The stakes are too high for complacency

The need to comprehensively overhaul the NSW public school system has never been more urgent. Our mandate, to provide a comprehensive, free and secular education to every student — not some — is under significant pressure and we are fighting for our collective values.

“The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting,” said Czech writer Milan Kundera. We’re reminded that our fight to salvage and underpin public schools is also a struggle to preserve our collective memory of what comprehensive public education can and should be. The past decade saw a concerted effort to dismantle this under the guise of “reform,” spearheaded by the NSW Coalition government’s Local Schools, Local Decisions policy. What was promised as empowerment for schools has, in reality, translated into a devaluation of professional judgement, an overwhelming bureaucratic burden, and a glaring disconnect between effort and outcomes.

This policy didn’t just emerge in a vacuum. It’s the latest act in a historical onslaught against public education, tracing back to the era of premier Greiner and education minister Terry Metherell. Their legacy of market-driven education and a ruthless drive towards devolution and deregulation, set the stage for the current predicament. The so-called “Schools Renewal” initiative of that time recast principals as mere managers in a business-centric model, fundamentally altering the ethos of public education. The goal was clear: to erode public schooling by transforming it into a competitive marketplace, where schools are pitted against each other, and education becomes a commodity. Today, the consequences of those policies are stark. Teacher shortages are critical, with many classes split or under minimum supervision arrangements. Principals and teachers buckle under unsustainable workloads, a direct result of a policy that stripped away support and shifted the burden of budget responsibility onto schools. It’s a grim tableau of a system in crisis.

Yet, despite this, there is hope. The election of the NSW Labor Government and the negotiations for improved salaries and conditions are one turning point. The conversion of thousands of temporary teachers to permanent positions is a welcome, though insufficient, step towards stability. It addresses the symptom but not the disease; our schools require a comprehensive strategy for permanent staffing that aligns with student needs, something the previous government’s halfmeasures failed to deliver.

Rebuilding NSW public schools must be systemic. It demands a government that views education not as a series of isolated institutions but as a cohesive whole, responsible for ensuring every child receives the education they deserve. We must affirm the principle that public education is a fundamental right, not a privilege contingent on socio-economic status.

We must cast a critical eye towards the federal landscape. Our campaign for better funding is not just about securing resources; it’s about affirming our commitment to a public education system that is equitable, quality-driven and inclusive.

The challenges ahead are daunting, but the stakes are too high for complacency. Our fight for public education is galvanised by an unwavering belief in education as a public good.