Chapter 3 - Status and professionalism
What is status? What is professionalism? This section of the
Report discusses these questions with relation to teachers. It sets the scene
for later consideration of the factors which enhance teacher status and
professionalism and those which undermine them.
The Concept of Professionalism
Much has been written on this subject. There is no absolute
agreement on what constitutes a profession. However, certain characteristics of
professions and professionals are recognised by most writers on this subject.
These characteristics include:
strong motivation or calling
possession of a specialised body of knowledge and skills acquired during a long
period of education and training
of standards, admission, career paths and disciplinary issues
in organising and carrying out their work
need for the ongoing exercise of professional judgement
accept and apply a professional code of practice.
Some writers on this subjecthave
gone so far as to identify six different types of professionalism which they
call classical, flexible, practical, extended, complex and post modern. While
the emphasis is rather different in each, they all include most of the
characteristics listed above as being central to the definition of a
A slightly different perspective on professionalism was
provided by Professor Anna Yeatman from Macquarie University in her evaluation
of the National Schools Network.
She drew attention to what she considered to be the four fundamental features
of professionalism, which she described as:
ethic of service
lifelong openness to learning about the demands of professional practice
recognition that the best evaluators of professional practice are professional
peers (although other stakeholders should also be involved)
and accountability to all stakeholders.
Teaching has been conceptualised as a labour, a craft, and
an art as well as a profession,
as labour - where the teacher carries out a program devised by others
as craft - where the teacher possesses specialised techniques and
understands the rules governing their application
as profession - where the teacher possesses specialised techniques and
exercises judgement about their application, thus building a body of
as art - where the teacher possesses professional knowledge and skills and
personal resources enabling them to use these skills in novel, unconventional
and unpredictable applications.
The Hon Dr David Kemp MP, when Minister for Schools,
Vocational Education and Training nominated the factors which he regarded as
identifying a profession.
respect for the professional expertise of its members and for
their capacity to achieve objectives which are highly valued by the community
- recognition of the positive and helpful contribution the
profession makes to people's daily lives
- the maintenance of professional standards and ethical behaviour
of its members
- significant rewards for outstanding professional work.
A wide range of views was presented to the Committee, and
exist in the literature, on the extent to which teaching can be classified as a
profession. UNESCO has no doubt that teaching is a profession. At a 1966
intergovernmental conference on the status of teachers it declared:
Teaching should be regarded as a profession: it is a form of
public service which requires of teachers expert knowledge and specialized
skills, acquired and maintained through rigorous and continuing study; it calls
also for a sense of personal and corporate responsibility for the education and
welfare of the pupils in their charge.
In most submissions to the Committee and in evidence at
public hearings teachers distinguished between their own assessment of the
importance of their work and how it is viewed by the community at large.
Teachers considered themselves to be professionals but felt that their
professionalism was not recognised by others. A view of teaching persists which
emphasises the interpersonal aspects of the task rather than the pedagogical.
The result is a failure to appreciate the complexity of teaching and the high
level of skill required to teach effectively.
There can be little doubt that, as a profession, teaching
suffers from an identity crisis of monumental proportions. The historical
notion of teaching as a 'calling' or 'vocation' has done very little to help
the cause in establishing teaching as a 'real profession.' The very term
'vocation' invokes an array of terms to do with reliance, self-sacrifice,
loyalty, faith and devotion. The marginality of teaching as a profession owes
much to such language.
A common theme in evidence to the Committee was teachers'
lack of influence over curriculum, training and professional development. This
undermined their professionalism.
Many people accepted that controlling standards and entry was an
important part of being a professional and that the absence of this control is
one reason that teaching is not considered to be a profession.
As employees, teachers generally have not had the opportunity to
define their own professional standards or to have input to their own
accreditation or registration processes in the way other professions have done.
In some professions status is enhanced by the specialised
knowledge of its practitioners. It could be argued therefore that teachers'
professional standing would increase if greater efforts were made to emphasise
the special skills and knowledge they possess. In this view teachers suffer in
comparison with other professionals just because everybody has been to school
and therefore supposes they understand what teaching is all about.
On the basis of evidence received during the Inquiry the
Committee has formed the view that a major contributor to the low status of
teachers is the community's lack of understanding of just what is involved in
teaching. It would therefore be more helpful to improving status if teachers
were able to articulate more clearly their professional skills and convey more
emphatically how these enabled students to learn.
The Concept of Status
Status is a measure of the esteem in which an individual,
group or occupation holds itself or is held by others. A number of factors
contribute to high status. These include the possession of highly valued and
specialised knowledge and skills and, often, large financial rewards. But
status is difficult to measure. It often has to be earned personally but, at
the same time, it is often ascribed to someone merely by virtue of their
belonging to a particular group. These different aspects of status, one which
attaches directly to individuals and another which attaches to a group, are
worth teasing out, especially given the apparent contradiction between the
esteem in which individual teachers might be held and that in which teachers as
a group might be held.
‘Individual’ status can be described as that which is earned
by or ascribed to a person on the basis of personal merit. Such a person
demonstrates the skills, integrity and professional acumen which result in
their being held in high regard by those with whom they are directly involved.
Many teachers enjoy that kind of regard from students, parents or colleagues.
‘Group’ status, for present purposes, is described as that
which somebody enjoys or has ascribed to them not because they are known
to possess certain skills, qualities or attributes, but because they are presumed
to possess them simply because they are members of a particular group. Whether
that member is worthy of such status is a separate question, but as a member of
a particular group they are presumed to possess the appropriate qualities until
Group status as we have just described it is largely secured
as a result of that group establishing itself on some kind of institutional
basis, asserting itself as the voice of its members and being accepted by
others on those terms. What flows from this is influence on political and
financial decision-making processes, a capacity to make other groups or
institutions take your interests and needs into account, and the power to
attract high rewards for members of the group.
To date teachers have frequently enjoyed individual status
but they have failed to establish their group status which would enable them to
exercise authority and influence in the way normally associated with a
profession. In the Committee’s view, it is vital that teachers establish
themselves as a self-regulating, autonomous professional group of the type
Teachers’ sense of alienation from decision-making processes
was a recurring theme in this Inquiry. An organised professional voice would
address this problem.
The first 15 years of my teaching career I was able, through my
professional associations, my union and my involvement in school based
committees, to have a positive effect on the level and standard of education I
have been able to offer my students or at least I feel as if that were the
case. In the last few years I feel as if I have effectively been
disenfranchised from the decision making processes at all levels.
The status of teachers in Australia is declining. This was
the view expressed almost universally to the Committee by teachers, students,
academics, professional associations, parent organisations and bureaucrats. It
is a view supported by the general literature on the subject and by specific
Many reasons were advanced to account for this perceived
decline in teacher status, and these will be discussed in greater detail in
subsequent chapters. However, it is important to draw attention to a number of
the most significant contributing factors to declining status early in the
A consideration of the status of teachers and teaching must
take into account questions about the values placed on various forms of work by
the society in which that work is undertaken. For some, the status of teachers
reflects the low value placed on teaching in Australia. This point was made in
a submission from the Early Childhood Association.
Any work that cannot be easily counted and measured in monetary
terms has been accorded less status in our increasingly economically rational
society. Teaching, because it is concerned with long-term outcomes and is part
of our society's investment in the development of human and social capital, (as
opposed to economic capital) is not highly esteemed.
In Australia there is something of a contradiction between
community and government commitment to education and their lack of commitment
to teachers. Government commitment to education over the last twenty years has
found practical expression in rapidly rising school retention rates (at least
until 1992) and a major expansion in higher education provision, to give but
two examples. Even the market model of education now in force continues to
value education as a commodity, while largely disregarding the interests of
those who provide it. To some extent this is also the position of parents and
of the community more generally. They value education because they recognise
the difference it can make to an individual's life but they do not, in many
cases, extend this recognition to those who make it possible - our teachers.
Any consideration of the status of teachers must be mindful of this underlying
The same phenomenon is evident in many comparable Western
countries (with the possible exception of Canada). Any serious attempt to halt
or reverse the declining status of teachers therefore will require
acknowledgment of the powerful countervailing influences in the broader
environment which cut across the aims of education, teaching and teachers. This
is a daunting prospect, but one which has been confronted by some current
leaders. For example, President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair have both
recently set in train educational changes designed, in large part, to refocus
attention on teachers as the single most critical component of a successful
school education system. The Committee endorses such an approach.
In Australia children have low status. The low status of
teachers in our society reflects the low status we accord our children. It has
also resulted in a hierarchy of status within the teaching profession whereby
teachers of the youngest children are accorded the lowest status (by the
community generally and often by teachers themselves) and those teaching the
oldest children are accorded the highest status. Such a ranking is quite
contrary to what is known about the critical importance of early childhood
but nevertheless it persists.
Status goes with power and power is usually economic. Children
have no economic or political power. It seems that those teaching children are
also accorded limited status and power, and the younger the children are, the
more limited the status and power their teachers receive.
Within the community and the profession of teaching there is a
hierarchy of respect that corresponds to the age of the child. The perception
is that the older and more able the student, the more skills are required to
A separate teacher hierarchy also exists. This relates to
subject specialisation rather than to the age of the children taught. Teachers
who specialise in one academic subject have traditionally enjoyed higher status
than generalists. However, this distinction appears to be breaking down with
the move away from school organisation based around related subject areas or
At the top of the school hierarchy are principals, deputy
principals and a range of administrators or managers. Although promoted from
the classroom, occupants of these positions generally have very limited direct
classroom contact thereafter. The system thus encourages ambitious and talented
teachers out of the classroom rather than rewarding them for remaining there.
It sends a signal about how it values teaching, as compared with
The more teaching you do, the lower your rank in the
While many witnesses and submissions commented on the
hierarchy of status within teaching and the position of early childhood
teachers at the bottom of the hierarchy, several also commented on the low
status of relief teachers. The position of casual teachers and those on short
term contracts is an issue of particular concern to teachers and to parents,
given the deliberate move to casualisation of the teaching force on the part of
a number of State education departments.
While increasing casualisation is evident throughout the
general work force it is traditionally associated with low status occupations
and its widespread introduction into teaching can be expected to have an
adverse impact on general community perceptions of teachers' status and on
teacher morale, not to mention the quality of education in our schools, to
which continuity and stability of staffing make an important contribution).
The suggestion that a contracted teaching force will be more
committed and professional than the current permanent teaching force is
ludicrous and the motives behind the push for casualisation are transparent and
Another factor affecting status is teaching's numerical
domination by women. The majority of classroom teachers are women, although
promotional positions are dominated by men (as discussed in Chapter 5). Because
prevailing attitudes still mean that work done by women tends to be undervalued,
the professions in which women are numerically dominant tend to have lower
status. In teaching, the areas in which they are concentrated - early childhood
and primary school education - have the lowest status. This pattern tends to
reinforce the link between feminisation and low status. This is addressed in
more detail in Chapter 5.
If we subscribe to the view that status and remuneration are
closely linked then an examination of teachers’ salaries should provide some
insights into their status. A number of submissions provided information on the
growing discrepancy between teachers' salaries and those of other groups with
similar qualifications and training.
In the last twenty years [there has been...] a fall of 25% [in
teachers' salaries] against average weekly earnings and a fall of 21% against
Only the Department of Employment, Education, Training and
Youth Affairs gave contrary evidence, at least in relation to secondary school
teachers, and over a more recent period, saying:
ABS data on mean weekly earnings of full -time workers in their
main job indicate that from August 1990 to August 1995 (latest data) earnings
of Secondary School Teachers kept pace with those of all employed professionals
and all employees (each group increasing by 24 per cent) and represented
between 91 per cent to 95 per cent of Professional employee earnings and
between 117 per cent and 123 per cent of earnings of all employees.
Other ABS data for all school teachers confirms that
salary relativities were maintained during the period May 1990 to May 1996.
The Department did however concede that Graduate Career
Council data point to a longer term decline in the relative starting salaries
for teachers. Salary relativities for teachers at all stages of the profession
have in fact declined over this longer period. The issue of teachers’ salaries
is addressed further in Chapter 5.
While a case can be made for status being largely determined
and measured by salary levels, it would be unduly simplistic to suppose that salary
is the only relevant consideration in determining status. It would be
misleading, for example, to argue that community perceptions of the value of
teachers are accurately reflected in the salaries governments pay them.
Likewise, to identify status with salary might erroneously imply that teachers
seeking higher status are motivated principally by financial considerations and
that their declining morale can be directly attributed to their falling
Almost every submission and every witness argued that
teachers enter and remain within the teaching profession despite their
salaries. Even those contemplating leaving the profession were usually doing so
for reasons unconnected with, or only loosely connected with, remuneration. The
factors affecting the status of teachers are complex and cannot be reduced to a
question of extra dollars and cents in the pocket.
There is a strong argument for rewarding teachers'
professionalism and their greater range of responsibilities more justly, but
salary is not a panacea for the poor status of teachers, nor for increasing the
satisfaction of teachers, matters which need to be addressed on a much wider
front. A salary increase for teachers, no matter how large and how much
deserved, will not remove the sources of teacher dissatisfaction and stress,
although it might well provide a temporary respite.
A different perspective was provided by a Melbourne witness
who believed that status and professionalism are intrinsic to the individual
teacher and attained (or not) irrespective of external factors such as salary,
although he acknowledged that this was also important.
...my status as a professional is something that I own and that
I am responsible for. And that is true of the teacher in any circumstance... In
a way, one of the things that disturbs me... is that so many people have come
before you saying... that my professional status depends on how you choose to
fund the activity that I am engaged in.
The NSW Government stated clearly in evidence to the
Committee that it recognised the link between status and salary. Accordingly,
it has introduced a substantial progressive round of salary increases through
to the year 2000.
On the first matter - the New South Wales government’s action to
raise the status of teachers, particularly working through the public education
system - the first thing I will refer to is the salaries agreement of August
last year. If you read the documentation, you will see that, for the first
time, in a very clear way it linked the status of teachers to a real increase
in salary. ..... [If] we wished to attract and retain sufficient numbers of
high quality graduates, we needed to raise the status of teachers within the
community... therefore ... we needed to show the real value of teachers’ work by
increasing their salaries in real terms.
A number of submissions and witnesses pointed to the
possibility that teacher shortages, already evident in some regions and some
subject areas and predicted to increase early next century, will be filled by
placing teachers in subject areas in which they have no background, or by
recruiting unqualified teachers. Such practices would certainly further detract
from the status of teachers. The former practice already exists to a limited
extent and is causing concern in some subject areas, especially maths and
Data collected by the Mathematical Association of Victoria
indicates that many teachers at this level [early secondary school] do not have
formal mathematics qualifications. Estimates vary but it is probably in excess
of 30%. It is unlikely that these teachers have any specific training in the
teaching of mathematics either.
ASTA [Australian Science Teachers’ Association] is aware of
anecdotal reports of detrimental effects on students due to unqualified staff
being required to take science classes.
ASTA recognises that the lack of qualified staff is not a new
issue. Many rural schools encounter this difficulty on an annual basis.
Attracting and retaining suitable science staff is a major problem in rural and
remote schools in general and in science faculties in particular.
Professional vs industrial
Many submissions and witnesses discussed the role of teacher
unions and the extent to which they enhance or undermine teacher
professionalism. This was one of the few issues on which there was a
significant divergence of opinion among teachers. Given the proportion of
teachers who are union members
this is an important issue.
Those who believed that teacher unions enhanced teacher
professionalism pointed to the impossibility of separating professional issues
such as class size and industrial issues such as salaries. Union
representatives saw their role as promoting both. The following excerpt is
typical of the views expressed by a number of union representatives.
Obviously the union has got an industrial role within the
community in relation to the representation of teachers and school officers who
work with them, and obviously wages are fundamental to that. Nevertheless, it
is very important for us to make clear on the record that our interests go to
the professional lives and the work of teachers. We do not believe that a
separation is to be made between the industrial and professional in terms of
the work of teachers.
This view was shared by a number of commentators.
The industrial and the professional are inherently connected in
school teaching to a far greater degree than in most other professions. This
means that professional representation and industrial representation are in
general best carried out within one organisation. This does not preclude
specialist professional representation, by, for example, subject associations.
...The implications of this inherent connection between the
industrial and professional in teaching is that the two teacher unions should
be recognised as the organisations which generally represent teachers on
professional as well as industrial matters.
One thing is clear, consolidating the political and economic
basis of teaching, and the status of teachers, depends upon an integration of
professional and industrial matters, not their disconnection.
Others had a different view. They saw unions as essentially
promoting industrial issues, to the detriment of teachers' professional
standing in the general community.
The application of the 'industrial model' to industrial
relations in school staffs will have the effect of undermining vocation.
Quantifying conditions and putting a time/monetary value on all aspects of a
teacher's work is in tension with the concept of service and calling.
...teachers, in general, lack credible professional advocacy.
Instead of the head of the union being on the front page all of the time, it
ought to be someone from the professional bodies talking about the real
educational issues, rather than what the latest pay increase is or how many
hours teachers work.
The vast majority of teachers are dedicated and hard working:
the militants in the teacher unions do not speak for the majority. In many
respects the teacher unions have stepped outside their traditional role to the
detriment of teachers' working conditions and salaries.
Differences of opinion on the role of unions and their
contribution to enhancing or undermining teacher status and professionalism
have been exacerbated by recent enterprise bargaining cases. Many teachers and
union representatives commented on the inappropriateness of wage bargaining in
the education sector, where teachers have been required to demonstrate
productivity gains and to trade off conditions in return for salary increases.
This approach to wage bargaining in the education sector has
added to the frustrations of teachers as they are faced with choices which
include further reducing the quality of teaching and also making colleagues
redundant in order to justify a wage increase.
The current system of (for all practical terms) linking wage
rises under enterprise bargaining agreements to educational change immediately
links two unrelated activities in an antagonistic environment. Thus educational
innovation is fought on an industrial basis rather than on the merits of the
proposal for change.... Educational change that must be bought with wage rises
and/or which cannot be sold on its educational merits is perceived very poorly.
The manner in which teacher salaries are determined needs to be
addressed. The industrial campaigns required to achieve salary justice
undermine the public's confidence in public education and erode the status of
Opposition to enterprise bargaining was especially marked in
the Northern Territory where protracted industrial action was seen to have
soured teachers' relationships with government, destroyed teacher morale and
undermined public confidence in the education system.
After the appalling treatment experienced by teachers during the
recent Enterprise Bargaining process, morale is at an all-time low. Teachers
did not take kindly to illegal stopping of pay, lockouts or vilification and
denigration at tax payers' expense, during last year's industrial dispute over
Even representatives of the Northern Territory Department of
Education conceded that enterprise bargaining had significantly worsened
relations between government and teachers in the Northern Territory.
I do not think that the current system which involves an
adversarial approach to industrial relations is particularly constructive in
terms of the sort of relationships that we are dealing with.
Teachers drew the Committee's attention to a number of
current and projected changes within the education system with the potential to
undermine the professionalism of their work. These include:
of the curriculum, with little input from teachers
managerialism in schools, with principals as arms of the bureaucracy rather
than part of the collective teaching force
to introduce paraprofessionals into the classroom in place of some existing,
focus on fundraising, which diverts teachers' time and effort away from their
devised and implemented standardised assessment.
If we acknowledge the critical importance of education to
the futures of all young Australians, and the central role of teachers in
determining the quality of student learning, then we must also recognise the
need to support our teachers more effectively.
The Committee is persuaded, on the basis of the evidence
it received during its Inquiry, that teaching deserves the description of
profession and acknowledges that it does not yet enjoy the status it deserves.
The recommendations in this Report are designed to
consolidate teaching as a profession. They will enhance the status of the
profession and thus of those who practice in it. They will assist the
profession to attract able graduates and to retain our best teachers in our
We know the causes of declining status and we know, in
large part, how to overcome them. The remedy rests with the exercise of the
necessary political will.
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