In late July, I was fortunate to be part of an AEU national delegation to the Education International Congress in Bangkok. EI (of which the AEU is a member) is a federation of 391 education unions across 176 countries, with 32 million members. The congress theme was ‘taking the lead’ – in advancing our profession, promoting democracy, human and trade union rights, and ensuring free quality public education for all.
Taking the lead was also a focus for our annual conference on 5 August. In my address to our conference, I reminded delegates that, as educators, we can be a significant force in the progressive movement to achieve justice, sustainability and a well-resourced education system.
Central to this is our role of equipping students with the skills and knowledge they need to navigate the world we’re living in – one that will require them to adapt, collaborate, analyse and successfully transition to potentially very different ways of working and living.
It is up to us to highlight the very real needs of our students and to keep up the pressure for better resources.
It is a privileged role – and, I believe, an obligation – to support our students along a path to a more democratic and sustainable future. Climate change is real – and the importance of taking action in response to the inaction of governments around the world has never been more essential. It’s appropriate that we stand with the young people demanding action through the student climate strikes.
It’s also appropriate that we advocate for the health and wellbeing of our students, not to mention that of ourselves and our colleagues. A recent AEU survey, which encompassed schools, TAFE and early childhood, showed our members are facing significant challenges in supporting the rising number of students with mental health issues. It is up to us to highlight the very real needs of our students and to keep up the pressure for better resources to address student wellbeing, especially for those who are disadvantaged.
We know two years of preschool is most beneficial to children from low SES families – and that additional funding to support students with disabilities, those in regional and rural settings, and with additional English language needs does make a difference.
Four of the country’s richest private schools spent more on capital works than 1,800 public schools combined.
In terms of the needs of our members, the AEU has been taking the lead in addressing the significant workload issues being faced by educators. The VGSA 2017 and the TAFE MEA 2018 are the first agreements to include specific clauses to tackle workload. For school staff, this meant the introduction of the professional practice days and the 30+8 model. For TAFE teachers, it has been the requirement for mandatory workplans. Workload will also be top of mind during negotiations for the next early childhood agreement.
The most recent school sector newsletter contained detailed information about the 30+8 clause, including advice to teachers and principals on implementing this model in schools. Now is the time to submit plans for 2020 and we need to make sure PPDs and the 30+8 clause remain key ways of managing teacher workloads.
We are also maintaining pressure on DET, as a party to the agreement, to provide better support and assistance for schools in tackling workloads. The gross inequity between the public and private education systems was again put under the spotlight in a detailed exposé from the ABC recently. If you didn’t see it, I urge you to read it now.
In what the story described as an ‘infrastructure arms race’, this research revealed that four of the country’s richest private schools spent more on capital works than 1,800 public schools combined. Thanks to the Morrison federal government’s biased support, taxpayers are subsidising extreme luxuries – from rooftop gardens to ‘subterranean aquatic facilities’ – for elite private schools, while public schools are forced to fundraise for the basics. So much for ‘needs-based funding’.
There continues to be no transparency regarding how much money is allocated by both levels of government and to which sectors: public, Catholic or independent.
How can the Morrison government justify a situation that sees students at Geelong Grammar attracting almost twice as much funding ($25,000+) than those in nearby public schools, where students are funded at around $13,000 each – more than $1,000 less than the federal government’s benchmark? For a secondary school with 1,000 students, that’s a shortfall of $1.25 million a year, or the equivalent of ten extra teaching staff.
While the Andrews government is contributing billions in additional funding under the new state–federal funding agreement, it also needs to lift its game. There continues to be no transparency regarding how much money is allocated by both levels of government and to which sectors: public, Catholic or independent.
The Victorian government also needs to reassess its policy of guaranteeing private schools at least 25% of the funding state school students receive, which is only adding to the widening equity gap. As your union, we will never stop driving home the message that this kind of inequity between schools is unjust and unacceptable – in any country, but especially in a wealthy country like Australia, which prides itself on its sense of fairness. We will also continue to support members to organise and advocate for your professional interests and rights at work.
Our core objective is to make sure you are given the trust, support and resources you need to do the work that you have trained to do – work that is of vital importance now and for our future.
We all need to ask ourselves – are we prepared to take the lead? If not us, who else?