The NSW Labor government has been forced to partially back down on its plans to enforce the educationally unsound A-E report system.
In August, the state government assured the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) that it would not discipline any teacher who refused to implement the A-E report system. The backdown was won by a community campaign organised by the NSWTF and the federation's threat to organise immediate, state-wide industrial action if any of its members were disciplined.
More than 1300 schools and 16,000 teachers across NSW, with the NSWTF's backing, have decided not to implement the state and federal governments' ranking system. They argue that labelling children as young as five as "failures" is counterproductive. A-E grades must not appear on reports if the school chooses otherwise.
Schools and teachers have also called on the state government to negotiate a more educationally sound reporting framework for 2007 that is consistent, although not necessarily uniform, across the state.
While the state government has dropped its threat of disciplinary action, it is nevertheless determined to get the A-E reporting system implemented and has taken the NSWTF to the Industrial Relations Commission, which has yet to decide on the case. At the September NSWTF council meeting, teachers agreed that if the state government mandates that an A-E legend appear on pupils' reports they would ban the reports.
While most developed countries have stopped using the flawed ranking system, the Howard government is attempting to force its reintroduction in Australia, threatening to withhold more than $1 billion dollars of education funding if its proposed report system is not implemented. Sue Ingram, president of the NSW Primary Principal Association said that school principals across NSW want a system that allows for a more descriptive explanation of student achievement.
State governments have a prime responsibility for the quality of education and must stand up for the educational interests of the students in their care. The alternative is to become mere administrators for the federal government, without the right to form their own policy.
The federal Coalition government's real agenda is to use the information gained from A-E reports to rank primary schools from "best" to "worst". Public schools would be ranked against private schools without taking into account socioeconomic and cultural differences, or the much greater number of students with disabilities at public schools. The ranking could then be used to justify further funding cuts to public schools. This approach has been used in the US and Britain, resulting in an unjust two-tiered education system.