Established in December 2001, the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) was set up with the stated aim of regulating and promoting the teaching profession in Victoria.
The VIT was sold to teachers by the leadership of the Australian Education Union (AEU) and the Victorian Labor government on two grounds: a registration board would stop the profession being undermined by preventing the employment of unqualified teachers and the VIT would promote the teaching profession and the status of teachers in the community.
The VIT has failed on both scores and the overwhelming majority of teachers are very dissatisfied with the organisation. Despite an onerous and expensive registration process, unqualified teachers are being employed. In areas of critical shortage, such as the teaching of languages, instructors are being employed to help desperate schools deliver their programs.
Instead of ensuring standards within the profession, VIT has played a policing role, seeking to sift out "undesirable" teachers. Some of these undesirable teachers have included a young teacher who — some years before beginning his teaching career — had been accused of a sexual indiscretion. Despite protests from his principal and colleagues and his school community, his career was promptly ended. Another teacher was questioned about his arrest during protests to save Richmond High School during the former Kennett Liberal government's program of state school closures.
During numerous attacks on state school teachers by several federal Liberal politicians, not a squeak was heard from the VIT. These attacks included PM John Howard and (then education minister) Brendan Nelson alleging that state school teachers don't teach any values or that their teaching of history and geography is inadequate. More recently Julie Bishop, the current federal minister for education, has also attacked teachers, suggesting that poor student results are due to bad teaching. She is also demanding that teachers should be paid according to the performance or outcome of their students. The VIT has said nothing.
During the first attacks, even teachers in the private sector defended their colleagues in the government sector, but the VIT's voice was not heard.
To register with the VIT teachers must pay an annual fee of $64, although this is indexed and rises each year. First year teachers must pay $104 even though their pay is less. Currently first year teachers must produce a large portfolio of work to demonstrate their competency, even though they have completed tertiary education and teacher training. They must also find mentor teachers, who mostly receive no extra time or money to assist first year teachers with their registration tasks.
Up until now, experienced teachers have only had to make a payment and resubmit their details to the VIT to have their registration continue. Now the VIT has designed a re-registration process that looks dangerously burdensome. The majority of teachers are very angry about this. Already teachers have one of the most stressful jobs and are continually being asked to undertake additional work in their own time.
The VIT's re-registration process demands detailed record keeping of professional development (PD) activities and other extra school activities. However teachers are not being compensated for this in any way. VIT officials have told teachers there is nothing to worry about because the PD can include many staff or faculty meetings, which they must now attend. This means that the term PD and the process itself is a sham. Professional development is usually understood to mean continuing education to gain or upgrade work related skills. This is a very valuable activity. Attending staff and faculty meetings is not generally regarded as PD.
More recently some experienced teachers have been informed that the VIT expects a new police check, which will cost them $25 on top of the $64 VIT fee. Teachers have argued that if they had committed a crime in the last five years since their original police checks, surely the education department would have been informed.
A group of AEU teachers and AEU state councillors called Teachers Alliance is calling on the AEU leadership to withdraw all support from the VIT and instead campaign for changes that would benefit teachers, such as demanding adequate time for graduate teachers, who must adjust to a highly demanding and stressful job. The AEU should also demand that mentors have appropriate support including time release.
Teachers Alliance believes that the VIT must be replaced with a government-funded registration board, like the board which existed until Kennett scrapped it. This would cost teachers nothing.
Teachers Alliance has drafted a petition calling on the AEU leadership to boycott the VIT. It is being very well received and any AEU member who would like copies of the petition can contact Mary on (03) 94079700 or Norrian on (03) 9401 2599.