President’s comment 17 October 2012

Credit where it’s due; alarm where it’s warranted

On Tuesday, 16 October, the Queensland Parliament’s Education and Innovation Committee examined budget estimates for the Department of Education, Training and Employment. Little new information emerged, but here are some highlights, and lowlights, from the public hearing. The full transcript is available  on the website of the Queensland parliament 

Funding

In his introduction, after the expected dire warnings about Queensland’s financial state, Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek acknowledged that Queensland faces unique challenges in providing education in such a decentralised system, including associated higher costs of delivery – then a little time later showed where this Government’s funding priorities lie by saying: “Can I point out to the committee that Queensland funds the non-state sector the most of any state in the country for capital.” Further, in answering an LNP question about resources being provided for the move of year 7 into high school, the Minister confirmed that: “We committed to the Building Our Future Schools Fund. The total funding is $115 million which will be provided over four years - $28.75 million for the state sector and $86.25 million for the non-state sector.”

Growth

The original budget statements identified an extra “270 FTEs” to cater for student enrolment growth covering teachers, teacher-aides and support staff; in this hearing that figure was disaggregated to show only 159 extra teacher positions have been funded. Given that state school enrolments grew by more than 7000 from 2011 to 12, with similar or greater growth expected in 2013, this figure is grossly inadequate and it is difficult to see how it can be reconciled with the Government’s claimed maintenance of class size targets.

System-wide, the Government is relying on 569 FTE teacher positions being “reallocated” from frontline services in schools to make up for a budget shortfall of more than $55m needed to provide the teachers, teacher-aides and support staff necessary to fully cater for the growth in student enrolments in 2013. These reallocated positions are 200 FTE secondary resource teachers, 115 FTE primary key teacher time, and 254 FTE classroom primary teachers taken away from former rounding benefits.

The impact of that economising by the Government will be felt by individual schools that will be left struggling to fulfil their resourcing needs. With the help of members ‘at the chalk face’, that is something the QTU will be closely monitoring this year and next, particularly after the full impact of day 8 figures are known.

The Minister was questioned about a rumour that no graduate teachers would be interviewed in the metro region for 2013 placement; he said that this was not the case and that 150 interviews had taken place. Again, that is something the QTU will be watching in the future.

In discussing how new schools will be planned, the Minister outlined the work of his new

Schools Planning Commission which will include developing a “demand map”. Again, it appears that the Minister’s priorities do not lie with the state school system for which he is responsible when he said: “The demand map will be a living document that says, ‘Here is where we see the trends going and how can we work together with the Catholic and independent sector.’ Instead of us just saying, ‘We’re going to provide a state school,’ it is about working with those sectors to make sure we get better planning for our schools.”

Job cuts

Referred to as a “workforce reduction strategy”, the Minister confirmed that a total of 1140 FTEs had been cut from DETE, including 405 permanent staff, 359 temporary staff and “the forfeiture of funded vacant positions”.

The meaningful impact of many of these cuts can be found in the document answering questions taken on notice which begins to paint the picture of how much critical support is being cut, particularly across the regions. These include school cleaning advisors, human resources consultants, and principal advisors, all of whom provide the support that allows frontline workers to do their jobs every day.

Program cuts

Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk challenged the Minister on a range of program cuts with a particular emphasis on the axing of the Queensland School for Travelling Show Children. Unfortunately, the questions and answers focused on process, politics and parochialism rather than educational reasons and did little to hold the Government to account on its decisions.

Independent Public Schools

One of the most curious comments made by the Minister was in answer to an LNP question about enhancing school autonomy (aka IPS). The Minister referred to some unidentified statistics about “the importance of parents, teachers and the leadership of the school. Basically it comes down to a statistic that is 50, 40, 10: 50 per cent parents, 40 per cent teachers and 10 per cent school leadership.” Further comments by the Minister show that he believes “local businesses, industry and community organisations” are part of this 50 per cent of the value contributed to schools’ outcomes.

While we all acknowledge that education is a partnership, this claim will no doubt come as a surprise to every education professional.

Literacy and numeracy

One of the more refreshing comments was made by the Minister in reference to the $26 million for literacy and numeracy programs: the Minister said he wanted to see improved NAPLAN results as one outcome measure “not because of any league table or any of the absolute focus on data that we see from so many people.” These sentiments were repeated later when the Minister said: “We need to keep the tests in perspective. It is very important to remember - and I have said this ever since I have been the minister - that these results represent what students actually do in a few hours of testing across three days in May each year.”

Enterprise bargaining

The Minister was restrained and responsible in comments made about the new EB offer, acknowledging that significant concessions had been made by the Government around conditions and that members would make the final decision via ballot.

TAFE

Questions and answers were like a session of TAFE word bingo: “regulation”, “compliance”, “cutting red tape”, “flexible delivery”, “industry led engagement model”, “skills reform agenda” and many other well-worn terms were thrown around by both the Government and Opposition, but little information was forthcoming. It is clear that the future of TAFE rests with the Skills and Training Taskforce, which meets for the final time on 19 October and will make a final report by the end of the year. The good news was that the Minister finally acknowledged that the QTU had indeed made a formal submission to the Taskforce, despite his having publicly denied that fact several times.

Education as a priority

In the election campaign, and since the new Government has been in power, the LNP has maintained its focus on its so-called “four pillars of the economy”: tourism, agriculture, resources and construction. The QTU has repeatedly questioned why education was not one of the “pillars”, since skills and education are clearly at the core of economic prosperity. So, it was reassuring to hear the Minister say: “One of the things that I do like to say as I go around is that education underpins every aspect of the four pillars.” This is, of course, rhetoric and it remains to be seen how it will be supported.

Kevin Bates
President