Teachers cast adrift by education system, inquiry hears

Week three of the “Valuing the teaching profession — an independent inquiry” hearings resumed on Monday with student learning need and the negative effects of devolutionary policies coming under the spotlight.

Federation Deputy President Henry Rajendra’s submission to the panel, chaired by former West Australian premier Geoff Gallop, included an analysis of state government figures that show an almost 300 per cent increase in students with disabilities since 2002 and an increase of more than 500 per cent in students with disabilities in mainstream classes, where eight out of 10 are now educated.

“This is a significant area not just for the needs of those particular students but the capacity of the system to support teachers to make sure we meet the needs of those students,” he said.

With respect to the collection of data required by teachers of students with disability, he said “it is an incredible amount of work”.

“Our teachers are more than willing to contribute to that kind of data collection and analysis but it’s got to be for a purpose, and our schools are not feeling that,” Mr Rajendra said.

“They’re not feeling that support commensurate with what information they do provide to the state government or the federal government [under the respective disability schemes].

“The federal government is guilty of denying students with disability the appropriate loading as was intended by the Gonski funding. It never arrived, so our schools are really doing the heavy lifting for those particular students.

“Similarly with the state government, there was a promise at the last state election by the then-minister for education, Mr Stokes, [of] a $205 million increase in funding.

“Our schools again have not felt the positive impact of such an announcement. The best that we can glean from the Department of Education is that they’ve rolled it out in buckets of money.

Mr Rajendra told the panel that the present education system had cut teachers adrift.

“There’s no centralised support, there’s greater responsibility and, just as importantly, greater blame,” he told the inquiry. “So whatever the problems caused by the system centrally, they’re identified as the fault of individual schools.”

Mr Rajendra said the devolution of responsibility from the Department to individual schools was the premise and design of the state’s Local Schools, Local Decisions policy.

When a school has an issue or a problem, the common response from directors and executive directors in the Department, is “the answer is found in your RAM [Resource Allocation Model] budget”. Such a response effectively throws money at the problem rather than resources and support.

“That is offensive and not reflective of a quality system,” he said. “We need a system with a strong central bureaucracy, staffed by expert teachers from the field, providing the critical support to our schools. That’s where we need to go and we are very, very far from that.”

Mr Gallop agreed that the concept of being a professional meant “you’ve got certain wisdom, certain knowledge, [you’re] credentialed”.

“It’s an important type of knowledge and unless it’s respected in the system you can pretty well know that the results that come out aren’t going to be as good as they could be,” the chair told the hearing.

Mr Rajendra further told the inquiry that teaching was little understood by the upper echelons of the Department.

“It requires such expertise to be a teacher that if you are to be a leader of teachers it would be very helpful if you had the experience of a teacher,” Mr Rajendra said.

“I don’t mean it to be criticism of any individual but it is a matter of principle; to understand the work of a teacher and if you’re a leader in the system, it would help if you’re a teacher and had a teaching background.

“To come in from other industry, or wherever, and think you’ve got an understanding of our work is not good enough, and we are suffering the consequences.

“Increasingly there are fewer [teachers] there; the voice of the teaching profession is not a feature of the Department of Education, centrally, and certainly at the senior levels.”

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