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Issue #1560      15 August 2012


Governments agree – blame the teachers!

A race has been on to see which Australian government could talk more about “teacher quality”. Victoria and Queensland have made impressive runs but star of the field has been NSW education minister Adrian Piccoli. He wants to use the NSW government’s position as the main employer to force change upon the state’s universities to limit enrolments in teacher courses and to force them to produce more maths, science and language teachers. The minister says he also wants more teachers for regional areas.

Piccoli notes that many students from teacher training courses never wind up in the classroom. The problem, he says, is the preponderance of low-grade, poorly motivated applicants being exploited as “cash cows” by universities. A lack of funding and other resources for public education and a lack of secure jobs for graduates are never identified as major factors. Somebody is going to be blamed for the multiple failings of the emerging neo-liberal education system and the consensus in Australian governments is that it is going to be teachers and aspiring teachers.

“We want to lead Australia in terms of these kinds of reforms. There’s an opportunity to be bold here, and to change things that I know many people have thought for a long time needed changing. Nothing is off the table,” the NSW minister said. That vanguard spirit was very much in evidence at a meeting of the country’s education ministers earlier this month. Teachers are going to be subjected to an annual performance review administered by individual schools to identify the poor performers.

Federal education minister Peter Garrett is also keen to pin the blame on teachers for mounting social problems but uses softer language. This is all about helping teachers, he claims. “Every teacher every year in Australia will have an annual performance review and there will be ongoing professional development support throughout their careers,” he said. “That’s a huge step forward because we will be able to get continuous development and, if we have under-performing teachers, they will get the help they need to improve.”

Teachers smell a rat. Their union, the Australian Education Union (AEU), notes that a charter developed by the Australian Institute of Teaching and Learning to describe a national approach to education “reform” has had the word “resources” removed from the text. Education, unlike defence for example, is one of those areas that cannot be improved by “throwing money at it”, according to the neo-liberals dictating education policy in recent times. The original text committed signatories to “support for professional learning through school structures, explicit planning and the allocation of time and resources.” That sounds too much like an actual commitment.

AEU federal president Angelo Gavrielatos points out that the latest talk of reform is another example of “describing more things that should be done to teachers.”

“Where are the resources necessary to provide teachers and school leaders with the time and space to engage in professional learning, the time and space to work together to evaluate and improve teaching and learning programs in the interest of improving student outcomes?”, Mr Gavrielatos asks.

The talk in state and federal government circles about teacher quality is not genuine. It’s not about assisting teachers to improve their performance. “Teacher quality is an easy thing for ministers to talk about because it makes it seem that the responsibility lies somewhere else,” as Australian College of Educators national president Bob Lingard noted. The slogans are being used to keep a teacher-bashing, union-bashing atmosphere alive so that the privatising strategy of state and federal governments can be pursued with the least resistance. The Prime Minister long ago identified education (along with health) as one of the last sectors of social undertaking that has not been completely reordered by market forces. She made a commitment to finish off that task. And we all know what a success story that approach has been wherever else it has been imposed!

Next article – Toro – time to come clean on costs

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