Increasing casualisation of education jobs has serious consequences for newly qualified teachers
There are over 6,000 teachers on contract posts in the Western Cape, and schools show a marked reluctance to convert these to permanent posts. When such practices become normalised they have very real consequences for the integrity of the teacher profession.
“Position available for grade 8 Maths and Science to start immediately. Please send resumé.”
The advertisement above is typical of the truncated social media posts that have become common currency in the field of education in the Western Cape, where teacher employment processes appear to be increasingly ad hoc, nepotistic, and most worryingly, casualised.
The wording varies, but for the most part, the positions being advertised are short-term substitute or contract positions that require the teacher to start almost immediately. The requirements invariably specify a teacher qualification, subject specialisation and registration with the professional teacher body, the South African Council for Educators (Sace). They also specify the need for “experience”.
As teacher educators involved in supporting and developing newly-qualified teachers through the Newly-Qualified Teachers’ Project, we are concerned by the increasingly unprofessional approach to appointment processes, and by the absence of entry-level posts for newly-qualified teachers (NQTs) in 2022. This is strange given that there has been considerable attrition of teachers during the Covid period and, as many have pointed out, there has been considerable learning loss.
While the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has a centralised online e-recruitment system, there are relatively few posts advertised through that route; and the system no longer includes or ring fences posts for newly qualified teachers.
Since 2019, recruitment and advertisement of entry-level (P1), school governing body and substitute posts has been delegated to schools. The WCED has allowed schools to advertise contract posts as long as they follow a fair and objective recruitment and selection process and give preference to first-time applicants.
However, as noted in a presentation to the Principals’ Forum in 2021, there are over 6,000 teachers on contract posts in the Western Cape, and schools show a marked reluctance to convert these to permanent posts. As would be expected, schools prefer to employ teachers with experience, but are willing to take NQTs on short-term contracts to fulfil immediate operational needs — often disregarding their teaching methods or the phase for which they were trained.
Furthermore, they have a strong impulse towards reproduction, that is, employing people who are known through personal connection, or former pupils.
When such practices become commonplace, they become normalised and have very real consequences for the integrity of the teaching profession, for the career development of young teachers, for transformation and ultimately, for the provision of quality teaching and learning in all our schools.
We’ve witnessed first-hand how newly-qualified teachers from both Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and the University of Cape Town (UCT), many of whom have had state bursaries to study, have found it nearly impossible to obtain full-year contracts through formal routes in 2022.
Instead, they are forced to hustle, scout social media and Gumtree; scan noticeboards in shopping centres; share information they can find through informal networks; appeal to friends and family members to employ them; and, for those who can afford to do so, travel to schools to drop off their CVs.
Most worrying is the fact that when the teachers do find jobs, they are invariably for a term only, so they are constantly applying for other posts and often starting jobs mid-term.
One high school teacher was employed out of her subject area a week before control tests and told to ensure that learners were ready for those tests. Unsurprisingly, she had to resort to instrumental, “teaching to the test” methods.
Many teachers (including, well-qualified, much-needed science and mathematics teachers) have been forced to teach subjects in which they have absolutely no subject expertise or qualification. Teachers who have been trained for high school teaching are teaching out of phase at a primary school in short-term contract positions. When they attempt to apply for permanent posts, they are declared unqualified to do so.
Moreover, many of these new teachers in short-term contracts are hopelessly over-burdened, required to teach big classes and in many cases, allocated low-performing classes with little mentorship or guidance. In one case, a teacher was assigned 13 separate history and English classes, ranging from grade 9 to grade 11 with an average of 40 learners in each class.
At some schools, there is a constant churn of teachers and a consequent lack of experience on the staff. As a result, some newly-qualified teachers have been appointed as subject or grade heads in their first year of teaching and many are given extra duties which entail huge levels of responsibility and administrative coordination.
Because they are desperate for a job and generally enter the profession in poorly paid temporary posts or even teacher assistant positions (with salaries as low as R4,000 per month), they are easily bullied, exploited and in a number of cases, sexually harassed.
They fear using conventional channels to complain because they may jeopardise their chances of permanent employment. Some even fear joining a union because of likely victimisation.
In one case, a science teacher, employed to teach a subject (in which he has no qualification) at grade 12 level has been promised that if the learners complete grade 12 successfully, the teacher will be offered a permanent post in his subject area.
Sadly, there are many similar stories of exploitation to tell. While everyone who has taught knows that the first year of teaching is a rollercoaster, the unregulated recruitment and selection practices, increasing casualisation of conditions of employment and lack of oversight in schools, are producing impossible levels of responsibility and resultant emotional stress for these young graduates and limited continuity for learners.
It should come as little surprise then, that while teacher education programmes are increasingly over-subscribed, and the number of newly qualified teachers has tripled in recent years, hundreds of highly educated, skilled, young South African teachers (around ages 21 to 35 years) are leaving the profession each year.
The lack of continuity of teachers, particularly in under-resourced schools, should be a major source of concern to us all. High levels of staff turnover are known to inhibit teaching and learning: poor teacher retention is a major impediment to the provision of high-quality education, the efficacy and stability of schools, and efforts to redress the legacies of apartheid.
Those who choose to go into the profession have studied and trained and have a passion and a desire to teach specific subjects to a particular phase.
The landing point at the bottom of this slippery slope of the casualisation of employment and contractual practices is a decline of the profession where teachers are regarded as expendable and exploitable and not valued as professionals.
They are leaving education and the learners are paying the price. DM
Prof Rochelle Kapp, Dr Kate Angier, Judy Sacks and Melanie Sadeck are all teacher educators and are part of the management team of the Newly-Qualified Teachers’ Project, a collaboration between the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), and which is supported by the HCI Foundation, the Saville Foundation, UCT and CPUT. They write in their personal capacities.