Bill will diminish teacher's voice

John Quessy

Critics might be tempted to call it obscene haste but the Review of BOSTES has resulted in legislation presented to the NSW Parliament in less than six months. In March the Education Minister called for a review of all aspects of BOSTES, public submissions closed mid April, the panel gave their report to the minister before the end of June and within three weeks the NSW Government had accepted all 41 recommendations.

On September 22 Minister Adrian Piccoli introduced into parliament the Education and Teaching Amendment Bill, which makes significant changes to three Acts providing the framework for education in NSW. The Bill would change both the name and governance structure of the current BOSTES and curiously although the Bill has not yet passed the parliament the NSW Government has advertised for a CEO of the new body proposed in the draft legislation.

There are a number of proposed amendments that the Union supports, others are less welcome and a few which set out to insult the teachers of this state.

We support the changes to the Teacher Accreditation Act removing the capacity for an individual Teacher Accreditation Authority to suspend or revoke accreditation. This power would now rest with the Authority itself and if used, the Union can expect a consistent application. We welcome also the requirement that any case of suspension or revocation will be “consistent with the rules of procedural fairness”. We remain opposed to those aspects of the existing Act which deny teachers the presumption of innocence and which remain unchanged.

The Union supports the requirement that proposed new schools will need to demonstrate their “financial viability” and we hope that any new Authority will extend this requirement to apply not only on initial registration but where a school is proposing additional stages.

Not so welcome are the references in the Minister’s second reading speech where he says that NSW will introduce an 'adopt and adapt' approach to curriculum modifications which intimates an intention to move on changes with undue haste and little proper consultation.

The level of confidence and satisfaction that NSW teachers have in the current syllabuses is entirely due to the engagement those 'end users' have in shaping raw curriculum into a working syllabus. It is teachers who 'know their students and how they learn' and who 'know the content and how to teach it'. Were the current model of consultation and participation of teachers to be weakened school education in this state would be the loser.

By far the most disturbing of the proposals contained in the legislation is to reduce the size of the Quality Teaching Council (QTC), now a committee, from 23 to 11 members only five of whom will be teachers elected by their colleagues and six (unspecified) members who will “assist the QTC in exercising its functions”.

At a time when the the number of accredited teachers in NSW is set to double, this government proposes to reduce teacher representation and to oversee the voice of teachers with a majority of ministerial appointees.

The QTC is the legislated professional expression of teachers advising on policy which effects their profession. The opinions of teachers on these professional matters can only be articulated by teachers.

Apart from the reduction in the number of teachers there is no indication of which sectors or interests they will be drawn from. Currently the 11 elected teachers come from seven different electoral divisions to ensure the views of practitioners in government, Catholic, independent and early childhood services are heard. In addition, the Regulations provide for principals and rural areas to be represented.

This disgraceful proposal, if left unamended will seriously diminish the voice of teachers and ensure that the teaching profession in NSW is not owned by teachers but by politicians, employers and bureaucrats.