By Marcus Strm
SYDNEY â Teachers and the NSW government seem set on a collision course after the NSW Teachers Federation's 77th annual conference voted to place bans on the introduction of new programs until the beginning of the 1997 school year. Bob Carr's Labor government responded by insisting that it had a mandate to carry through its education reform agenda.
The conference, held on July 2-4, concentrated on the stress and confusion caused by the many changes to the public education system over the past decade under both ALP and Liberal governments.
The federation called on the government to observe a moratorium on new programs to give teachers "breathing space" and allow them to get on with providing an education to students. The last decade has left education workers exhausted and overworked.
One major issue of contention is the government's proposal to increase the number of specialist schools. In passing a resolution opposing the changes, the federation described "comprehensive schooling and the local high school" as "the best form of school organisation leading to the highest educational standards".
The Greiner government allowed parents to choose their children's high school, undermining the local comprehensive schools.
First under Labor, with a "high school of the performing arts", and then under the Liberals, specialist schools, such as "technology highs","centres of excellence" and "language highs", were introduced, producing greater inequality in the resources of the public school system. The Labor government is committed to further attacking the comprehensive public education system by increasing the number of such schools.
The conference resolution states that "such specialisation leads to a narrowing of curriculum choice and access for the majority of students in public schools, and hence it is both educationally and socially regressive". In effect, it condemns the majority of working-class children to second rate education and ghettoises certain schools.
In response to the bans, Carr defended himself by saying that children at state schools should have the same opportunity as those at private schools. Rather than cut state aid to private schools and make the public education system highly resourced, the Labor government is prepared to increase resources to a few select schools, and leave the rest short-changed.
Teachers' bans, which cover "significant changes in work practices", "initiatives which further attack the concept of the local comprehensive school" and "testing initiatives not thoroughly canvassed with the education community", can be the basis for a strong campaign to defend and extend the public education system.
The conference opposed the "market driven" approach which has placed students in the role of consumers. Further, it argued that "public schools should not be about the production of human capital. [Conference stressed] the role of education in preparing young people who understand and can participate in the ... world rather than being alienated from it."
Other decisions included "strong objection to the Australian government regarding the appointment of Lieutenant General Mantiri as Indonesian Ambassador to Australia". Conference also condemned the resumption of French nuclear testing and called for a total nuclear test ban.
On wages, the conference resolved to pursue a 12% increase over 15 months to March 31, 1997, through a consent award. This would be a change from the current mechanism which is by a statewide enterprise agreement.