John Gauci

Over the past decade, the Australian Education Union-led (AEU) schools funding campaign has put the issue at the front of the national political debate. It has convinced governments at federal and state and territory levels to sign on to funding agreements.

Vocational education has become one of the fastest growing markets in Australia. There are more than 5000 private providers; half receive government funding and many accrue enormous profits.

This huge rise in private providers has made it impossible for the regulatory system to adequately police them, so there is little guarantee of the quality of courses.

But federal and state governments have embraced private providers' “user-pays” ideology rather than commit to free, high-quality public education for all as a human right.

About 300 members of the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) Council voted unanimously on June 2 to call upon the Barry O’Farrell government to provide guarantees for public school student learning conditions. If the O’Farrell government refuses to provide these guarantees the NSWTF will consider industrial action in the final week of June.

Tens of thousands of NSW teachers stopped work for two hours on May 18 to protest against the Barry O’Farrell state government’s cuts to public education.

Using the smokescreen of “increasing school autonomy”, the government plans to radically cut funding and resources for public schools through its Local Schools Local Decisions policy. Many teacher meetings across NSW reported the largest turnouts in recent times and unanimous votes for escalating industrial action if the O’Farrell government refuses to halt its cost-cutting agenda.

About 100 teachers, parents and concerned community members rallied outside NSW parliament on March 29 to protest against the relocation of Gosford Public Schools to the grounds of Henry Kendall High School.

Speakers at the rally included Unions NSW secretary Mark Lennon, NSW Teachers Federation president Maurie Mulheron, NSWTF officer Debbie Westacott, NSW Greens Legislative Council member John Kaye as well as staff and parents from Gosford Public School.

The New South Wales Liberal government said on March 11 that it planned to force schools to bear the responsibility for its latest funding cuts.

The government did not consult the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) before releasing the “Local Schools, Local Decisions” and “Empowering Local Schools” initiatives, which it claimed would deliver “autonomy” to local public schools.

In reality, the move is a smokescreen that forces public school principals to implement the government cuts of $250 million a year.

The recently released independent Gonski review into school funding reaffirms what many teachers and parents already knew. Current school funding arrangements are dysfunctional and inequitable and the failure to reform the way we resource our public schools has come at an immense social and economic cost.

Gonski’s recommendations are far from perfect and recommend continued public funding of elite private schools. But they do highlight the need for an immediate injection of funds into public schools.

The problem

Thousands of New South Wales high school and primary school teachers stopped work for two hours on November 2. They voted overwhelmingly to reject the Coalition O’Farrell state government’s salary offer.

Ninety-nine percent of teachers at the stopwork meetings also voted to hold a 24-hour stopwork action on November 29 if the government refused to make a reasonable salary offer.

Teachers will consider further industrial action at the start of 2012 if a reasonable offer is not made by then.

NSW secondary and primary public school teachers will stop work for two hours on November 2 to consider any salary offer from the state government. Should no fair and reasonable offer be made, the meetings will consider taking a 24-hour strike at the end of November.

The NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) is demanding Barry O’Farrell’s government begin good faith negotiations immediately.

The federation has proposed an offer, but the Liberal state government has failed to respond or begin negotiations for a new salaries award.

Teachers say the Barry O’Farrell Coalition state government has divulged its plans to cut TAFE wages and conditions and then likely privatise it by splitting TAFE teachers away from the collective bargaining power of their primary and secondary teacher colleagues.

Education minister Adrian Piccoli introduced changes to the TAFE commission act into the NSW parliament on October 11 without notice or consultation with the New South Wales Teachers Federation (NSWTF).

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