the Sydney suburb of Normanhurst. Before this role, she worked as a Child Studies teacher at TAFE and lecturer at Charles Sturt University.

‘We have the same degree, and the same HECS debts but early childhood education teachers are paid significantly less. It’s an economic reality that you will think twice about pursuing a career in early childhood—when you can earn 20 per cent more in a school.

It’s not about crying poor or getting parents to pay more—it’s about what’s fair and equitable for early childhood teachers. It’s about getting the Government to subsidise our wages so that it doesn’t come out of parent pockets.

Parents don’t realise that we are not paid the same as school teachers or they mistakenly think everyone at an early childhood service is a teacher. At my centre, all my teachers are fouryear- trained university graduates, so we say to parents, “Do you realise the quality you get for your money!”.

I have a teacher at my service, who cannot afford to stay. As the main breadwinner, she has had to get a job as a teacher in an independent school, where she’ll earn $17,000 more.

If you stood in front of a group of Year 12 students, and you could honestly say, “Yes you will get paid exactly the same in a preschool or long day care centre as you would in a school. And you will get to work with young children and families in a team environment”, then don’t you think more people would be attracted to a career in early childhood?’

TEACHER’S ADVOCATE Lyn Connors is director of Hamilton Child Care Centre in Newcastle. She is a representative on the Early Childhood Council of the Independent Education Union.

‘Early childhood teachers work eight hours face-to-face with very young children, and we go home at night and do curriculum development, programming, assessment and portfolios—all those important things that teachers in schools do—but school teachers do it for more money, and they get up to 12 weeks annual leave!

I went to a branch meeting of the IEU and the teachers there from high schools, Catholic schools and independent schools, had absolutely no idea that our wages are so low. So the community doesn’t know about pay parity, parents don’t know and our colleagues don’t know either!

These days, our universities offer courses to teach children from 0–12 years. So if the course is the same, why should teachers be paid differently because they choose to work in a different sector?

Interestingly, I did an EYLF workshop recently, and when filling out a form, one of the teachers said he was an “educator”—not a teacher. When I asked him why, he said: “I am the same as my staff, we are co-collaborators”.

I think this attitude is denying his knowledge, experience and his status as a university-trained teacher. If you go to university and you train as a teacher, then you should be recognised as one… and you should be paid as one.’

Get involved!

As a first step, the IEU asks its members and other teachers to:

  • Visit the Teachers are Teachers website
  • Get postcards signed Teachers need to get friends, family and the families of children you teach to sign a postcard to Premier Kristina Keneally and Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell asking them to commit to funding equal pay for early childhood teachers. The IEU will send all union members a bundle of postcards. Other interested teachers (non-members) can also contact the IEU for copies. To order postcards, phone 1800 467 943, email teachersareteachers@ieu.asn.au or visit www.ieu.asn.au
  • Send an email to both sides of politics The union will provide a draft of what to say or you can write your own—the union needs every teacher to tell party leaders why you deserve equal pay with your primary school counterparts.
  • Visit your local MP and candidate The union wants every politician and would-be politician to hear from an IEU member first hand about the injustice of teachers who teach our youngest children earning less than other teachers. They need to hear the message: ‘teachers are teachers’!

This article first appeared in Rattler Magazine, Issue 96, Summer 2010

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