Political parties must back quality education

John Quessy

At some point during this year Australians will go to the polls to elect members to the 45th Federal Parliament. Commentators are divided on whether that election will be early in the year or, as the Prime Minister has hinted, not until the spring, around October. Whenever it is held, the IEU is seeking commitments from all parties in regard to the issues of importance to our members and the work they do.

The IEU will lobby targeted parliamentarians from the various parties and seek commitment on 10 key issues. We’re calling it the ‘The Ask’ (see pages 12 and 13).

Chief among these is a commitment to provide for appropriate funding to ensure quality education across all levels from early childhood to higher education. For schools, our definition of appropriate is the model introduced by the previous government and agreed to by most states. That model was based on meeting 95% of the Schooling Resource Standard and in essence is the year five and six funding articulated by the Gonski standard. If the Commonwealth is to provide this level of resourcing, state and territory governments must not be allowed to abrogate their responsibilities to school funding by discounting their commitment, as the NSW Government has done.

Time for talk over

The initial loading for Students with Disabilities (SWD) currently operating was always intended as an interim measure and the Union insists that this must be lifted to reflect the actual cost of learning adjustments. The time for talking about SWD has long ago ended and positive action is essential.

In addition, our Ask of political parties is that they commit to maintain the Paid Parental Leave (PPL) Scheme in its current form and not discount that benefit for those who have access to paid leave negotiated with employers. In the case of those IEU members with access to employer based PPL, that leave was ‘purchased’ years ago through foregone salary increases. Indeed, the PPL Act states as one of its objects “this Act is intended to complement and supplement existing entitlements to paid or unpaid leave in connection with the birth or adoption of a child”.

Our Ask of prospective governments is far wider than these few matters and includes matters pertaining to industrial legislation for bargaining and to issues of social justice. We expect too that the voice of teachers, through their elected unions, will be represented on bodies such as AITSL, which have significant influence on defining and directing the work of their profession.

Mounting bureaucracy

Education policy at a federal and state level is of special significance to IEU members, particularly our teacher members whose work is increasingly subject to interference, regulation and control by policy and legislation. The AITSL determined Teacher Performance and Development Framework (a condition of funding) as well as accreditation requirements (a condition of employment) add considerably to the workload facing members as they struggle with mounting audit, compliance and reporting requirements demanded by lawmakers, employers and policy bureaucrats.

In determining the Union’s agenda for 2016 we are mindful of the need to identify and eliminate unnecessary and time consuming tasks and to streamline essential duties and responsibilities. This is reflected in our professional program, our Reps' training and our approach to bargaining.

The enterprise agreement (EA) for Catholic diocesan schools, which only comes into full effect from 1 January, expires at the end of the year and initial discussions for a new EA will need to start before 2017. In the Association of Independent Schools (AIS) sector there will be early consultations around new industrial instruments to replace the current ones which also expire at the end of the school year.

This edition of Newsmonth canvasses a number of the central issues with immediate currency for the Union and its members including salaries, leave arrangements, accreditation, managing assessment workload and a variety of other matters which form part of the IEU agenda for 2016.

New structure

As reported in the December Newsmonth the Union is reorganising itself and its structures to more accurately reflect the work we do. As the vast majority of our industrial and representational functions are carried out under the Fair Work Act and related federal legislation, it is appropriate that decisions, budgets, staffing and other resources are under the control of the NSW/ACT Branch of the Independent Education Union of Australia (our Federal presence). There is very little ongoing function remaining for the State body, the NSW IEU but it will continue to play a minor role providing services to the Branch.

Most members will notice no change except that our ABN and banking details have altered however there is a great deal happening behind the scenes to ensure that we as an organisation comply with all legal, financial and structural requirements. The next edition of Newsmonth will carry a detailed explanation of how the Union has transitioned and what still needs to be done.

John Quessy