As the neo-liberal public sector reform agenda took hold in the late 1980s an ideology of choice began to dominate education policy in many western countries, including Australia (Gewirtz 1997; Helsby 1999; Marginson 1997a). This thesis focuses on the specific range of market mechanisms that have been used in the NSW public secondary school system to introduce competition between schools and facilitate parental choice. One of the key characteristics of the reform agenda in NSW has been the diversification and expansion of a differentiated public secondary school system (Esson, Johnston & Vinson 2002). The differentiated system is now characterised by five different types of public secondary schools: 1) comprehensive schools; 2) selective schools; 3) specialist schools; 4) junior campuses; and, 5) senior campuses.
The main aim of this thesis is to explore how teachers’ work has changed as a result of this differentiation and to examine the extent to which teachers’ work differs between the different types of schools. Through the analysis of original quantitative and qualitative data this thesis demonstrates that school differentiation has dramatically transformed teachers’ work in NSW and that the experiences of teachers differ depending on the type of public secondary school in which they work. In addition, the experiences of teachers provide insights into the effect of these changes on the secondary system more broadly and on the experiences of students within the system. The implications of these findings are discussed with reference to the effect of neo-liberal reforms on educational equality and on the sustainability of a system that has exacerbated staffing challenges and issues of teacher retention within particular types of schools.