Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday, the Brisbane MP sought to clarify earlier comments he made to Fairfax Media, in which he appeared to suggest that teachers should work longer hours and receive less leave entitlements.
Laming, who is Chair of Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training, says that he was misrepresented in the article, which “plucked out” "two or three elements" of his argument from an opinion piece and reproduced them without context, explanation or detail.
But he’s not blaming the media.
“I don’t mind if a fancy headline misquotes me - the outcome is what I’m after,” he told Seven’s Sunrise program over the weekend.
Far from attacking teachers, the outspoken MP says he’s out to reclaim the status of the teaching profession, starting with proper remuneration "for every hour teachers work".
"My view is that … teaching as a profession needs to be more respected, and my brutal assessment is that respect comes with dollars," Laming says.
"Like stealing free grapes at the supermarket, we have taken for granted the hours that teachers do on top of the 5.5 hours a day that they are paid."
Laming says teachers should be paid to focus on their core role without being saddled with “irrelevant tasks” such as playground and bus duty.
But it’s the amount of teachers who are “hauling their unfinished work home” to put in largely “invisible” and “unmeasured” hours that mostly concerns the MP.
The expectation of teachers to take work home is “an endemic affliction, almost unique to teaching” which is damaging mental health, “wiping out” opportunities to pursue professional development opportunities and contributing to record attrition rates, he says.
“...it takes out your best teachers first; [and that’s] the tragic irony.”
His comments come in the wake of the Gonski 2.0 review, which, while articulating an agenda for achieving best practice in education, will necessarily involve even more demands on teachers’ time.
Laming’s point is that any reform to the education sector needs to include a major rethink of teachers’ workplace conditions, and by leaving it to government to negotiate a path forward, Gonski has effectively ensured the continuation of the status quo.
The MP has little faith in the willingness of the educational bureaucracy to change, and less confidence, still, in the education unions' ability to secure improvements in workplace conditions.
“...education unions have abdicated the quality space, the outcome space and the student space, and they’ve retreated to workplace pay and conditions and to haggling over a few cents in enterprise bargaining,” he says.
He draws a stark parallel to the progress of workplace conditions in the nursing sector to illustrate his argument.
“The nursing union’s main fight was professional recognition of nursing...” he says.
“And, inferentially, that was taking on the medical profession, standing up for nursing and holding out [against] the allied health professionals.”
But the same “internal inter-professional contestation” does not exist in teaching, leading to little comparative progress in teachers’ pay and conditions.
“Nurses must be laughing that they didn’t choose teaching,” Laming told Sunrise.
Almost a quarter of them [are] earning more than a $100, 000 [per year] – which even the highest teacher is lucky to earn in their career.”
Much of the criticism around Laming’s comments has centred around his lack of educational qualifications and experience in the sector.
But Laming says those commentators have missed the point.
“If you continue to figuratively assassinate everyone who doesn’t have your identical resume, then you simply end up with complete inertia.”
“The point of my intervention hasn’t been to fake that I’m a teacher, or to pretend to be like teachers - my job is to be someone completely different.”
“What I’m doing is walking into the room, seeing everyone dug in to their respective positions and I’m asking, 'where’s the evidence?'”
“...it’s up to teachers to rise up and actually do something,” he says ... “[to] rise up and refuse to tolerate these workplace conditions any longer.”
Laming has proposed a set of eight interventions to improve teachers' workplace conditions:
- Pay teachers for every additional school-approved hour they work
- De-clutter term time by transferring all possible preparatory work to pre-term
- Subspecialise the teaching workforce to remove ancillary roles from teachers.
- Replace annual progressions with a teacher-designed post-grad promotional structure
- Shift pupil-free days out of term time
- Trial an increase of onsite weeks progressively from 41, built around professional learning communities
- Additional teacher on-site weeks are agreed at school-level, remunerated and budgeted accordingly
- Allow schools to decide if certain students benefit from attending during these extra weeks.