“Year 8 Math and Science job available now. Please send CV.”
The ad above is typical of the truncated social media posts that have become common currency in the Western Cape education sector, where teacher employment processes appear to be increasingly ad hoc, nepotistic and, most worryingly, precarious.
Wording varies, but for the most part, the positions advertised are short-term substitute or contract positions that require the teacher to start almost immediately. The requirements all specify a teacher qualification, subject specialization and registration with the professional teacher organization, the South African Council for Educators (Sace). They also specify the need for “experience”.
As teacher educators involved in the support and development of newly qualified teachers through the Project for newly qualified teachersWe are concerned about the increasingly unprofessional approach to appointment processes and the lack of Entry Level Positions for Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) in 2022. This is strange as there are many teacher turnover during the Covid period and as many have pointed out there was significant learning loss.
While the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has a centralized online e-recruitment system, relatively few vacancies are posted through this channel; and the system no longer provides for or segregates positions for newly qualified teachers.
Since 2019, the recruitment and advertising of entry (P1), school management and substitute positions has been delegated to the schools. WCED has allowed schools to advertise contract positions as long as they follow a fair and objective hiring and selection process and give preference to first-time applicants.
However, as noted in a presentation at the School Leaders’ Forum in 2021, there are over 6,000 contract teachers in the Western Cape and schools are showing a clear reluctance to convert these into permanent positions. As might be expected, schools prefer to hire teachers with experience but are willing to hire NQTs on short-term contracts to meet immediate operational needs – often without regard to their teaching methods or the phase for which they were trained.
They also have a strong reproductive drive, which means hiring people they know through personal connections or former students.
When such practices become commonplace, they normalize and have very real consequences for the integrity of the teaching profession, for young teacher career development, for transformation, and ultimately for the delivery of quality teaching and learning in all of our schools.
We have witnessed firsthand how newly qualified faculty from both the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and the University of Cape Town (UCT), many of whom have received government scholarships to study, have found it almost impossible to obtain a full scholarship annual contracts through formal channels in 2022.
Instead, they’re forced to rush to explore social media and Gumtree; scan notices in shopping malls; share information they can find through informal networks; appeal to friends and family members to hire them; and for those who can afford to travel to schools to drop off their resumes.
Most worrisome is the fact that when teachers do find a position, it is invariably for one semester only, so they are constantly applying for other positions, often on a medium-term basis.
A high school teacher was hired a week before the control tests outside of her subject area and instructed to make sure the learners were ready for these tests. Not surprisingly, she had to resort to instrumental methods of “teaching to the test.”
Many teachers (including well-qualified, much-needed science and math teachers) have been forced to teach subjects in which they have absolutely no expertise or qualifications. Teachers who have been trained to become teachers at grammar schools teach at a primary school on a temporary basis. If they attempt to apply for permanent employment, they will be declared unqualified.
Additionally, many of these new teachers are hopelessly overburdened with temporary contracts, have to teach large classes, and in many cases are assigned to underperforming classes with little mentoring or guidance. In one case, a teacher was assigned 13 separate history and English classes ranging from 9th to 11th grade, with an average of 40 learners in each class.
In some schools there is a constant brain drain and a consequent lack of experience among the staff. As a result, some newly qualified teachers have been promoted to subject or class leaders in their first year, and many have been given additional responsibilities that require a tremendous amount of responsibility and administrative coordination.
As they are desperate for a job and generally enter the profession in low paying temporary positions or even as teaching assistants (with salaries as low as R4,000 per month) they are easily bullied, exploited and in some cases sexually harassed.
They are reluctant to complain through traditional complaints channels because doing so could jeopardize their chances of permanent employment. Some even fear joining a union because they are likely to be harassed.
In one case, a science teacher who teaches a subject (for which he has no qualifications) at the 12th grade level was promised that the teacher would be offered a permanent position in his department if the students successfully completed the 12th grade .
Unfortunately, there are many similar exploitation stories to tell. While anyone who has taught knows that the first year of an apprenticeship is a rollercoaster ride, the unregulated hiring and selection practices, increasing casualization of employment conditions and lack of oversight in the schools result in an impossible level of responsibility and consequent emotional distress for them young graduates and limited continuity for learners.
It should come as no surprise, then, that during teacher education programs are increasingly oversubscribedand the number of newly qualified teachers has tripled in recent years, are hundreds of highly qualified, qualified, young South African teachers (aged around 21-35). leave the profession each year.
The lack of continuity in the teaching workforce, especially in under-resourced schools, should be a major concern for all of us. High staff turnover is known to inhibit teaching and learning: poor teacher retention is a major obstacle to the delivery of quality education, the efficiency and stability of schools, and efforts to eradicate the legacy of apartheid.
Those who choose the profession have studied and trained and have a passion and desire to teach specific subjects at a specific stage.
The landing point at the foot of this slippery slope of precarious employment and contract practices is a decline in the profession in which teachers are seen as expendable and exploitable rather than valued as professionals.
They leave the training and the learners pay the price. DM
Prof. Rochelle Kapp, Dr. Kate Angier, Judy Sacks and Melanie Sadeck are all teacher educators and part of the management team of the Newly-Qualified Teachers’ Project, a collaboration between the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), and the HCI Foundation supported by the Saville Foundation, UCT and CPUT. They write in their personal capacity.