Thousands of union members, activists and community members attended the AEU’s public education forums held throughout October and early November across the state, helping to shape the conversation on public education in the lead up to the state election.
Political candidates heard from passionate members representing all of our sectors on the big issues affecting students and staff right now in Victoria’s public schools, TAFEs and kindergartens. Candidates outlined their visions for education and took questions from the floor, providing an important opportunity for all members to put pressure on those who are in a position to make a difference.
As host Claire McKeown, AEU councillor and regional vice president, said at the Inner North forum: “Teacher burnout is so real right now in public education. It’s unacceptable that our public schools don’t get 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard.”
Melissa Brown, a teacher from Brunswick Secondary College, spoke to a packed crowd at the Brunswick Town Hall. “It would be really easy for me to come up here and tell you about all these things that make it feel like it’s all too hard,” she said. “It would have been really easy to make it sound like the system is broken, and that the workload makes me want to quit. But that would be a lie. I don’t want to quit and I won’t.
“We continue to give 100% and we’re asking our politicians to ensure that we are funded at 100%.”
“I’m passionate about teaching. I care about my students and their families. I care about my colleagues, both in the classroom and in support roles. We continue to give 100% and we’re asking our politicians to ensure that we are funded at 100%. Because it’s currently less than 100%; it’s 90.4% – and that’s not good enough.”
As the election campaign rolled out, Labor announced significant funding commitments in all of our sectors. Many of these represent major victories for the AEU, following long-fought campaigns. Union members also took part in pre-polling, handing out leaflets, and talking to voters about the importance of public education – reminding them of the massive funding cuts we have seen under previous Liberal governments.
Labor’s majority win, along with the Greens influence in the upper house, creates one of the most progressive parliaments we have seen in Victoria to date. This will strengthen the government’s ability to enact important legislation related to public education. Since the election, Premier Andrews has restated his commitment to free TAFE and early childhood education at the top of his agenda.
The AEU has welcomed the Andrews government’s commitment to introducing legislation that would direct 70% of vocational educaton and training (VET) funding to TAFE – something the union has been campaigning on for more than a decade. Labor will also expand the eligibility for enrolment in fee-free TAFE courses, and provide greater investment in TAFE infrastructure across the state. This matches the Albanese government’s policy to prioritise TAFE funding, putting TAFE at the centre of a strong national VET sector.
The AEU will be maintaining maximum pressure on both levels of government to meet their joint responsibility of ensuring that all schools are funded at a minimum 100% of the SRS.
In the schools sector, the Andrews government says it remains committed to funding 75% of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) and has pledged to advocate to the federal government to increase its share to 25% for public schools. (The previous federal Coalition government capped its SRS funding for public schools at 20%.) The AEU will be maintaining maximum pressure on both levels of government to meet their joint responsibility of ensuring that all schools are funded at a minimum 100% of the SRS.
Also on schools, the Victorian government has been consulting the AEU as part of its contribution to the National Action Plan on Teacher Shortage, and is investing $779 million to recruit 1,900 extra teachers to support reductions in face-to-face teaching. For students, Labor has extended its significant investments in mental health initiatives, the Tutor Learning Initiative, the Navigator program, and the Student Excellence Program. It has also invested $1.6m to double the number of students with disability eligible to access extra support in the classroom.
In early childhood, Labor made a pre-election commitment to deliver 700 scholarships – of between $12,000 and $34,000 – to help people qualify as early childhood teachers, and incentives of up to $50,000 for teachers to move into or re-join the early years sector. This comes in addition to its announcement of funded and expanded preschool programs for Victorian children in the two years before they start school – another major campaign win for the AEU, and a game-changer for Victoria’s public education system.
The Andrews government has set a positive path for public education in Victoria. Securing a third term should lead to crucial reforms in all of our sectors. But we know there is more to do. Many of the important issues raised by members at our education forums are yet to be adequately addressed. The AEU will continue campaigning for a better future for our members and their students through fairer funding, more sustainable workloads, and an end to the workforce shortage crisis.