Victory at last for teachers working in challenging conditions

According to a new agreement, teachers in schools like this one in the Eastern Cape will be offered extra support. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana
According to a new agreement, teachers in schools like this one in the Eastern Cape will be offered extra support. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana

Teachers who stay away from class in fear of stray bullets in gang-infested communities will not be penalised under the new performance agreement signed with unions on September 3.

Instead, teachers in these communities will be offered support such as the option to change the timetable to accommodate their classes, among other measures aimed at improving their performance.

Other mitigating factors to be taken into account when assessing teachers will include whether their classes are overcrowded, whether lessons are held under trees due to a lack of classrooms and whether the lack of transport for pupils affects their performance.

The changes will come into effect in January 2021.

This comes after the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) signed a quality management system (QMS) agreement – a performance assessment tool for teachers, heads of departments, deputy principals and principals.

About QMS:
. Considers conditions under which teachers do their work and how teachers should be supported;
. Focuses on appraisal for salary progression and delinks this from a personal growth plan. It also focuses on accountability;
. Introduces a work plan that must be completed and signed by principals, deputy principals and heads of departments with their immediate supervisors. The education department’s circuit managers have a pivotal role in agreeing to this work plan, with principals setting out clear annual targets for improvement;
. Appraisals are conducted twice a year (the first six months and the last six months);
. Requires a member of the school management team (senior teachers) to conduct performance appraisals of teachers under his or her supervision, including classroom observations; and
. The number of performance standards for teachers in each post level has been reduced, and the criteria for each performance standard focuses on the deliverables within a school.

About IQMS:
. Does not consider conditions under which teachers work;
. Focuses only on teachers’ personal growth plans;
. Does not feature work plans;
. Appraisals are conducted annually;
. The development support group (education experts with the department) is responsible for teacher appraisal and development; and
. Requires a lot of paperwork from teachers, resulting in them losing teaching time.

The collective agreement was signed at the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) by the department of basic education and all other teachers’ unions except Sadtu in 2015, which meant it could not be implemented until now.

Cindy Foca, the ELRC’s general secretary, told City Press that Sadtu had refused to sign and used the collective agreement as a bargaining chip during negotiations with the department for a 0.5% pay progression to ensure teachers were on an equal footing with other public servants, who benefited from a 1.5% pay progression over the years.

“Sadtu withheld its signature and this meant that the agreement wasn’t considered to have full force and effect,” Foca said.

Sadtu, which spearheaded calls for the review of the integrated quality management system (IQMS), which has been in place since 2003 but was implemented in 2005, won the dispute against the department in July last year at the Public Servants Coordinating Bargaining Council.

Foca said the department paid teachers the 0.5% progression at the end of last month. She said the QMS would ensure accountability in schools before the 2030 deadline envisaged by the National Development Plan, which states that schools must have accountable teachers and principals.

From 2021, she said, teachers would be assessed throughout the four quarters of the academic year.

In the first quarter, an observer will be in class assessing how a teacher conducts lessons.

During this period, gaps will be identified and a working plan will be developed between the teacher, a resource person who has knowledge of the subject, and the teacher’s supervisor.

Schools in gang-infested communities in the Western Cape, for instance, can’t be treated the same way as those in more well-off suburbs.

In the last six months of the academic year, the gaps that have been identified will be dealt with in the form of support, training and other interventions.

Foca said the incoming QMS would not be a “one size fits all” plan that did not take into account the conditions under which teachers work.

When asked if this meant that government would be soft on teachers, she said the QMS would not be used as a punitive measure, but as a tool to develop teachers.

“The accounting people – supervisors and principals – should differentiate between inability and unwillingness of a teacher to perform his/her duties. This was not included in the agreement to ensure that it was not perceived as being punitive,” she said.

If there is unwillingness to perform despite the support afforded to a teacher, Foca said, the teacher would be subjected to a formal process to determine his/her capacity to perform duties as set out in their employment contract.

The material conditions faced by that teacher would be documented to ensure that the working plan dealt with such challenges.

“Schools in gang-infested communities in the Western Cape, for instance, can’t be treated the same way as those in more well-off suburbs. No one is being favoured, but it’s fairness. There are well-managed schools in the most impoverished areas that perform well in matric. These teachers go out of their way to do a lot and we need to support them, not turn a blind eye. Others teach in prefab schools and under trees. It’s the history of this country; we can’t help it. The material conditions must be considered so that training can’t be used as an excuse. Nobody can say they’ve got different job descriptions. It’s the same [as other teachers in rich schools]. The work plan is the same,” Foca said.

The ELRC is also set to develop business roles that will entail compiling content for training purposes on QMS, which will result in everyone affected being trained next year.

There are well-managed schools in the most impoverished areas that perform well in matric. These teachers go out of their way to do a lot and we need to support them, not turn a blind eye.

In addition, Foca said, circuit managers and curriculum advisers had signed a similar agreement in 2017, which would be linked to QMS so that “everyone in the system is held accountable”.

Mugwena Maluleke, Sadtu’s general secretary, said they had been fighting for pay progression for years and the signing of the agreement was a victory for the profession, teachers, schools and the department.

“We have been saying that we will hold our signatures back because our salaries have been lagging behind. The 1.5% pay progression will ensure that teachers get a higher notch when they retire and get a higher pension, and this will be implemented incrementally,” Maluleke said.

The purpose of QMS, he said, was to ensure that teachers, before they could be disciplined, were supported by taking into account the material conditions they worked under.

Maluleke dismissed the perception that Sadtu had been fighting against the assessment of teachers.

“It’s our constitutional right to withhold our signature. We would have been an irresponsible organisation to leave the profession bleeding as teachers searched for greener pastures. We are saying that the department of basic education must rejoice as it shows that we can reach agreements without disrupting classes. The IQMS was operational throughout,” Maluleke said.

Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga confirmed the pay progression settlement and that Sadtu was one of the unions that negotiated at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council.

He said the department would have a leading role in training and monitoring of QMS by working collaboratively with social partners.

“It is anticipated that a core national team will be trained to facilitate advocacy and training across all provinces. In this regard, the ELRC has established a QMS technical task team. The task team will, after its meeting next month, develop a plan for the development of training resources, advocacy training and implementation,” Mhlanga said.

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