Teacher unions to fight school ranking

Issue 

Teacher unions have reaffirmed their opposition to the publication of school league tables, which rank schools by the results of their students in the same way that league tables rank football teams after each round of competition.

Data collected from the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests will soon to go online on the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) website.

The publication of school rankings has led to very negative results wherever they have been introduced: the loss of confidence in schools deemed to be "failing", the sacking of principals, the collapse of school communities and the further polarisation between privilege and poverty.

Schools do not operate in a social or economic vacuum. The ranking of schools in league tables ignores the social, cultural and economic contexts in which schools exist.

It is completely unrealistic to compare the results of schools in wealthy suburbs that have large numbers of English-speaking students with schools in poorer suburbs that have large non-English speaking student populations.

In November, the Australian Education Union (AEU) federal executive unanimously resolved to adopt a national policy of "non-cooperation" with next year's NAPLAN tests if the media uses the data to publish league tables.

Most likely, this would take the form of a ban on NAPLAN in 2010. The decision represents a very significant unity of teacher unions across the country.

When the ALP NSW state government tried to overturn legislation banning the publication of student results "in a way that ranks or otherwise compares the results of particular schools" in June, the Greens successfully moved an amendment to prohibit print media from publishing league tables, with fines of $55,000.

But this does not stop print media interstate from using the ACARA website to produce league tables or their publication on the web.

And it is very likely that NSW newspapers will defy the ban. The November 12 Sydney Morning Herald published a league table on its front page which compared three NSW schools.

On August 27, a mass meeting was held at Rosehill Racecourse to protest the threat of league tables. The New South Wales Teachers Federation (NSWTF), the Independent Education Union, the NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations, the NSW Secondary Principals Council, the Primary Principals Association and the Public School Principals Forum all supported the meeting.

Supportive politicians from the Greens, the Liberal Party and independents also addressed the meeting.

The 2009 annual conferences of the Victorian branch of the AEU and the NSWTF also voted to oppose the introduction of league tables.

The threat of league tables must be opposed and defeated. All those concerned about public education should join school communities in the campaign. Teachers will need support when they refuse to cooperate with the NAPLAN tests in 2010.

[For more details about the campaign against school league tables visit www.nswtf.org.au. Pat Donohoe is secretary of the Canterbury-Bankstown Teachers Association and a Socialist Alliance activist.]