From the VP: Speak up, for our students and our profession

2017 has been an exciting year for the QTU, but also for the broader union movement.
The QTU has continued to win for members in both the professional and industrial spheres, and we’ve continued to grow our membership. The Queensland Council of Unions has maintained a statewide presence, ensuring that workers' voices are heard by government and opposition. And at the national level, Sally McManus has been leading the unions of the ACTU to challenge the status quo and ask how current industrial laws, workplace policy and taxation policy are working for working people.

The ACTU ‘Change the Rules’ campaign invites union members and the broader community to stand up and demand more: better public services, safer workplaces, secure jobs and pay and industrial conditions that truly recognise and value workers. The campaign is building toward the next federal election, which will be our opportunity to assert teachers’ voices – not just about funding of schools and TAFE, but about policy approaches such as the increasing use of standardised testing, the continuing situation where the union as the representative of the profession is not represented on bodies such as ACARA and AITSL, and a federal government with a deficit view of teachers and school leaders.

This term, we’ve seen QTU members in many NAPLAN Online schools step up and seek a directive from the Union to not participate in the online test. This action will continue in 2018 as we say that we want to “change the rules” and rethink our approaches to system-wide standardised testing. We’ll say that after 10 years it’s time to review the entire NAPLAN testing regime. Just because something has become a part of the school year and the “way we do things around here”, doesn’t mean it must remain that way. If we can work together to use the DET/QTU Joint Statement on the Purpose and Use of Data in Queensland Schools to reflect on the amount and type of assessment we undertake at the school level, we can certainly have a statewide and national conversation about NAPLAN.

The need to take action to defer or stop the movement of the NAPLAN test online takes on additional urgency when we consider the intention of ACARA to introduce robot marking of writing tasks from next year. There are many reasons to reject robot marking of student writing beyond the basic one, which is that the professional judgement of teachers is completely derided and undermined by such a plan. Robot marking has been proven to have a range of limitations, including an incapacity to identify creativity and critical argument. And what is it we are saying to young people about the purposes for and experience of writing if they know that the work they do will never have a human audience? We already see many students disengaging from the NAPLAN writing task, robot marking can only serve to exacerbate this.

Let’s take the conversations we have privately into the public sphere. Let’s ask our questions aloud. For the good of students, for the good of the teaching profession. Let’s talk about equity issues, the impost of NAPLAN/NAPLAN Online preparation programs in terms of workload and taking up valuable teaching and learning time, the inappropriate and unfair use of NAPLAN data by regions/systems/media/politicians, the redundancy of the data given it closely matches other student achievement data arising from school-based assessment, the increasing incidence of corporatisation of education and the growth in edu-businesses with an entire model based on NAPLAN data, and the futility of spending millions of dollars on the test and on programs to respond to test results. Let’s ask the questions and change the rules.

On a final note, you’ve worked hard this year, you don’t need me to tell you that! Take the time to reflect on your achievements and the difference that you as QTU members make in schools and TAFE institutes every day.

However you choose to spend your holiday break, enjoy it and get ready for 2018, a year when we will continue to stand up for our great profession and our excellent state schools.

Sam Pidgeon                                                                                                                        Vice-President

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 8, 3 November 2017, p9