On Attacks on Public Education in NSW

On Attacks on Public Education in NSW

Moved by: SA NSW Trade Union Committee.

2008 has been a year of constant attacks on public education and teachers in NSW. The state Labor Government, which is incredibly unpopular, was re-elected on the back of the Your Rights at Work campaign waged by working class people against the draconian industrial relations policies of the former Howard-Liberal Federal Government. Yet they have continued to pursue an anti-worker, anti-union neo-liberal agenda in regard to public education and the teachers whose union (the News South Wales Teachers Federation) played a major role in the Your Rights at Work campaign. The attacks on the working conditions of NSW teachers represent the same agenda as Howard’s WorkChoices in the public sector arena of education. The State Labor Government is working together with the Federal Labor Government to pursue their attacks on working people in NSW.

The effective abolition of the centralised staffing system at the end of Term One (with the refusal to negotiate a new staffing agreement) was the first volley in the attack. It is the centralised staffing system that guaranteed that every student and every class in NSW were assigned qualified teachers. This system rewarded teachers who opted to work in harder to staff areas of the state with service transfer “points” which allow them to find a position in their area of choice after serving in remote areas or challenging schools.

Since this system was effectively dismantled it has already started to become difficult to staff schools in hard to staff areas with qualified teachers. This is a fundamental issue of equity for both teachers and students. It was the centralised staffing system which guaranteed equity and opportunity for both teachers and students and it needs to be re-implemented.

That this manoeuvre is the first step down the road of the devolution and deregulation agenda of previous ALP and Coalition state governments was confirmed with the announcement at the COAG meeting of November 29 of an agreement made between the states and the federal government of the introduction of league tables in schools in return for an increase in funding for disadvantaged schools and an increase in the power of principals to hire and fire. This is the next step in the move toward the introduction of fixed term contracts and performance-based pay for teachers. The actions of both the Federal and State ALP Governments demonstrate that they are just as committed to the same neo-liberal policies of devolution of school staffing as was the previous Howard-Liberal Government.

Gillard has avoided using the term league table, but that is in fact what she is talking about. She has publicly stated (as reported in a November 28 article in “The Age”) that she “…wants parents to be able to access information about the schools in their areas and compare their performance”.

While any increase in funding for public education is to be welcomed, this should not be bought at the expense of establishing a system that has caused the destruction of school communities wherever it has been introduced. Gillard has openly praised the “New York” model, which publicly grades the performance of schools with A, B, C, D or F. This has been a catastrophe in New York, and roundly criticised by the overwhelming majority of researchers who have looked at it. Likewise, the experience in the UK points to the same conclusion.

This kind of reporting of performance of public schools takes no consideration of the context of schools, such as their socio-economic status and other factors. Far from representing the increased accountability and transparency its advocates maintain, league tables deepen and entrench disadvantage, creating second and third class schools out of disadvantaged ones.

If this is allowed to take place it will gut the public education. The Socialist Alliance condemns this agreement and maintains that we must fight against this its introduction.

The salaries offer which the NSW Department of Education has put on the table is another attack on NSW teachers.

The award for NSW teachers expires on December 31, and the Department of Education and Training has offered a pathetic 2.5% pay increase. The NSW Government line is that any pay increases above 2.5% for public employees must be funded through cuts to conditions. So the DET has proposed a range of outrageous cuts to award conditions as “trade-offs” for any pay rise over 2.5% (including cuts in sick leave, extra classes, reduced workers compensation, reduced access to leave, and significantly increased teaching loads in TAFE — four extra weeks!).

Teachers rightly voted to reject this insulting offer at stop-work meetings across the state on November 19. They also decided to hold a 48 hour strike on 28-29 January, 2009 (the days students return from holidays) with a rally at NSW Parliament House and regional rallies in the event of no settlement being reached by then.

Recent experience has shown that public sector unions that ran campaigns including industrial action have won better outcomes in their agreements. The FBEU and RTBU won better deals than the Nurses and PSA, who had to settle for significant trade offs to their conditions in return for increases above 2.5%.

So the Socialist Alliance supports the initiatives of the Activist Teachers Network, which is a rank and file network of NSWTF activists who are campaigning to organise more militant, grassroots mass actions as a winning strategy for the union. The ATN moved a motion for a strike and rally at State Parliament House before the end of Term Four 2008 in addition to the 48 hour stroke next year at several metropolitan and rural stop-work venues on November 19. This motion was carried at several associations, including Campbelltown-Campden, the Campsie meeting of Canterbury-Bankstown Teachers Association, the Nepean Teachers Association and one of the Inner City Teachers Association venues.

Public Education is under attack in NSW, as it is across Australia. The Rudd-ALP Government has, disgracefully, decided to continue with the same fundamentally corrupt funding regime that was maintained by the previous Howard-Liberal Government. This is a regime that chronically under-funds public schools and continues to pour millions of dollars into private schools.

The Socialist Alliance is fundamentally opposed to the public funding of private schools. We call on unions across the country to become involved in a campaign to call a massive rally in defence of public education at Federal Parliament House during Education Week 2009.