NSW teachers promise to defend student learning conditions

About 300 members of the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) Council voted unanimously on June 2 to call upon the Barry O’Farrell government to provide guarantees for public school student learning conditions. If the O’Farrell government refuses to provide these guarantees the NSWTF will consider industrial action in the final week of June.

The government plans to radically cut education spending through its “Local Schools Local Communities” policy. Using the smokescreen of “school autonomy”, the government plans to slash schools staffing budgets by casualising the teacher workforce.

Twenty thousand public school teachers will retire in the next five years. The government plans to replace these permanent positions with temporary employees. Cuts will also be achieved through increasing class sizes and reducing student access to specialist teachers. Commonly referred to as "devolution", the policy was first devised in the US.

Devolution shifts the responsibility to adequately resource public schools from the government to the school principal. Once governments slash education budgets, principals are forced to reduce school spending and are inevitably blamed for the consequences. Devolution has been applied overseas and in other Australian states to the detriment of students.

The NSWTF has devised a Putting Students First charter. The conditions in the charter are; class sizes will not be increased, funds for public education will not be reduced in real terms; students will not experience an overall decrease in the level of permanent teacher or executive staffing; school executive structures will be determined by curriculum need and student enrolments; the current harmonious award system will be maintained; students will not experience a reduction in the level of specialist teaching positions in schools; key decisions at the school level should be cooperatively determined by principals, teachers and parents.

The NSWTF is calling upon the state government to guarantee these minimum conditions listed in the charter. The NSWTF is building a community alliance with other unions, the Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations, equity groups, principal’s groups and professional associations. Parents should contact their school P&C to become involved in the campaign to protect student learning conditions.

Among the first victims of the O’Farrell government’s public education cuts were about 200 non-school based teacher and officer positions from the state office. This work will be shifted to principals, teachers and administrative staff in schools.

[John Gauci is a public school teacher and activist in the NSWTF.]

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