Perfecting the probation process
What is probation?
Probation is the name given to the initial 12-month period of working as a public servant. It is a structured way of providing support for beginning teachers in the workplace and also determining their suitability for continuing employment within the NT Public Sector.
Probation applies to all teachers taking up positions within the NTPS for the first time or returning to teaching after an absence of three years or more. It also applies to teachers that have joined the public school system from Catholic or Independent schools.
Similarly if you are from interstate, even if you are assessed as proficient, you will be subject to a probationary period, although this can be shortened to 6 months if you have at least five years of proven teaching experience. Probation also applies to contract appointments of two terms or more.
What is the process?
The Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment (OCPE) has set guidelines for the process detailed in Employment Instruction Number 2:
- An employee must be provided with probation details in a timely manner after commencement
- An employee should be given information about expected duties, standards, performance and conduct
- Appropriate assistance and support must be given during the probation period
- The probation process needs to be documented in writing
- The employer must provide a genuine assessment the employee's suitability and capability in the role
- The employee should be given regular performance feedback and opportunity to discuss with manager
- the employee must be provided with notification of the outcomes of probation, including the opportunity to respond to adverse decisions.
In some circumstances probation might be extended to give the employee further opportunity to demonstrate proficiency.
In addition to the OCPE guidelines which apply across the public sector, the Department of Education has developed its own policy and procedures which are more specific to teachers, setting out timelines, the suggested composition of a probation panel and the requirement that teachers have a mentor to assist them through the process.
What do I need to do?
- Be proactive—find a mentor within your school and work collaboratively with them to seek feedback on specific areas of performance. Your mentor must not be a member of the probation panel.
- The school will set up a probation panel to monitor and assess your practice. While probation panels can consist of two or three members, the AEU NT recommends panels of three.
- Familiarise yourself with the Department's probation policy—there are timelines for the procedures and descriptions of the paperwork that needs to be lodged.
- Have your lessons observed by your mentor and other peers. This should include time for a discussion following the observed session.
- You will be expected to constructively participate in the process by assessing your performance against the proficient level of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.
- Maintain records of professional development. It is important that you retain your own copies of any forms or documents that are required in the process.
- Take part in regular review meetings. Be prepared for these meetings by bringing evidence of your practice and be open to constructive feedback.
Most importantly, be proactive. Even though ensuring you complete probation is meant to be the employer's obligation, it is common that probation processes are not completed in the required time frame, especially in remote schools, usually due to principal turnover and/or the employee being on a series of short contracts.
It's in your interest to complete probation as soon as possible - currently you're not eligible to become an ongoing employee as part of the Department's Permanency Project unless you've completed it.