A teacher with students

1 in 5 NSW teachers temporary, vulnerable to exploitation

18 May 2021
Temporary teachers feel pressured to work even harder than permanent staff
Temporary teachers, the majority of whom are female and not temporarily employed by choice, face the same work demands as permanent teachers - yet face more pressure due to their precarious work status.
Graph showing proportion of temporary teachers in NSW

Permanent, Casual and Temporary union members, 1970-2017 (percent of total). Source: NSWTF Annual Reports, 1970-2017. Data for 2004 are not published.

Temporary teachers in New South Wales public schools work just as hard as permanent ones yet have less job security, finds new research.

Published in the Journal of Educational Administration and History, the research sheds light on the experiences of temporary teachers, who comprise a fifth of teachers in the state system.

Temporary teachers are employed full-time for four weeks to a year, or part-time for two terms or more.

The research finds, on average, temporary teachers work 56 hours a week, compared to 57 by permanent teachers, and 40 by casuals – who work on a day-to-day basis to replace teachers on short-term leave.

Despite their workload similarities, teachers in temporary positions feel they work harder than permanent teachers
Associate Professor Rachel Wilson

Study co-author, Associate Professor Rachel Wilson from the University of Sydney said: “Comparable to permanent teachers, 70 per cent of temporary teachers reported their employer ‘always’ requires them to ‘work very hard’. This contrasts with a lower rate of casual teachers reporting this circumstance.”

A majority of temporary teachers further reported never or rarely having enough time to complete work tasks.

“Despite their workload similarities, teachers in temporary positions feel they work harder than permanent teachers,” Associate Professor Wilson, from the Sydney School of Education and Social Work, continued. “This feeling may be due to the temporary, and more precarious, nature of their roles: these teachers know their continued employment depends on ‘impressing’ those around them, particularly the school principal.

“One respondent to the survey we drew our research data from described experiences of permanent teachers ‘prey[ing]’ on temporary teachers by ‘shift[ing] work’ to them.”

The female dimension

The researchers, who include researchers from UNSW, UTS, and Curtin University, also found only 27 percent of temporary teachers chose temporary employment. Further, women are much more likely to be temporary than men. Women may also stay longer as temporary teachers than men, with potential implications for future career opportunities and leadership positions in schools.

“Given our findings and that the proportion of temporary teachers has risen year on year since 2001 (when the employment category was introduced in NSW public schools), something needs to be done to address these issues,” Associate Professor Wilson said. “Indeed, this is one of the recommendations of the recently released ‘Valuing the Teaching Profession’ report of the ‘Gallop Inquiry’.”

The researchers hope the results of their study will filter down to schools and foster a more equitable balance of work requirements across workload-equivalent teacher categories. On a system level, they argue for the conversion of particularly long-serving women temporary teachers into permanent employment, signalling respect for the work they do and building benefits for the profession, schools and ultimately students.

“Teaching is a cognitively, emotionally, and physically strenuous job and has historically relied upon its reputation as a secure, permanent, and stable career to attract strong candidates to the profession,” Professor Wilson said. “As pay rates are notably low compared to other professions requiring equivalent levels of education, addressing problems with job security, workload and work conditions has become even more critical.”

Declaration: The analysis of temporary teachers was based on data from a survey funded by the NSW Teachers Federation that the authors previously conducted.

Methodology: The researchers drew on a large state-wide survey on teacher workload conducted in 2018. They identified 3,689 temporary teachers and examined quantitative and qualitative data on how their experiences of workload might be similar or different to casual and permanent teachers. 

Hero image via Shutterstock.

Loren Smith

Assistant Media Adviser (Humanities & Science)

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