- News & Events
- My Work
- My Interests
Strong support at meetings
Negative outcomes from trials in WA and NSW help make the case against devolution, as Federation’s advertising hits TV and radio.
It has been so pleasing to see large numbers turning up to the Federation information meetings and community forums being held after school and in the evenings across NSW to discuss the profession’s concerns about Local Schools, Local Decisions. As I address these meetings, it is heartening to see the commitment of the teachers and principals present who are determined to take the message back to their school communities.
Recently, I addressed a series of school and Association meetings in the Illawarra, the far south coast and the New England region. Every teacher has experienced the joy of meeting ex-students who, as adults, look back with fond memories of life at school. They are also quick to remind you of your foibles. But there’s something extra special, as I have experienced twice in the last fortnight, in meeting them at Federation meetings.
Warnings from WA
In September 2010, I was a keynote speaker at a principals’ conference in Perth just as the so-called Independent Public Schools school autonomy experiment was being pushed. Another speaker at the same conference, who presented just before I spoke, was the West Australian Director-General of Education. I listened intently and I recall her attempts to flatter the principals present to within an inch of their lives. The speech was, in effect, a call to sign up to “school autonomy”.
I’m sure terms like “unleash” and “empower” were used repeatedly throughout the speech. And I’m positive “one size doesn’t fit all” crept in quite a few times, as did “flexibility”. There was a fair sprinkling of “local” as well. “Best placed” was an obvious term used, of course. I don’t recall much talk, at all, about students or curriculum or teaching or learning or outcomes or pedagogy or assessment or behaviour management or, indeed, anything to do with real schools. In short, it was a speech heavily reliant on words and terms lifted directly from the latest revised edition of the Devolution Dictionary, now a national best-seller, at least among some education bureaucrats and politicians.
But, what a difference a year or two makes. A recent article in the West Australian newspaper reveals that the same WA Director- General has moved from flattering principals to warning them that she is most unhappy with their financial management. “Every school principal is responsible for the accuracy of each fortnight’s pay details for every staff member in the school. If a school has made an error which resulted in someone being overpaid, the school should contribute to the cost of debt recovery.”
She went on to order principals to get their finances in order and warned them that the Department would no longer bail out schools if they made errors in financial management. As she reminded them, principals asked for greater control of finances, and, “I have been very forthright in reminding them of their responsibilities for proper financial management...” The article revealed one case of a school principal who now has to attempt to recover an overpayment to a cleaner of $50,000.
Along with 400,000 leaflets to parents and strip advertisements in the paper, the Federation recently launched its radio and television campaign, warning the community that Local Schools, Local Decisions will reduce staffing levels, increase workload for principals and teachers and create teacher shortages in difficult to staff areas. In an extraordinary overreaction, the Minister for Education threatened to take legal action to prevent the advertisements from going to air.
The Federation would welcome such a legal challenge. Indeed, we would be delighted to have the veracity of our campaign tested in court. In fact, we plan to call 200 witnesses for the defence — the teachers and public servants who have just lost their jobs in state office under Local Schools, Local Decisions.
47-school trial... missing data
The 47-school trial and its alleged success is often cited in support of devolution. But what is never mentioned is that 20 of the 47 schools lost both enrolments and staffing entitlements during the life of the trial. I have read the official DEC evaluation of the trial a number of times and there is not one mention of this critical piece of data. One can only speculate as to why it is missing. An oversight, perhaps? What skills shortage? The State Budget on June 12 attacked the entire public sector. And public education was certainly in the Treasurer’s line of sight. Firstly, there are the significant cuts to both school and TAFE infrastructure funding of a combined $27 million. Secondly, TAFE teachers, along with thousands of public servants, will be affected by the “labour expense cap” and cuts to TAFE of a further $40 million mean that public provision of vocational training will be seriously compromised. Recent publicity about the serious skills shortage among our young people was obviously ignored by the State Treasurer.
Maurie Mulheron is the President of the NSW teachers Federation.