NSW teachers win agreement

August 6, 1997

By Becky Ellis

The NSW Teachers' Federation lifted its ban on skills tests after its executive voted on August 1 to accept an agreement with the Department of Education. The skills tests, taken each year by 120,000 students in years three and five, are scheduled for August 6.

On the basis of the agreement, the NSWTF says it is confident that test results will not be published and that schools will not be ranked according to the results.

The NSWTF banned the literacy and numeracy skills tests after its July 1 annual general meeting at which 600 teachers voted unanimously for such action.

Teachers oppose basic skills testing because it may cause competition between schools and, as Sue Simpson, acting president of NSWTF, explained: "With annual school reports being placed on the internet, the federation fears that individual students, schools, and their communities could be labelled unfairly ... What is at dispute is how to ensure our young people are not labelled winners or losers, either as individuals or as particular groups of students and, in particular, types of schools."

In response to the bans, the state government took the union to the Industrial Relations Commission where, on July 23, the union was ordered to lift the ban. The union decided to maintain the ban until it received a guarantee that the results would be used justly.

John Hughes, media officer for the NSWTF, told Green Left Weekly that the union decided to defy the order because, although it is not opposed to skills testing or annual school reports, it wanted the state government to comply with the education reform regulation that states that testing must not be published in a way that ranks or compares the results of schools.

The federation also wanted the department to adopt a policy similar to that in South Australia which declares that test results should be used in a manner that "takes account of social justice".

The agreement gives power to school self-evaluation committees to decide whether to make comparisons of their school's results with the state-wide average in their annual school report. Schools are not permitted to use tests results to advertise their achievements and reports cannot be used to rate the performance of teachers.

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