No education revolution

What are all the forces pressing Labor governments to pursue education policies to further intensify inequality and competition at all levels from kindergarten to university? Ross Gittins calls the Rudd government’s policy “change without change“. Rudd won’t redistribute from the rich schools, Gillard won’t declare a quality public education system to be a common good. What are they left with for an education revolution but computers and increased competition accompanied by a good deal of union bashing?

And union bashing it is – Peter Hartcher, editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, cheers Rudd on in his article Pugilistic Prime Minister has picked a classy fight. Today on ABC radio I heard Heather Ridout of the Business Council lamenting that NSW is so far behind Victoria which has given power to hire and fire to school principals, and is making all TAFE funding contestable. These are all mechanisms that put more power in the hands of specific education managers, but it will be the power to manage a more constrained budget and respond to more scrutiny and external demands with insufficient resources, i.e. to pass on the costs of improvement to teachers and other support staff within their jurisdiction.

So now Verity Firth is the new NSW Education Minister. I might like to hope that she will pull back from Della Bosca and Coutts-Trotter’s dismantling of the teacher transfer system, and at least return to the endorsement that new Deputy Premier Tebbutt made as Education Minister – that the transfer system guarantees staffing for hard to staff schools. But – even if Firth were to withdraw the changes to the transfer system – the direction of government policy is set. Look at the national picture too.

Hartcher does make some points which do reflect parent’s experience of schools – that poor teachers hang on as teachers, and that many teachers find parent questions to be an unwelcome intrusion. Many Teachers Fed members are also parents and are also aware of this problem. What can we propose? We know that teacher education and qualifications are vital, and that other support schemes such as mentoring and reduced face to face loads early in a career all help. But there are also some immediate conflicts of interest between teachers, parents an students in the system. These are very hard to face up to directly, in an education system that makes parents and students into customers or consumers making market choices rather than citizens concerned for the common good. But it is teacher unions that are best placed to re-shape the relationship by looking for ways to engage parents and students as fellow citizens of the education system, even though this would require teachers collectively to sometimes support students and parents who may have complaints.

Back to public education as a public good – yes Back would be forwards!

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