Schools across Western Australia were shut down by a statewide stop-work on September 17, called to fight education funding cuts proposed by the state Liberal government.
About 500 education assistants are set to lose their jobs. A change in the school staffing formula also means that there will be 585 fewer teaching places next year, in comparison to what there would have been under the previous funding model. Program cutbacks on top of this mean that altogether there will be up to 1000 less teachers next year.
These aren’t the only cutbacks in the August budget. 1200 public servant jobs are also under threat.
The cuts are happening at a time when the state Liberal government is investing huge sums of money in development projects all over Perth. The Elizabeth Quay, a Dubai-style development on the Swan River foreshore, is unpopular even among Liberal voters.
This is happening in the midst of what is supposed to be a mining boom. Super-profits from the resources and banking sectors, which are owned by the public, are instead lining the pockets of private interests.
A long-term funding plan would include nationalising these sectors and spending the profits on increased funding to education.
Liberal Premier Colin Barnett, education minister Peter Collier and the Liberal Party have avoided this. This is a deliberate failure to plan for the future.
A high-school teacher who attended the stop-work rally, Stuart Shields, spoke to Green Left Weekly about the education cuts. He said: “Anger and despair brought me to the rally; disbelief that a government in one breath says 'this is the richest state in the country' then tells us to 'tighten our belt'.
“These 'reforms' — lets just call them cuts, because that's what they are — will set education back decades.
“Governments, both state and federal, have thrown money at education fads such as outcomes-based education, 1:1 computer ratios, when what they should be doing is investing the money in supporting up the foundations of education.
“And here today we see a government who panders to resource giants in the hope that the trickle-down effect will benefit the rest of the population ... and it won't. It will only benefit shareholders. Resource giants continue to profit, while the quality of children's education and employment prospects are negatively affected.”
When asked how this impacts day-to-day classroom environments, Shields said: “The immediate impact is the stress it places on teachers and support staff who wonder if they will have a job next year.
“Planning around budget constraints, and less staff to teach subjects, will mean existing staff will have to teach in areas they are not familiar while their colleagues will be forced to look for work elsewhere. The long-term impact will see class sizes increase, children with educational needs struggle to cope, and course options be reduced.
“Nearly 20 years ago, the government closed education support units, in favour of inclusive schooling, which meant instead of special needs students being taught separately from their peers, they would be 'included' in the class, but have help provided by an education assistant.
“A cynic might say this is just a cover to save money. A cynic would say that 500 education assistants that are going to be unemployed will save the government more money — at the expense of kids who need it the most.
“The actions of the government once again represent the interests of big business such as land developers. Such infrastructure projects need to be cost-effective, protect social values, and provide value for the money invested.”
In a meeting with unions on September 23, Collier and Barnett are refused to back down. But in a resolution passed at the rally in Perth on September 17, education workers overwhelmingly voted in favour of “action of a political, industrial and social nature” to “continue for such time as is required to bring about a reverse in the budget cuts for 2013 and 2014”.