Reclaiming professional discourse

There’s something missing from public discourse about education, IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Professional Officer Amy Cotton writes.

Turn on any morning news program and there will be a politician and a couple of panellists who once attended school discussing the needs of education in our country.

They reduce complex issues to talking points and dramatic table slaps for the viewing audience. The newspapers are rarely better – routinely printing sensational stories or opinion pieces about the failing education system instead of nuanced analysis of policy and conditions. On social media there is an abundance of people with single issues claiming that they know how to ‘fix’ education in Australia.

But where are the teachers’ voices? Where are the support staff voices? Across the nation, at casual barbecues with their friends and family, teachers and education sector workers routinely defend the work they do and explain how hard they work and how under resourced, undervalued and under appreciated they are.

Across the nation, at casual barbecues with their friends and family, teachers and education sector workers routinely defend the work they do.

The union knows our members are articulate, passionate and diverse in their views. They are experienced practitioners; professionals who have been through changes in government, policies, education trends and fads. How do we encourage a professional discourse? How do we take back control of the education agenda?

Inspired by Howard Stevenson’s (University of Nottingham) examination of the ways education unions could reclaim their profession, the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch experimented with three initiatives designed to allow members to engage in professional discourse. We launched documentary screening/discussion evenings, education debates and a book club.

The central idea was to provide resource material that prompted a professional discourse among our members, facilitated by union officers but not necessarily led by them. Soon members were volunteering to speak at the events, giving detailed accounts of their understanding of the source material and how it would or wouldn’t work in their context.

Professional discourse flourished. Members used their voices to present their ideas, and their experience. We’re on our way to reclaiming that discourse.

Case study

A brush with fame: IEU Book Club

In Term 4 2020, Book Club will read Playground Duty, a compelling and entertaining memoir and reflection on the teaching profession by Ned Manning. This is a change from some previous books chosen for Book Club, such as Flip The System and 12 Ways Your Child Can Get The Best Out Of School, which both focused on changing and improving the education system in an academic sense.

“We were looking for something a little bit different for Term 4,’ Keith Heggart, previous IEU Organiser and Book Club convenor (now Lecturer in Learning Design, School of International Studies and Education, UTS) said.

“We wanted to keep the focus on education, but we also sought to remind ourselves about the wonderful opportunities that come in a teaching career, and Playground Duty is great for that.”

The author, Ned Manning, is a well known figure in Australian education and the arts. He has starred in films and TV series such as Bodyline, Brides of Christ and Looking for Alibrandi, as well as being an accomplished playwright. More recently, he has been working as a drama teacher at International Grammar School, Ultimo, and he is, of course, a member of the IEU. In Playground Duty, he recounts a wide variety of experiences throughout his teaching career, from Tenterfield to Beijing, and many points in between. He also discusses the changes that he has seen in our education system – the good, the bad, and the amusing!

He dropped by the IEU offices for a filmed chat with former Secretary John Quessy. The chat, which was recorded and is now available on The IEU Zone ( was wide ranging and informative, as Ned reflected on his career and his frustration at the standardisation that seems to becoming more common in education in Australia. Ned was passionate about the importance of mentoring and developing young teachers, and the need for this to go beyond a formulaic process of attaining accreditation at Proficient, and instead be a real developmental model – something that the IEU agrees with!

Get involved...

If you’re a NSW/ACT Branch member, we’d love you to get involved. You can join our IEU community page where we post updates (

If you’ve got a book you think we should read, we’d love to hear from you, too. Email the PD team at
If you’re from outside of NSW/ACT, speak to your organisers about the possibility of creating a union book club.