Conservative politicians and self-proclaimed ‘experts', led by the Prime Minister and a succession of Minsters, are engaged in the most aggressive assault on public education ever seen in Australian history.
Their attack on the profession and public education, the crucible within which Australian democracy was formed and upon which a vibrant, socially cohesive future is dependent, represents one of the most dangerous political phenomena in contemporary Australian politics and it requires a concerted response from Australian teachers and the broader public.
The attack on the profession comes in the form of a constant denigration of teachers and an unrelenting attack on our professionalism, ethics and responsibility towards our students.
In The Australian on Monday 10 July 2006, Federal Minister for Education Julie Bishop is reported as saying that ‘teachers were one of the few professions not accountable for their performance and it was high time they were . held responsible for their students' achievements'.
Demonstrating an absolute lack of knowledge and respect, the Minister's comments fail to recognise that teachers are amongst the most accountable of all professionals. Indeed, the level of public, media and political scrutiny that teachers are subjected to is greater than it has ever been.
Continuing her ill-informed approach, the Minister resurrected the notion of a form of ‘performance pay' for teachers. Ms Bishop asserted that teachers should be rewarded on the basis of their students' results and indicated that performance pay would form part of the next round of funding negotiations with the States and Territories.
Advocates of ‘performance pay' fail to recognise the social and human dynamic of education. They also fail to recognise that the educational well-being of each child involves much more than any single teacher.
There is no evidence that ‘performance pay' improves performance. Indeed, there is research which indicates that ‘performance pay' damages productivity, morale and dedication.
The desired effect of this constant denigration is the silencing of the profession during critical debates. This is clearly not an option for Australia's teachers.
Despite international evidence to the contrary, the same conservative politicians and commentators are also engaged in an irresponsible and unwarranted attack on the quality and achievements of public education.
Under the banner of so-called concerns about quality and standards in our schools, they are intent on creating a crisis in confidence in public education.
Coupled with government funding policies providing private schools with obscene levels of funding at the expense of public schools, this campaign is aimed at accelerating the flow of students from public to private schools contributing to the marginalisation of public education and the ultimate privatisation of compulsory education.
The resurrection by Ms Bishop (The Australian, 21 March 2006) of proposals advancing the introduction of a voucher system to fund each individual's education is not coincidental. Vouchers would be part of an end game strategy to achieve the absolute commodification of education, smashing any notion of public education for the common good.
Concurrently, the attempt is gaining pace to get a stranglehold on curriculum by attacking curriculum and pedagogy aimed at enabling our students to engage in critical thinking and analysis.
This is demonstrated by:
- The so-called crisis in reading and the ‘phonics' versus ‘whole-language' debate;
- The attack on ‘critical literacy' and the capacity to deconstruct text in an age appropriate way; and, most recently,
- The ‘debate' on the teaching of Australian history where the Prime Minister declared that history ‘has succumbed to a post-modern culture of relativism where any objective record of achievement is questioned or repudiated'.
|Thanks to Bill Leak|
Now more than ever, all levels of government must be held responsible for providing proper investment in public education to support excellence in teaching and learning for all and the achievement of positive student outcomes.
The NSW Teachers Federation is calling on the major parties to immediately commit an additional $2.9 billion in recurrent funding to public schools.
Established in 2002 by the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA), the Schools Resource Taskforce (SRT) has calculated that public schools nation wide require an additional $2.9 billion in recurrent funding to ensure that the National Schools Resourcing Standard necessary to achieve the National Goals of Schooling can be met. Indeed, the $2.9 billion grossly underestimates the true level of funding required, as the SRT has not yet calculated costs associated with capital, nor specific costs associated with special education or with assuring quality teaching for all students.
The additional $2.9 billion in recurrent funding would assist in funding the following five priorities to ensure that our public education system continues to deliver high quality education for our students.
1. Free, public pre-school education for all children, to provide a strong foundation for future schooling;
Lamenting the inadequate provision of pre-school education, Professor Tony Vinson notes in his report, The Education and Care of Our Young Children: Good Beginnings,
Noting that the ‘integration of preschool and kindergarten within the public school is of immense importance in the care and development of children' (Vinson p7), the NSW Teachers Federation calls on both state and federal governments to show leadership and release funds to ensure that a pre school is attached to all public schools.
2. Additional targeted resources for smaller classes and specialist programs in the early years of high school, when students make the challenging transition from primary school to Years 7 and 8;
Having achieved a successful outcome in the 2003 state election with the K-2 class size reduction program, the achievement of an additional 1300 teachers for high schools targeting the ‘foundation years' of Years 7 and 8 is a priority. The allocation of this resource should account for the needs of schools serving low SES communities.
This additional resource would allow schools to introduce strategies such as reduced class sizes or collaborative team teaching programs enabling schools to address ‘middle schooling' issues during these critical transition years from primary to high school education.
3. Greater support for students with identified needs. This would include improved funding for Aboriginal education programs, for students from a non-English background, and for students with disabilities and learning difficulties who require special targeted programs;
At a time when there is an increasing polarisation of Australian society and an increasing proportion of socio-economically disadvantaged students enrolled in public schools, an increase in funding for equity programs is an absolute necessity.
- Aboriginal students. Governments have a responsibility to Indigenous people and their communities for the achievement of an equality of learning outcomes for Indigenous students.
- NESB Migrant students. The ESL student to ESL teacher ratio has almost doubled over the last 20 year period. The total level of funding remains at a scandalously inadequate level. The national shortfall in funding is in excess of $60 million.
- Students with disabilities. The education of students with disabilities is one of the great strengths of the public education system. As a society we are judged by the way we treat our most disadvantaged.
- School Counsellors. The allocation of school counsellors remains woefully inadequate. Federation reaffirms the recommendation in the Vinson report ‘to increase the number of school counsellors by 700 so that an effective counsellor/student ratio of approximately 1:500 is attained.'
4. Preparing and supporting the future generations of teachers and continuing to support existing teachers with appropriate professional development and time to ensure our students continue to receive high quality teaching and learning from a well-respected teaching profession;
With 30% of teachers expected to retire over the next 5 years the government must support a targeted and well funded induction and mentoring program for beginning teachers which includes reduced teaching loads for both the new teacher and experienced mentor teachers.
5. Maintenance and capital works programs that provide buildings, classrooms and equipment conducive to effective teaching and learning in the 21st century, including access to modern technologies;
Governments must urgently redress the continuing under-funding of public education infrastructure – its buildings, facilities and equipment, to provide quality teaching and learning environments befitting a 21st century education in an economically advanced nation like Australia.
‘The quality of the physical space affects self esteem and student/teacher interactions, parental involvement, discipline, motivation and interpersonal relations.' (Vinson, 2002)
Professional development funding, support to build teachers' skill levels in Information Communications Technology (ICT) and an effective, reliable and efficient system of technical must form the foundation of any ICT strategy.
Free, secular and universally accessible public education has directly shaped Australia's past and present. Accepting all students regardless of cultural, religious, racial or economic background, geographical location or special needs, public education remains the key to a vibrant, socially-cohesive, multicultural, democratic Australia.
Governments must invest a greater share of our nation's resources in the most precious of all national assets — the public education of our children and fellow citizens. If they do this our great public schools can be even greater.