Our profession under attack
The threats to the teaching profession are many and varied: from the imposition of flawed standardised testing to the professional affront of unannounced classroom observations, not to mention a still uncertain funding future. Without action by our union and our colleagues across the country, the profession and the quality of education provided to our students is at serious risk.
Forgotten professional courtesy
In an attack on teachers’ professional autonomy, IEUA-QNT members are reporting increasing instances of employers entering their classrooms uninvited, without notice and without any engaged professional collaboration.
Being sold as a new “curriculum initiative” requiring lesson observations and walkthroughs, such intrusions into the classroom are not only disrespectful of the professional character of teaching but also create distraction for students and a classroom situation which then has to be managed.
In many cases, the “observer” disrupts the class to ask students questions as to their “lesson outcomes”.
IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said that visits to classrooms should fundamentally respect the professional nature of teaching.
“If a visit occurs it should be following a professional discourse where the purpose, timing and nature of the visit has been established and agreed between a teacher and those visiting the classroom.
“Indeed there are professionally collaborative visits mutually agreed where the visitor has a well understood role in assisting in the development of better practices.
“Our union fiercely opposes any observations or walkthroughs taking place with no engagement with the teacher and where the ‘visit’ is inspectorial rather than professional collaboration.
“An ambush observation is fundamentally discourteous and disrespectful of the professional standing of teachers.
“Inspectorial visits will be fought by our union as an industrial issue given the impact on teachers’ professional standing and their professional practice,” Mr Burke said.
Flawed standardised testing
The imposition and increasing implementation of standardised testing is becoming synonymous with education in Australia.
Yet another year has begun with the media space being monopolised by ladders and statistics published around NAPLAN results and how schools are faring – drowning out all considered concerns and questions regarding the test itself.
Our union has long questioned the role of NAPLAN as it diminishes the professional judgements of teachers and does not provide the means for meaningful application of any data that it draws.
Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace’s investigation into NAPLAN, to evaluate the impact the numeracy and literacy tests have on teaching and learning, is welcomed by our union.
Ms Grace was the first of the nation’s education ministers to recognise issues surrounding NAPLAN and the need for consideration around these.
This investigation will enable the Minister to receive comprehensive data to give wide-ranging consideration to the nature and impact of NAPLAN.
While this evaluation is a step in the right direction, state and territories participation in NAPLAN is governed by a ministerial education council agreement, therefore the state government has no capacity to halt NAPLAN.
However, any investigation will enable the Minister to be in a position to have a considered document on what the issues are and what people are saying, with a view to address the issues at a federal level.
Just as NAPLAN was a product of failing American reform, the Year 1 phonics check (as proposed by the current Federal Education Minster Simon Birmingham’s advisory panel) is based on a UK model that, according to academics, has already proven to fail.
The check, based solely on testing synthetic phonics, has led academics to question its effectiveness in improving or accurately reflecting children’s literacy levels.
Tellingly, the panel reporting to Minister Birmingham does not include a single currently-practicing English/literacy teacher.
It has been reported that the proposal for the check will be considered by all ministers at a future Education Council meeting.
A date for this meeting was not yet confirmed at the time of publication.
Mr Burke said teachers are already conducting phonics and numeracy checks in the classroom.
“The federal government however, seems determined to leave no student year level untouched by standardised testing instead of respecting the professional judgements of teachers.
“This shows the federal government’s disregard for the professional judgements of teachers, and no consideration of their insights regarding education reform.
“Instead of affording teachers’ assessments of their students the respect they deserve, we are yet again faced with the prospect of a standardised test.
“Coupled with the fact that the phonics test has already been deemed inadequate overseas, this is an insult to the work our teachers do, and the quality education young Australians deserve,” Mr Burke said.
Future funding still in question
With the debate around school funding continuing, and the Gonski 2.0 review panel yet to provide its recommendations to the federal government (as at the time of publication), uncertainty continues to permeate the Australian education landscape.
Of ongoing concern to IEUA-QNT members is the legitimacy of the “needs-based” arrangement in the federal government’s model and the support provided for our most vulnerable students.
An ongoing concern has been that the model proposed by the federal government would fail to measure and fund actual need, instead simply distributing the arbitrary funding “bucket” on a relative needs basis.
Of particular concern is the provision of funding for students with disabilities. With more students being considered to require special needs funding in an educational context, the amount of funding currently being proposed means marginally more money for many more students.
As at the beginning of 2018, the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data (NCCD) now informs the level of funding each school receives regarding students with special needs.
The review of the NCCD undertaken by Pricewaterhouse Coopers Consulting in 2016 found that they were unable to recommend with statistical confidence reliability of data for utilisation at the school level for purposes such as school funding.
With this new funding arrangement in its early stages, it is unclear whether actual funding to schools will be able to accurately reflect the needs of students as determined by the professional judgements of their teachers.
The federal government’s lack of consideration of relevant stakeholders in decision-making regarding school funding continues to be of concern.
IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said at the inception of the proposed funding arrangement, the federal government did not properly consult or engage with appropriate stakeholders, including our union.
“The federal government did not provide adequate timeframes for inquiry submissions; omitted information regarding terms of reference for the inquiry; and failed to provide data, modelling and modelling assumptions to stakeholders,” Mr Burke said.
In addition to the questions that remain over school funding, that which is provided to our early childhood education sector is also up in the air — with only another year confirmed and the fate of Universal Access funding unknown.
Time for action
With the threats to the teaching profession ever-increasing, Mr Burke said it was time to take back our autonomy, both professionally and industrially.
“As teachers and as workers we demand a say as to how education is shaped in Australia.
“Decision makers and external authorities are taking a ‘that’s just how it is’ approach to current mechanisms, as they conveniently favour them and their practices.
“Members of our union will gather in the coming months to plan direct action to reclaim the voices of teachers, and address the issues that are diminishing our autonomy.
“It’s time to reclaim our voices.
“It’s time to reclaim our professional judgement.
“It’s time to reclaim our profession,” Mr Burke said.