Make time for consultation

Cuts to the Department and TAFE and the implementation of Local Schools, Local Decisions and Smart and Skilled have led to many teachers feeling isolated from key decisions in their workplace.

In many circumstances the pace and rate of change has been difficult for schools, executive and teachers, particularly with regard to increased workload and decision making.

Schools and TAFE colleges that are best managing these changes and providing a happy, harmonious and successful work environment are ones that have effective consultation measures in place.

Consultation is not just a strategy, however, it is a state government requirement. Workplaces that are not consulting properly may be breaching both departmental and government policy.

Members should be aware that there are numerous government, Department and TAFE policies that stipulate the need for consultation in workplaces, including the NSW Government’s Consultative Arrangement: Policy and Guidelines. Even Local Schools, Local Decisions policy documents, such as Consultative Decision Making in Schools, make it clear genuine consultation must take place.

There is a government-imposed obligation on the employer to consult about workplace change. The Public Sector Workforce Consultative Arrangements Policy has clear guidelines for consultation and states decisions of management that go to questions of education delivery and workplace organisation cannot be delivered as a fait accompli. There must be genuine consultation.

What is considered good practice? What is effective consultation? Federation’s Centre for Professional Learning Director Kathy Deacon in her Education article “Lead but let others come first” describes effective leadership as:

“Working collegially, collaboratively and collectively is crucial for dispersing leadership among staff. Positive relationships with staff built on mutual respect and trust are vital. Time should be invested in explicitly supporting genuine associations, to build teams and enhance the working environment. It is important teachers have input and a tangible impact on the school’s directions. Committees within schools, stage and faculty teams, with degrees of autonomy for setting priorities and decision-making, are fundamental to success.”

Executive teams making school-wide decisions without genuine consultation with all staff should be a thing of the past. Staff meetings should be professionally run and must have an agenda, have minutes recorded, agreed chair, timekeeper and a general business section.

At the end of year, schools should be reviewing programs and operations. This must include consulting with staff over what constitutes best practice, what may be changing, workload and what is no longer required. Importantly the Local Schools, Local Decisions policy requires that there must be transparency about what the school will spend its Gonski/ Resource Allocation Model (RAM) funded staffing money on next year.

Federation’s successful Fair Funding Now campaign has brought a significant increase in school staffing budgets, and with it increased school decision making and responsibility to consult with staff. Schools that are consulting about workplace change have higher satisfaction rates and better student outcomes. Teacher representatives on Finance and Teacher Professional Learning committees are not only required departmental policy, but also take the accountability pressure off principals.

Many principals and executives have reported that the large volume of reforms under Local Schools, Local Decisions has left them feeling isolated from teaching and learning and disempowered by endless administrivia. Workplace committees can assist principals in meeting consultation obligations, reducing unnecessary work and promoting a "positive, collaborative workplace culture", which is a requirement of every principal to present each year in their Professional Development Plan.

It is important to note that consultation doesn’t necessarily mean agreement. However, there does need to be a genuine opportunity to debate and influence decisions. Change can be positive, and respectful disagreement and effective consultation can lead to better outcomes for staff and students.

Consultation is crucial for school plans, and new and existing programs. The Department has made it clear (see 7 December 2018 School Biz article), that reducing the administrative burden, with a focus on teaching and learning is an absolute priority. Programs or operational matters that get in the way of teaching and learning should be reviewed or abandoned. The Performance and Development Framework also provides an opportunity for consultation and remove unnecessary administration and workload tasks.

To improve consultation at your workplace, members are encouraged to set up good consultative processes, well run staff meetings and staff representation on finance, teacher professional learning and other school committees. Members must also elect each year their Federation Workplace Committee, and get involved in the excellent training provided by Trade Union Training including the Utilising Workplace Committees to address problems and issues in schools seminar.