On May 6, the federal executive of the Australian Education Union (AEU) caved in to the Labor government over the campaign against league tables and the National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) ban.
As the May 11-13 dates for the NAPLAN tests approached, the dispute over the AEU ban on them heated up. Teachers said the tests could be used to produce school league tables.
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Sharon Burrow facilitated discussions between the AEU executive and education minister Julia Gillard.
As a result of back-room collusion between other states and territories and the ALP, New South Wales Teachers Federation (NSWTF) representatives on the AEU executive, who supported going ahead with the NAPLAN ban, were out voted.
The AEU executive met on May 6 to consider a proposal from Gillard that a working party of educational experts — including AEU representatives — be established to provide advice on the use of NAPLAN test results.
Gillard also reiterated the federal government’s ”opposition to the misuse of student performance data including simplistic league tables”.
All state and territory representatives, with the exception of NSW, voted to accept Gillard’s proposal. NSWTF representatives argued against the deal, saying the campaign against league tables was strong and growing.
But it was obvious the other states wanted a quick settlement. To add insult to injury, Gillard’s office released a media statement just before 11am that “welcomed the decision by the [AEU] to drop their plans to boycott the NAPLAN tests”. This came out two hours before the agreed 1pm deadline — and before teacher unions had informed their members of the decision.
The NAPLAN tests will now go ahead over the two weeks beginning May 11.
League tables will once again be published around the country.
The federal government’s commitment to opposing league tables is meaningless, without political or legislative action preventing the NAPLAN data from being again used by the media to create league tables.
Teacher unions should have held out until measures preventing the publication of school league tables were introduced.
Gillard’s proposal offers no guarantee. In fact, laws preventing the publication of league tables already exist in NSW, but the state ALP government refused to prosecute the Sydney Morning Herald when it published league tables earlier this year.
[Pat Donohoe is a councillor of the NSW Teachers Federation, secretary of Canterbury-Bankstown Teachers Association and a Socialist Alliance activist.]