Prep teacher-aide boost doesn’t go far enough

QTU President comments

The LNP's first major education promise in this election campaign, to provide $54 million over four years to give 600 prep classes "the equivalent of a full-time teacher-aide in their classroom for all hours that they are at school", would appear to be a welcome boost to early years education in state schools.

However, on closer examination the policy is only a partial realisation of long-standing QTU policy calling for full-time teacher-aides in every prep classroom.

Given that more than 61,000 prep students were enrolled in 2012 across all three education systems - state, Catholic and independent - the promised funding is spread very thin. Even if the funds were to be directed only to the state system (and there is no indication in the LNP policy announcement that they would be) there are already more than 1600 prep classes just in state schools. Additionally, the staggered roll-out of 150 classes a year for four years accentuates the “haves” and “have nots”.

If the LNP implements its policy, the scene is set for the allocation of additional prep teacher-aide hours to schools to become a very divisive issue. The LNP policy announced on 3 March boasted that the funding would be directed to the neediest schools. Which schools receive additional funding and how that is to be decided are critical questions. Current and past form from the LNP means that the QTU cannot be confident that the 44,000 members of the teaching profession we represent will have a real voice in the decision-making processes around this policy.

The LNP announcement claims that class-size pressures in Queensland schools and the need to reduce these classes to improve the educational outcomes for students were the motivating factors behind this election promise. It also identifies that it is the "personalised attention of a teacher" that would be of most benefit to prep students and yet it does nothing to address the issue of oversized prep classes by committing to employ more prep teachers. The additional allocation of teacher-aide resources is a positive action but cannot be a substitute for reducing class sizes in the early years through the employment of additional teachers.

In a broader context, it is also unclear how this policy will fit with the LNP's "Independent public schools" proposal with its inevitable consequence of forcing principals to sacrifice experienced teachers for cheaper, possibly unqualified, support staff. Schools already have the flexibility to allocate additional teacher-aide support for prep teachers from within existing staffing allocations and budgets. That this is at the expense of other support in the school is the major problem currently.

As with all LNP announcements to date, the policy's funding source is uncertain. The LNP must immediately commit to fully funding this policy commitment with new money from Treasury. No other alternative is acceptable.

Kevin Bates
5 March 2012