Professional development not professional dictatorship.


QTU President, Kevin Bates, responds
27 April 2012

Federal Education Minister Peter Garret has announced a draft “Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework”. There’d be nothing wrong with that, if his announcement focused on enhancing the professional entitlement of every teacher and principal to ongoing professional development, including properly funded, comprehensive PD opportunities and adequate release time for collegial development. Even better if he promoted the need to develop a robust professional pay proposal to recognise and reward the increasing demands on the education profession.

But it doesn’t, and he didn’t.

Instead the Minister focuses on annual “performance assessments” and the need for every teacher to have “documented, measurable and specific goals for the year”, as though this is something entirely new. It is very odd that the Federal Education Minister apparently knows so little about the profession’s existing performance review processes, and the requirements around maintaining teacher registration. It is truly bizarre that, in these apparently challenging economic times, he and his government would want to spend around $800 million on such a scheme that does little except replicate existing processes for no apparent benefit.

For several years now, Queensland teachers have been subject to an annual performance review process. The key differences to the proposed federal government model lie in the capacity of each workplace to negotiate a unique model of performance development that suits its local circumstances. Subjecting Queensland teachers and principals to a centralised model cooked up in Canberra would be a retrograde step and contrary to the apparent push for greater autonomy at the school level.

Even more worrying are the criteria by which the Minister suggests teachers’ performance be judged, including “student outcomes”, which presumably means NAPLAN results, and “student feedback”. Teaching is not a popularity contest, and it is unlikely that parents would appreciate pressure being put on teachers to be popular rather than being effective educators and classroom managers. Principals should rightly feel alarmed that “direct observation” by outside personnel is being proposed, not only because this would incur another unnecessary expense and extra workload, but also because it undermines their professional credibility as education leaders in their own schools.

Here too Queensland teachers and principals are well ahead of the federal government proposal.

Cooperation between the QTU and Education Queensland has seen the development of an agreed process for collegial classroom engagement designed to promote and support positive teaching and learning practices. Queensland schools have for some time been the subject of an annual "school opinion survey" in which students, teachers and parents have an opportunity to provide confidential feedback about their school around a number of key performance criteria.

It is critical that teachers, principals, students and parents voice their concerns over these proposals. While the draft for consultation has been released by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) accompanied by much fanfare from Minister Garrett, the process for consultation and providing feedback is not yet available.

This Federal Government, like the one before it, seems to be increasingly falling into the political trap of trying to homogenise the process of education and the teaching profession.

Educating our children is not simple; it is an extremely complex process that must continually adapt to local, national and global social changes, students’ needs, economic realities and parental expectations and engagement.

The Federal Education Minister would be better off trying to build a better understanding of this reality rather than attempting to impose simplistic controls on Australian teachers and principals