2017 AEU Federal Conference

The AEU Federal Conference was held in Melbourne on Friday 24 February until Sunday 26 February.

Federal issues

Education spokespeople Tanya Plibersek of the Australian Labor Party and Sarah Hanson-Young from the Australian Greens addressed the conference on the national implementation of a genuine needs-based school funding regime, disputing the Coalition federal government’s position that money doesn’t make a difference. Ms Hanson-Young committed the Greens to continuing to stand with the AEU in its campaign for achieving genuine needs-based funding, while Ms Plibersek identified the advantages of needs-based funding for improving the quality of education available to students with a disability, and also acknowledged the significance of early education and TAFE to the overall Australian education sector.

Conference also heard the stories of students who have succeeded in their learning as a consequence of Gonski funding. These students reflected on the inspiration and motivation they received from their teachers and the programs especially developed to cater for their learning needs.

Federal Secretary’s report

Susan Hopgood’s report provided commentary on the current parlous state of national politics, highlighting the decision to cut penalty rates, which she described as symptomatic of continuing attacks on the pay and conditions of union members, and the attack on paid parental leave.

Susan also reported on the importance of our ongoing commitment to a genuine (Gonski) needs-based funding model for schools. The immediate future of the Gonski campaign will have a particular focus on targeting Malcolm Turnbull.

Union renewal

Professor Howard Stevenson, Director of Research at the School of Education at the UK’s University of Nottingham, listed the challenges facing unions, including the current attacks on teacher unions, whether explicit (eg. from the global education reform movement or advocates of privatisation) or hidden (eg. through marginalisation and exclusion), changes in the profession and long-term social trends.

According to Professor Stevenson, the tasks facing unions include increasing membership, increasing participation and engagement, developing the skills and capabilities of members and developing “unionateness” as central to professional identity.

Initial teacher education

This year, a graduate teacher performance assessment (GTPA) will be trialled in schools across the nation, with full implementation expected in 2018. The GTPA will allow preservice teachers to demonstrate their ability to interpret data, plan, teach and evaluate their teaching practice, and combined with the final report and academic results, will be used to determine if a graduate is suitable for employment. The conference called on governments to invest in initial teacher education programs at levels that ensure the provision of high quality education and professional experiences for those undertaking the course.

Protect our Preschools

With funding of 15 hours per week of preschool education for four year olds (provided by kindy programs in Queensland) due to run out at the end of this year, Dr Stacey Fox from the Mitchell Institute (Melbourne University) spoke of the need for two years of preschool education, which is offered by almost every OECD country. An analysis of international test results shows that students who have access to two years of preschool education (before formal schooling) achieve higher scores in standardised testing (PISA, PIRLS and TIMMS) than those who attend no preschool or only one year.

Standardised testing in the early years

The AEU is opposed to the standardised phonics test in year 1 proposed by the federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham, which will be similar to one used in the United Kingdom. A representative of the UK’s National Union of Teachers told conference delegates that the test is based on a very narrow range of test items, to achieve a set of baseline data that would haunt the child for the rest of their academic life. Some were labeling it as being “scored for life” or having a “data shadow”. It was reported that the teacher feedback to students required following the test dramatically increased teacher workload.

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 2, 10 March 2017, p13