Why teachers must be on the AITSL board

Unlike almost all other jurisdictions internationally, Australian governments have actively disenfranchised the teaching profession.

Nihil de nobis, sine nobis*. This is a message repeatedly ignored by successive governments, and as a consequence, Australian teachers are in the absurd situation where the national body responsible for ‘maintaining’ teacher standards and oversight of teacher education program standards, has no teachers selected by or endorsed by the profession itself on its board, IEUA Federal Secretary Chris Watt writes.

Unlike almost all other jurisdictions internationally, Australian governments have actively disenfranchised the teaching profession ever since the furtive attempts in the early 1990s to establish a national teacher standards authority.

Today, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) has one and only one practising teacher on its board of 10 persons; and that person was chosen and appointed by the single ‘shareholder’ of the institute, the federal education minister.

AITSL’s stated mission is: “promoting excellence so that teachers and leaders have the maximum impact on learning in all Australian schools and early childhood settings”.

Apparently, this can be achieved by ‘doing things to teachers’ rather than ‘doing things with teachers’.

One would struggle to find any other professional standards authority in any other industry where the profession was not only represented but formed the majority (or even totality) of the board of governance.

In the early 2000s, through various iterations, including Teaching Australia and NIQTSL (predecessor to AITSL), teachers and their unions were represented.

But when the current AITSL was established in 2010, non government teachers and their union were specifically excluded. In the latest iteration, the government teachers’ union was excluded.

Rectifying the AITSL structure does not require a single teacher representative or even a couple. AITSL requires a board composed by a majority of practising teachers and their unions.

Such a board could access expertise, including education researchers and teacher education providers, to provide input and knowledge to board deliberations. These people, who have had a privileged position on the AITSL board to date, do not require this privilege as much as teachers do.

It is only when teachers represent teachers that a body such as AITSL will have the confidence of the profession, will be able to better relate and communicate with the profession and recognise the work intensification and other day to day ramifications of the work undertaken by the board.

It is clear from consultation papers developed by AITSL over the last eight years that there continues to be a systemic failure to recognise or understand the work that goes on in schools, the time poor situation teachers and principals continually experience, the work intensification and burgeoning red tape expectations and lack of intersection with day to day priorities of the classroom teacher and the determinations of the board.

To exacerbate the lack of teacher and union representation on the AITSL board, we have also seen legislative changes by state/territory jurisdictions to reduce the number of teachers, often to less than the majority, on teacher registration authorities around the country.

There has been an international trend, a disease, that has infected education policies globally, where the expertise of the teaching profession and the respect for professional judgement has been undermined and policy settings determined without due and proper consultation with the teaching profession.

The appointment of teachers and their unions is critical to ensure that the voice of the profession is heard in every conversation in the work of AITSL. Anything less will mean that its work will remain disconnected, discounted and viewed with suspicion. Anything less will mean that quality outcomes from its deliberations will be diminished. Anything less will continue to signal the government’s lack of respect for the profession and the professional judgement of teachers.

*Nothing about us without us.