Tributes celebrate influential contributions to union

The work of Lee Rhiannon and Dr Les Perelman in support of Federation priorities has been recognised with Champion of Public Education accolades.

Ms Rhiannon, a former Greens NSW MLC and Senator, accepted the award in person at Federation’s 2019 Annual Conference. Dr Perelman, an academic specialising in writing assessment, accepted his honour in a video played to delegates.

Announcing Lee Rhiannon as a Champion of Public Education, President Maurie Mulheron said she used her profile to advocate for public education at every opportunity.

“Our public schools and TAFE colleges had a fierce campaigner and supporter in the NSW Parliament and later in the Senate,” he said.

“Using her profile and opportunity to vote in parliament and within her party, the Greens, she advocated for free public education and she fiercely defended TAFE against massive funding cuts.”

Ms Rhiannon said being made a Champion of Public Education was an enormous honour.

“My love of public education and appreciation of public education unions and public education teachers is immense,” she said.

“Public education has made a huge difference to my life and the life of my family.

“Public education was a major part of my work as a Greens MP. When I first stood for parliament in 1999 it was on a platform about funding for public education. We were calling for the redirection of funding from the elite private schools into the public education system.”

She said one of the pleasures of being an MP was working with the members of the Federation and its officials.

Dr Perelman’s research has made a significant contribution to Federation’s campaign on assessment and reporting.

“Federation is indebted to Dr Perelman for his contribution to the NAPLAN debate,” President Maurie Mulheron said.

Dr Perelman said he was extremely honoured to receive the award and viewed it as “the capstone of his professional career”.

“I am grateful to have been part of the successful effort to stop one manifestation of edu-business — robo-marking in Australia — and to have contributed to an effort to reimagine NAPLAN as a tool for learning rather than being a mechanical money maker,” he said.

“My collaboration with the NSW Teachers Federation has been one of my most rewarding professional associations. You are simultaneously an industrial union that protects the interests of your members as workers and a professional association, sincerely committed to improving teaching and learning. I wish such organisations existed in the United States.”

In 2017, Dr Perelman examined a 2015 ACARA report, proposing robot marking of student writing, which he described as “so methodologically flawed and so massively incomplete that it cannot justify any use of AES [automated essay scoring] in scoring the NAPLAN essays”.

Towards a new NAPLAN: testing to the Teaching, examining the NAPLAN writing test. He wrote that the NAPLAN writing test was “by far the most absurd and the least valid of any test that I have seen”.

After reviewing the 2018 NAPLAN test concluded the data was of “very limited use” and posting the data to the My School website would be “inappropriate and misleading”. “In sum, the 2018 NAPLAN results should be discarded,” he concluded.

Criteria for Champion of Public Education award recipients are people who are not members of the Federation who have demonstrated over many years some or all of the following attributes: a contribution to Federation campaigns in support of public education; a close collaboration with Federation members in support of the union’s campaigns; the provision of support, advice and research to Federation in support of campaigns; the use of a public profile to protect, defend and advance the cause of public education.

The inaugural award was posthumously bestowed on Greens MP John Kaye in 2016.