Teachers are the experts

John Quessy

Minister, with increased power should come increased responsibility

Teachers will be less represented, accountability to politicians will be heightened and the pressure on schools to spend time and resources on administration rather than learning will increase under the proposed changes to the BOSTES structure and functions. The Union is concerned that the State Government seeks to create a climate of opaque authority for themselves without taking responsibility for its impact.

The panel established to review the structure and functions of BOSTES has delivered their report and made 41 recommendations across 13 areas. State Education Minister Adrian Piccoli has given every indication that the NSW Government proposes to accept all the recommendations.

We are concerned that the review itself was rushed and some of the methodology questionable. An issues paper inviting written submissions was released on March 31 and submissions closed on April 21. Those three weeks included the Easter holidays and the long weekend. The brief and very general online survey was open for only eight days and attracted responses from only 4722 people, 51% of who identified as classroom teachers.

We are wary of a concentration of power into a lean and mean authority that in its present form still has not

Our view of the recommendations, in a nutshell: some good, some dangerous and some just insulting to teachers, parents and students.

developed into a functioning regulatory body. The review supports the single authority dealing with all matters curriculum, school registration and teacher accreditation but acknowledges the merger of the old Board of Studies

with the Institute of Teachers is incomplete and has not been faultless. Ridiculously yet another name change is recommended, which is expensive and unnecessary. Our Union claimed at the time that no compelling case for the merger had been made and the review does not articulate one.

We see that teachers will lose the small representation they currently hold with the BOSTES for the sake of ‘streamlining’ decision making.

The Quality Teaching Council (QTC), the closest thing teachers get to representing their profession on issues such as accreditation policy, teaching standards, entry to the profession and the like, currently consists of 11 elected practicing teachers and 11 members appointed by the Minister. It is to be replaced by a committee of 10, five of whom will be elected teachers and five ministerial appointees. This is an appalling reduction of teacher representation on their own professional board and demonstrates contempt for teachers and their capacity to oversee their own profession.

While the current arrangements are structurally weak, where the part elected QTC makes recommendations to the totally appointed BOSTES that in turn makes recommendations to the Minister, this proposal is infinitely worse.

There is no guarantee that the accreditation fees paid by our members and other teachers will go to directly support teachers to gain and maintain their accreditation. On 1 January 2018, the BOSTES/Educational Standards Authority (ESA) will have invoiced teachers in our state for over $10 million in accreditation fees alone, simply to retain their license to teach. The review makes no specific recommendation to address the lack of financial governance of the millions of dollars paid by teachers in accreditation fees. The QTC is presented with no financial plan, no accounts and has no oversight of these ‘hypothecated’ funds. How the money collected from teachers is spent is a closely guarded secret and the percentage used to support those who provide Initial Teacher Education and Teacher Accreditation Authorities (employers) is not reported. This is quite simply a disgrace. It must be addressed immediately.

The NSW Government seems determined to abandon its sovereignty over the fundamental pillar of education with regards to what our students learn. The review advocates an ‘adopt and adapt’ approach to the Australian curriculum, meaning that NSW should implement the Australian curriculum early and then adapt to local NSW needs. Passing the responsibility of writing curriculum to ACARA means little input from practising NSW teachers, and certainly doesn’t allow for the current (already stunted) consultation process. Recent Stage 6 changes have been rushed.

Teachers will no longer have a say in the development of curriculum as a matter of course. NSW has a long and proud history of curriculum development and syllabus construction built around extensive consultation with teachers who

How the money collected from teachers is spent is a closely guarded secret . . . this is quite simply a disgrace.

are the implementers of the end product. A robust and sustainable model requires this not only to continue but to be enhanced. Teachers are the experts. To ignore the skills and experience of our teaching force is foolhardy and should not be acceptable to NSW parents, teachers and students.

However the review’s recommendation to reduce mandatory content could be a positive step if there is more reliance on the professional judgement of teachers to determine learning outcomes and content appropriate to their students. How this is interpreted by schools and communicated to teachers, however, will determine the successfulness of such a philosophical stance.

Professional development (PD) will be evaluated by teachers but accreditation powers still rest with employers. Teachers will support some of the recommendations, particularly the opportunity to evaluate PD, a more streamlined approach to maintaining accreditation that avoids duplication and removing the capacity to suspend or revoke accreditation from teacher accreditation authorities, although the capacity to refuse accreditation remains there with no effective appeal process.

BOSTES/ESA will take a high-level ‘eagle’ view of the state of education in NSW, choosing when and where to attack perceived instances of non compliance. This does not promote consistency of support or quality of service from the very people demanding consistency and quality of service from schools and teachers. The proposed ‘risk based’ approach to school registration, while theoretically beneficial if it reduces the burden on teachers, is potentially dangerous. This method relies heavily on sampling (based on unidentified perceived risk indicators) and a great deal of self certification. Schools could simply declare that various required policies exist without any examination of the quality or completeness of the policy or any evidence that the policy is understood or implemented effectively.

The fundamental problem with this approach is that individual teachers are often the scapegoats of non compliance when the impact of authority is felt from the top down. Without ongoing support from BOSTES/ESA to meet the increasing demands there is little chance of a fair and just process when the eagle’s shadow will swoop fast and hard and disappear just as quickly.

In short the review might relieve some administrative burdens from teachers and school authorities but at a high cost to the professionalism of NSW teachers. The recommendations must be implemented to be sustainable, beneficial to learning and wellbeing of students, respectful of the expertise and efforts of the profession and transparent and accountable to the very top of the ladder of authority.