Our History

Since our initial foundation in the 1950’s as the Assistant Masters’ Association (AMA), the Independent Education Union of Australia NSW/ACT Branch has undergone significant growth and change in its almost 70-year proud history of representing the rights of teachers and support staff in non-government education. Over the years, we have achieved several milestones, facing legislative changes and major campaigns in education. From being known as the AMA, AMMA, ITA and now the IEU, we have grown our membership to more than 32,000 members.


Founded as the Assistant Masters’ Association (AMA)

In 1955, the AMA had 90 members.


Registered as a Trade Union

Struggled for numbers and relevance with membership max of 150


Women admitted and name changed to Assistant Masters’ and Mistresses’ Association (AMMA)

Women and lay teachers in Catholic schools join in significant numbers


AGM decides to seek an Industrial Award


First Award made (Assistant Masters’ and Mistresses’ in Non-Government Schools (State) Award)


First Industrial dispute notified, the issue – teachers required to sweep classrooms


First full-time Secretary (John Nicholson), leased office space at Chatswood.
Membership topped 1000.

John Nicholson was Secretary of the union until 1977. He went on to practise as a barrister in industrial, common and criminal law, taking ‘silk’ (senior counsel) in 1994. In 2001, he was appointed as a judge of the NSW District Court. After 2012 Nicholson returned to work at the bar.


Name changed to Independent Teachers’ Association (ITA). Membership is at 1084.


First full-time Organiser appointed (Michael Raper); membership 3954


New Council and Annual Conference structure adopted with new constitution.
Membership 5603.


ITA published the very first edition of Newsmonth (Vol 1 No 1).

Membership is 6511 with 12 Branches, a Secretary, Industrial Officer and two Organisers.

November 1981

The Daily Telegraph ran a story describing the ITA as “the fastest growing union in Australia”.


Significant split in Executive and Council over Union direction, Left v Right. Left wins most Executive positions

8 October 1988

Independent Teachers Federation (ITF) registered as a federal union

Towards the end of 1983, the ITF was set up. In early 1984, an application was made to the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission for registration as a federal union. Its application sought rules for coverage of the broadest range of education workers in non-government education institutions. After extensive litigation, federal registration was achieved on 8 October 1988.


Dick Shearman becomes General Secretary. Membership is 14,104.


Federal awards obtained in English colleges and post-secondary sector


Union gains coverage of School Assistants then clerical staff at both state and federal levels 


Name changed to NSW Independent Education Union. Membership 16,265

24 April 1996

Joint strike: IEU and NSW Teachers Federation

‘Hands were shaken, fraternal greetings exchanged and, shoulder to shoulder, some 12,000 members of the NSW Teachers Federation and the NSW Independent Education Union (IEU) marched on Parliament House in support of their 12 percent pay claim.’ SMH


WorkChoices took effect in March 2006

Increasing activity in federal jurisdiction, particularly in independent schools (ie trading or financial corporations)  


NSW government referred IR powers in relation to private sector employers to federal jurisdiction 


John Quessy became General Secretary, replacing Dick Shearman


Membership exceeds 32,000


Union operates as NSW/ACT Branch of IEUA rather than state union.

All staff now employed by the Branch and key decisions are made in the Branch not the state union.


Major campaigns in Catholic systemic schools in 2014 (over a proposal by employers to totally rewrite the enterprise agreement).

October 2019

Mark Northam becomes Secretary


A surge in membership occurred in the early months of COVID-19 pandemic

The NSW state registered union (NSW/ACT IEU) is wound up.
The union now operates only as a federal entity as a branch of the Independent Education Union of Australia.


IEU seeks to protect members during pandemic

19 April 2021

Historic pay rise decision for early childhood teachers

The Fair Work Commission handed down a decision supporting pay rises of up to 10% for early childhood teachers – the result of an eight-year campaign by the IEU. 


Hear Our Voice campaign launched

Wide-ranging successful industrial action takes place across NSW and the ACT.
Historic combined strike with the NSW Teachers Federaion.


Historic wins for better working conditions

Salary parity achieved for support staff
Record pay rises for teachers.

28 October 2023

Carol Matthews becomes Secretary after Mark Northam steps down.

Read media release


The IEU will celebrate 70 years!

Thank you for joining us in our union history and for the tens of thousands of members who work tirelessly to make the union what it is today.

More IEU History