The Minister gives way under the collective pressure of teachers.

This is the personal opinion of Peter Curtis

The Minister gives way under the collective pressure of teachers.

Minister Gillard agreeing to set up a working party to oversee My School has been the consequence of many teachers across the country making it clear that we are unhappy with the governments intolerable treatment; silencing us, and leaving us without any say in our professional conduct whatsoever. Our collective message has been clearly expressed to our departments and ministers; we are far from happy. Forced to conduct the NAPLAN tests we were threatened with fines and disciplinary action. Principals were asked to organise union breakers as replacements for their own teachers. We were right to make a stand, the frustration of our convictions has been heard loud and clear; lets hope the minister heard and absorbed our message too.

The decision of the special meeting of the AEU federal executive: 6 May 2010 is correct to point out;

governments and their departments take extraordinarily deplorable and unwarranted actions, ignoring the professional and educational concerns at the heart of this dispute. the intimidation and threats of disciplinary action, the recourse to punitive legal action raising the prospect of penalties and thousands of dollars in fines against individual teachers and principals as well as the employment of unqualified people, including tourists, to supervise tests.

Teachers were divided into those who had to administer the tests; facing $6600 fines and loss of pay. Ultimately the responsibility for the schools actions lay with these teachers. An unenviable and unreasonable position manufactured by the government and the Fair work Act to squash our campaign. Those teachers not in the firing line would have also faced these penalties if they had refused a direction to their colleaguess work.

We were intimidated by the courtss invocation of these harsh penalties. Many of us were confused by the Ministers heavy-handed refusal to meet and discuss with our federal representatives. Genuine puzzlement was evident over the behaviour of the government and the Minsters intransigence and their contradiction of values normally associated with the ALP. This was not how Labor Government was meant to behave; werent they meant to negotiate with unions? The realisation that this government is not a government that acts in our collective interests is becoming increasingly apparent.

Minister Gillard and the corporate media will spin her explanation, but it cannot be forgotten we forced her to shift. Up until the announcement of the working party to oversee the website, she had been refusing to entertain any discussion whatsoever. The character whatever formation we end up with is now the critical issue. The issue of the NAPLAN test and league tables are still live issues that have to be dealt with. The AEU statement continues;

a working party of educational experts including literacy and numeracy specialists, principal organisations and representatives of the AEU and IEUA to provide further professional advice on the use of student performance data and other indicators of school effectiveness as ACARA continues to develop the My School website.

Lifting the moratorium was a compromise for our union The projected moratorium on administering the NAPLAN for professional and ethical reasons was taken primarily to avoid the laws of the Fair Work Act. The courts of Fair Work Australia and their state counterparts were not convinced and the judges considered the moratorium to be industrial action. The political stakes had been raised. The leaderships mistake was to avoid campaigning on the Fair work Act. This Act effectively silences our professional and political voice. We have learnt from this experience we do not have a right to strike. There was confusion about the legal ramifications of refusing to conduct tests. There was not sufficient solidarity between other teachers and schools, we felt isolated and consequently we lacked confidence.

Ultimately, many of us were totally unprepared for threats of fines. Because the campaign was designed to avoid the definition of industrial action by the courts meant we were surprised and shocked to find out that we were acting illegally. We were concerned about our reputations, and we were not confident that parents and the public understood, or would be prepared to understand. An important lesson from this is that if we avoid involving parents it will be at our political expense.

We have to learn this lesson. Education means many things to many people and we need to define our visions and ideals if we are to deserve a place at the table. This federal government has publicly and persistently denigrated and discredited public school teachers. The accusation by the minister that we are wrecking and spoiling her governments project to improve education should not be forgotten.

Gillard has declared her lack of regard for the public system, and us in the process. We, as teachers and educators have to appeal to, and listen to all concerned people. This way we can address the publics concerns and explain our disdain for this government. Teachers will always put childrens interests first but that does mean that on occasions we have to take action that can appear to others as detrimental to childrens interests.

Peter Curtis 8/5/10

Councillor AEU Victoria Primary Council

Personal capacity

One thought on “The Minister gives way under the collective pressure of teachers.

  1. Peter Curtis says:

    The Federal Minister of Education is intolerable.
    Peter Curtis AEU Vic Councillor Primary Sector Personal capacity
    The bullying of public school teachers by the federal Minister of Education is intolerable. Minister Gillard is dividing parents, teachers and principals. Refusal to discuss our concerns over the uses of NAPLAN, and school data on the ‘My School’ website are causing stress, confusion, and personal turmoil for teachers. Her disregard undermines healthy collegiate relationships and is damaging the quality of learning and teaching.

    Gillard and her government’s beliefs about the practice, purpose, and future of schools and ‘education’ have not been explicitly stated to parents, but they can be measured by a standardised test. Addressing a gathering of the Australian Industry Group the Minister stated,
    ‘In today’s world, the areas covered by my portfolios – early childhood education … (and) schooling… are all ultimately about the same thing: productivity… I’m going to be measuring policies against the all-important criteria of how effectively they increase national productivity.’

    Parents naturally care about their precious children and they should be assisting them by involving themselves in their children’s school. But can we possibly accept children as young as three and four being reduced to ‘units of production’, a mere ‘widget’ to which we ‘add value’, only to serve and benefit the interests of the commercial, corporate market? Why should all our best expectations and high ideals for children be boiled down to producing results for dubious standardised test data?

    The only purpose of these unreliable and misleading tests is to produce data for school comparisons, and to give the corporate media the means to publish detrimentally competitive league tables. NAPLAN data does not provide for better teaching practice, nor does it provide useful information for understanding the learning needs of children.
    Our children’s best interests are not served by NAPLAN tests. These tests undermining good learning and teaching and distract our attention away from our best efforts to assist children’s learning. It is intolerable that the federal minister believes that she alone is the most able person to decide what is best for our children.

    While the minister claims to make her decisions based on evidence she has not provided us with any apart from her concocted sound-bites. She claims ‘education’ is important but her belligerent attitude toward teachers and parents tells us otherwise. Her glib responses demonstrate her ignorance about teaching and learning and what good education should be,
    “I am not negotiating about what is on the My School website… I think that (the Australian Education Union Moratorium) is a foolish course that would be bad for students, bad for schools, bad for parents, bad for the nation’s education system.”

    Many reputable educators, academics and researchers are explaining why high stakes standardised testing is counter-productive for children’s wellbeing and learning. We are ignored because we challenge Gillard’s opinion, and her government’s view that it is the economic needs of the commercial markets that matter most. The people who brought upon us the global economic crisis, are informing Gillard and her government of what our civic and educational obligations to children should be.

    It is intolerable that we are being asked to ignore the evidence that overwhelming contradicts the government’s education policies. It is intolerable that Gillard expects us to accept being bullied into withholding judgement and passively accepting her attempts to silence our voice and stop us acting on our professional and ethical concerns.

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