What a start to the year it has been! The first term is always a busy one for schools, kindergartens, TAFEs and disability centres. However, this year’s catastrophic bushfires as well as the ongoing impact of the coronavirus have made things especially challenging.
I’d like to acknoweldge what a distressing and difficult time it’s been for our colleagues affected by the bushfires over summer. While the immediate threat has dissipated, the impact of these devastating fires on the communities of East Gippsland and the North East Hume region continues. While most members were getting ready for the new year, in these areas many were supporting families who had lost homes, opening their schools as crisis centres, or taking part in local firefighting efforts. In towns devastated by the fires, principals and staff were focused on making their schools and kindergartens as safe and welcoming as possible for their students.
The AEU will continue to work with the department to ensure the needs of staff and students in bushfire-affected communities are recognised and met throughout the months and years ahead.
At the national level, Victorian branch delegates from all our sectors attended the annual AEU Federal Conference in late February, alongside other delegates from across the country. The theme of the conference was ‘Resilience, Determination, Hope’.
There is no education system without its most important resource – its staff.
The conference statement, endorsed unanimously, acknowledged the importance of education as a human right and as a public good available to everyone. Central to discussions was the widening equity gap between the public and private sectors in education. Sadly, parents and students are increasingly encouraged to think of themselves as consumers, and schools, early childhood services and TAFEs are competing for public funding with growing numbers of private, for-profit providers.
AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe pointed to the mountain of evidence showing equitable public education funding is integral to providing opportunities for all. This is supported by OECD figures, which show Australia has one of the most inequitable education systems in the world. The AEU will continue to advocate for better and fairer funding for public education.
The conference also spent considerable time looking at the multitude of professional issues we are confronting, and their industrial impact. Front and centre for all AEU members nationally is workload. There is no education system without its most important resource – its staff. Our profession deserves to be better recognised and valued for the important work we do, with a greater level of professional trust and autonomy provided in our day-to-day work.
One of our key federal campaigns is to attain permanent Commonwealth government funding for four-year-old kindergarten programs. The Morrison government continues to drip-feed its contribution (about one-third of preschool funding in Victoria) on an annual basis, offering no ongoing commitment. If funding is not delivered, we could see four-year-old programs cut and teachers and educators lose their jobs. The AEU and early childhood members will be holding a national forum at federal parliament in Canberra on 24 March and spend a day lobbying politicians – reminding them of the research showing early years education has lifelong benefits.
The AEU is continuing to campaign on issues that directly affect our members at both the state and federal level. There has never been a more important time to get involved and to call on any non-member colleagues to join our union.
The coronavirus is making this a challenging time for all AEU members, students and families. The AEU has been in contact with the Department of Education and Training on a daily basis to monitor the situation and develop advice for members. Please find a list of FAQs on our website. We will update these FAQs as the situation changes and advise members through email bulletins.