vicblog.jpg  Teachers Demonstrate in Victoria earlier this Year The federal government in Australia is imposing a raft of neo-liberal school reforms without consultation with education unions The reforms which mirror closely those in the UK and the US include performance related pay and centralised curriculum and testing policies. They also herald an acceleration of privatisation and see the Labour government collaborating with business leaders to fashion the reforms while cutting out teaching unions. To read about the situation in more detail see the following report by Rob Durbridge, Industrial Officer for the Australian Education Union (AEU)   Federal Minister Julia Gillard said of her job on ABC Radio on 6 August; “This is absolutely something that I’m loving. I’m getting the opportunity to recast our education system...”  To recast something maintains the fundamentals in place but refashions it.  One fundamental that is not changing is the most extensive state-funded school privatisation scheme in the developed world and the inequity that creates. There’s no education revolution there.  What is being refashioned is who controls the system, and how it is run.  Strategic control of the entire school system, public and private, is being shifted more to the Federal Government and national “reform” policies are being implemented under a new mechanism, “National Partnership Agreements” (NPAs) which build on the Howard Government’s conditional funding arrangements. Unions, teachers, support staff and parents are largely locked out of this process which is being conducted behind closed doors by bureaucrats advised selectively by consultants and employer interests.   This shift has been made possible by the financial leverage of the Commonwealth over states and territories at a time of financial crisis. The consequence is the relegation of states and territories to the role of administrative centres for the Federal Government through the mechanism of NPAs. This is well  under way. Even a Coalition-led state like WA has been brought into line under the threat of not receiving “National Partnership (NP) payments”.   NPAs are a product of the Council of Australian Governments and have been signed by the Prime Minister and Premiers. The Commonwealth has provided a suite of “choices” for state and private employers to sign up to NPAs to gain additional Commonwealth funds.  Three NPAs have been signed by all states on schooling: Literacy and Numeracy, Low SES Communities and Improving Teacher Quality.  Some of the ideas contained in the NPAs are common sense, overdue or offer opportunities to address systemic failures...why should a plethora of officials devise curriculum for eight school systems; why is teacher education such a dog’s breakfast, why have different student starting ages? Teachers know more than anyone about the failures of education authorities. But without the intervention of the most powerful historical forces for positive reform, the education unions and public education communities, these opportunities may be lost in favour of the already privileged and powerful, also highly-mobilised and advocates of discrimination and self-interest.  It is urgent that the AEU and its associated unions should engage in this process and open the doors of employers and governments which are negotiating the future of education systems in secret with the Commonwealth.   The sweep of the agenda is huge. It includes the implementation of a national curriculum, national testing and reporting and national standards for teachers under a national institute of teaching to be run by governments and employers, with token teacher representation. This is strategic reform; it puts the agenda and the accountability mechanisms in the hands of the Federal Government, leaving the state or territory as an agency with the legal responsibility but not effective control.   It is clear that at the core of the agenda lie implications for school organisation and teachers’ work. Education unions are seeing profound changes to system policy and practice which will change employment arrangements despite the existence of universal collective bargaining agreements which guarantee consultation. The initiatives already commenced in a number of states show how this will occur across Australia.  Negotiate with Unions?     AEU President Angelo Gavrielatos wrote to the Federal Minister in August 2009;               Regrettably, the actions of State / Territory Governments and their departments in             the implementation of the National Partnership Agreements are creating considerable             concern for the AEU and our Branches and Associated Bodies.             The AEU continues to receive reports of State / Territory Governments and their             departments failing to consult, let alone negotiate, around the development and             subsequent implementation of initiatives under the banner of the National Partnership             Agreements.             The National Partnership Agreements contain elements which impact on a range of             industrial agreements in each State / Territory. The unilateralism exhibited by some    state and territories is not indicative of good faith bargaining and therefore does not             contribute to a positive industrial relations environment.             Furthermore, history has shown that unless such fundamental reform is conducted in             a consultative and collaborative manner it is unlikely to succeed.             The AEU and our Branches and Associated Bodies seek full consultation with respect             to the development of all National Partnership Agreement initiatives. Implementation          of such requires negotiation.” The Minister’s reply in September was a classic of the genre. After pointing out that NPAs for “Smarter Schools” were agreed mid-year and that “Final Implementation Plans” will be drafted by end-2009 and will be published, once approved, came this:            I understand the Australian Education Union’s interest in the National Partnerships             as a number of the reforms will impact on the teaching workforce and may influence             the direction of industrial agreement negotiations in each state and territory.            You would be aware that, as instruments of the Council of Australian Governments,             the National Partnerships have been negotiated and agreed to at a government-to-            government level.            I understand that most jurisdictions are currently commencing consultations with             stakeholders as part of finalising their Implementation Plans.  I would encourage             officers of the Australian Education Union to maintain a dialogue with state and             territory governments during this time. Once the plans are finalised and published             there will be future opportunities for stakeholders such as the Australian Education             Union to engage in specific reforms.” The exclusion of unions by state and territory governments from real consultation on NPA agreements in Queensland, NSW and Victoria is detailed below. But the Minister’s “understanding” that state and territory employers will consult on implementation and offer to “engage in specific reforms” once they have been “finalised and published” is disingenuous. In fact it is part of a deliberate strategy to marginalise education unions, which are the most representative organisations in the “industry” she is determined to “recast”.  Consequences of Marginalising Unions and Public School Teachers   Why marginalise the unions?  Because in policy terms the Minister has strategically allied the Federal Government with major employer organisations, News Limited, private educational interests and right-wing think tanks in the formulation and pursuit of educational “reforms.” These are often re-runs of policies from US and Britain which succeeded politically for a time but were proven to be educationally counter-productive and have now lost support in the community.  This can only alienate teachers who are overwhelmingly union members and who think and also vote, often in marginal electorates.  The Government’s alienation of public sector teachers may have long-term consequences for the ALP which traditionally had a strong identity with positive educational reform. Dagenham MP John Cruddas, a leading-light in the “Compass” think-tank associated with UK Labour and a former adviser to Tony Blair believes that the critical loss of 5 million votes in Labour’s electoral fortunes occurred with the “collapse of the wide and deep coalition” that launched it to office. These included a range of voters but the first was “public service workers whose role and jobs suffered under the marketisation of public services.” UK Labour is now running third in the polls behind the Tories and the LDP.   In the recent German elections the Social Democrats lost over 11% of their votes and lost the capacity to form a coalition government to the right-wing Free Democrats...at 23% their lowest vote since WWII, the result of hitting out at working people, the jobless and self-employed while cutting taxes on the super-rich and corporations.  It is no secret that there is a massive loss of support for the ALP in a number of states. A further loss of its education constituency may be a long-term consequence of the Minister’s alliance with business and employers to implement reforms without reference to the views of teachers and education workers.  A survey of Queensland Teachers Union members and their families’ voting intentions in August compared to the recent state election revealed a 52% drop over the Government’s handling of the pay dispute, linked directly to the NPA implementation plan.  To achieve positive educational reform, the involvement and support of the unions and the educational workforce is critical. Two unions, the AEU and IEU, have an enrolled membership of around a quarter of a million teachers and education support staff. While decisions to make changes to teachers’ careers and pay systems can be made in secret, their implementation can prove to be problematic unless unions can convince members of their worth.  This is the risk the COAG is taking by ignoring the role of education unions in its reforms.      NPA Funds Performance Pay Pilot in Victoria The proposals of the Coalition for “performance pay” were generally laughed out of court prior to the 2007 election. Then, the ALP’s Shadow Minister Macklin proposed a genuine career reform programme, supported by the AEU.  The Coalition was unmasked when  Minister Julie Bishop admitted that there would be no more funds, so some would be paid bonuses out of the salaries of others. Even Coalition-commissioned research by ACER found that the idea would fail.  ACER reported that unless the profession embraced a sound and transparent scheme it would never get off the ground. But now instead of adopting a standards-based approach to reform of teachers’ careers, promised by the ALP and agreed with the AEU, these ideas are reappearing in the guise of the NPAs. In Victorian government schools (Catholic schools have refused to participate) the Education Department has initiated a performance pay pilot scheme funded by the NPA on Improving Teacher Quality, based on a proposal by Boston Consulting (not related to Dr Ken Boston). The Australian Council for Educational Research, which was to be a co-sponsor and monitor the scheme, withdrew as a partner on the basis of its knowledge of the fate of similar schemes in the US and the UK. The scheme was negotiated between the Victorian and Federal Departments without reference to the AEU as signatory to the Victorian Government Schools Agreement currently in force which regulates employment in schools. The AEU is not a party to the arrangements which have been agreed upon by the employer and the Commonwealth.  AEU Victorian Branch President Mary Bluett reported to members in September’s “AEU News” in an article entitled “Poor Performance Over Pay” that, “The AEU was consulted, but has not agreed to it as it does not meet our policy of  professional pay based on defined standards.”  The AEU is asking members in Victoria to report any pressure being brought to bear on schools to participate.  In the Victorian scheme, additional funding from the Commonwealth is used to pay either individual awards to the top 30% of teachers at each classification level or whole-school rewards where the school has to determine how the money will be paid. The AEU has not agreed to the mechanism under which these payments will be assessed. Based on the international research which consultants for both Julie Bishop and Julia Gillard have undertaken, schemes like this will prove divisive and counter-productive in anything but the very short term. Victorian teachers will be asking, “Why are these hand-picked teachers and schools getting 30% extra salary when we teach the same sorts of students the same curriculum successfully year in and year out?”  Parents will be asking the Department, “Why can’t my child have one of these hot-shot teachers getting bonus payments...aren’t we good enough?”  In other words, Victorians will prove themselves no different to the parents and teachers in Houston or Los Angeles where merit pay schemes collapsed recently. The reality under this NPA scheme is that teachers are going to be expected to compete to undertake a wide range of extra duties for the dubious pleasure of gaining bonuses in one form or another for four years at the most. Victorian AEU members have fresh in their minds the “Experienced Teacher With Responsibilities:” (ETWR) fiasco which proved divisive and was rejected from the Victorian Agreement process only five years ago.  Performance Pay; Implications for All States and Territories  On 16 August 2009 the Minister in a media release was not coy about the intentions of COAG in changing teacher’s career structures. Launching a report, “Rewarding Quality Teaching” prepared by Gerard Daniels, a consultant originally commissioned by Julie Bishop, the Minister’s release emphasized the point;              “The research report investigates ways to maintain and improve the quality of the             teaching workforce through recognition and reward.             ‘Rewarding Quality Teaching’ was accepted by the Ministerial Council in June and             will form the basis of the reform of teacher remuneration arrangements in each State             and Territory.”The report itself reflects the position adopted by the AEU, Business Council and the ACER on the question of performance pay. AEU Federal President Angelo Gavrielatos welcomed the report because it found “there was no support for a cash-for-grades pay model.             “We have repeatedly stated our preparedness to negotiate around the construction of a             professional pay structure. But governments have failed to allocate the necessary funds for             this process. There is not the funding within the national partnerships on teacher quality to             bring about the changes that are necessary.            “The fact is the difference between the wages of beginning teachers and teachers at the top of   the classroom scale in Australia is one of the lowest in the OECD. That must be addressed             through enhanced career paths that recognize and reward quality teaching, knowledge, skills    and practice to ensure we can retain the best teachers in our classrooms.” However, this is not the position that was adopted by the Federal and Victorian Governments, when mandating the pilot performance pay scheme in that state, so it is no wonder the AEU was excluded from negotiations. The Performance Pay bonus scheme in Victoria was approved by the Federal Government for funding from the $550 million “envelope” allocated to the NPA on “Improving Teacher Quality” and approved by all the COAG governments. Schedule B to the NPA specifies “Reward Reform Indicative Achievements” such as new staffing classifications and demonstrated rewards for “high quality teachers,” “Increased school-based decision-making about recruitment, staffing mix and budget.”  Indicative achievements include “Devolution of some decisions about the staffing mix and recruitment to school leaders” and “performance and development systems and cultures in all schools.”  Much of the agenda reads like that of rightwing Coalition governments over the last 20 years. All things may be possible, given goodwill and adequate funding.  Neither is evident here. Goodwill has been lost by bad faith through the conclusion of agreements prior to consultation. Funding in any case is completely inadequate; the ALP’s election commitment to fund an “Accomplished Teacher” classification was costed at an additional $1 billion per annum.  The “Teacher Quality” NPA provides $137 million per annum for four years.  Much of this is being spent on research and consultancies, academic monitoring and bureaucracy in any case, and does not go to teachers.  NPA Pre-empts Negotiations in Queensland  In Queensland the Bligh State Government moved quickly to try to implement National Partnerships in the light of its financial problems. This has compounded the most serious industrial dispute in 50 years and a breakdown of negotiations for a new industrial agreement. The Queensland Government told the Queensland Teachers Union in February 2009 that the implementation of NPAs would underpin its approach to bargaining, yet the Agreements had already been signed by the Queensland Premier in December 2008 without any consultation with the QTU as required by the current Enterprise Bargaining Agreement. The QTU does not reject all of the proposals which have been brought forward, some of which were the subject of promises in the recent Queensland state election, but is incensed by the failure to consult adequately as required by the EBA. It is evident that this failure at the state level is blamed on Canberra’s requirements, while Canberra shifts the blame to the states as evidenced by the Minister’s letter. The QTU believes that where co-investment is concerned, most of the state funds are redirected from existing programs.  The QTU has repeatedly said that it is concerned that the reforms should not jeopardise the working conditions of teachers and has alerted members to the need to campaign around these issues. The most comprehensive NPA to be implemented in Queensland is “Improving Teacher Quality” which according to the QTU includes;·        the introduction of “Teach for Australia” graduates in Queensland schools·        the introduction of “alternative pathways” to teaching·        the establishment of standards for accomplished and leading teachers·        a national system of teacher registration·        the introduction of a mentor classification·         the establishment of “University Training Schools”·        the review of Managing Unsatisfactory Performance·         continued commitment to Developing Performance Framework  The Low SES NPA in Queensland offers additional funding to 131 schools many of which the QTU had been demanding should receive increases. One of the objectives of the NPA is to attract and retain high-performing principals and teachers by the payment of bonuses. For principals this means $20,000 per year for four years, plus a further $20,000 as a “completion bonus.”  At this stage there is no proposal for teacher bonuses. Principals will be paid the additional amount under an employment agreement under the Public Service Act because the EBA does not contain any provisions. The Literacy and Numeracy NPA will apply in 175 schools and continued funding will be dependent on 2010 NAPLAN test results. The QTU has negotiated for the new position of Literacy and Numeracy Coaches, 80 of whom will be appointed state-wide, to provide support for classroom teachers. Summer schools will also be held for teachers, which the QTU does not support in principle, but which was an election commitment and for which employment conditions have been negotiated.  The QTU has developed a kit for members working in low SES schools where the NP programmes are to be conducted.  The QTU campaigned for many years for additional resources for low-SES schools. The kit informs members and urges them to get involved in the process of consultation at school level to make sure that the programme operates as equitably and effectively as possible.     NSW NPA implementation “seriously flawed” Without reference to the NSWS Teachers Federation or the award which applies, the NSW Government announced that it had negotiated with the Federal Government to establish a “mandatory facilitation reform” under the “Smarter Schools National Partnership on Improving Teacher Quality”. Existing initiatives in some government schools such as university partnerships, mentoring and initial teacher education placements would be augmented by the new resources available under the NPA such as “Highly Accomplished Teachers” (HAT) and paraprofessionals.  Of the 50 centres to be created, 35 would be in government schools which using the “hub and spoke” model would mean that 3 to 4 times more schools would benefit in a “cluster”. The HAT classified teacher would be paid substantially above their peers, and would be selected on the basis of advertisement on merit.  Teachers Federation President Bob Lipscombe in “Education” on August 17 said the proposal was “seriously flawed.”            One can only speculate how a Minister can stand up with a straight face and claim             that they are interested in recognising, supporting and rewarding high quality             teaching when their answer is, from a school teaching service of more than 45,000, to             appoint no more than 100 so-called High Accomplished Teachers. Of course, this is             probably no worse than claiming that you are supporting quality teaching by             announcing the creation of the Teach for Australia positions which will see people             essentially without teaching qualifications appointed to some of the most             disadvantaged schools in the             state. Recruiting, supporting and retaining properly             qualified teachers is apparently a challenge too great.”  Information about other states and territories is sketchy as far as the AEU Branch or its Associated Body is concerned. However, there should be no illusion that this does not mean that the process of concluding agreements behind closed doors is not proceeding.  All states and territories will develop implementation plans by the end of October which will be approved by the end of 2009.  The employer may or may not consult the representatives of teachers and support staff about them.