Legal/industrial reasons why the LNP “Independent Public Schools” proposal just can’t work…

Failure by the LNP to consult with stakeholders, particularly the representatives of the 44,000 teachers and school leaders in the public education system, has resulted in a fatally flawed policy on school autonomy.

Basic industrial and legal issues that would render the policy incapable of implementation are either deliberately disregarded or overlooked out of ignorance.

If the former is the case then this is no doubt a smokescreen for a clandestine agenda of monumental change to the legal framework of industrial relations and education in this state.

If the latter is true, then the policy should be condemned to the wastebasket of history with that other contemptible education policy of the 1996 Borbidge Coalition Government: “Leading Schools”. By moving to repeat a key policy failure of that unsuccessful government, the Newman-led LNP demonstrates that old adage that: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Although, as an interesting sidenote, the Newman-led LNP has attempted to purge history of the existence of this Coalition Government in Queensland by claiming that the 13-year-old Labor Government has been in power for 20 years.

1.        DET Teachers’ Certified Agreement 2010 et al

The current certified agreements covering all employees in schools and TAFE are duly registered in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) and are binding on the government of the day, whomsoever that may be. Short of seeking to cancel all three Certified Agreements in the QIRC, an incoming government remains bound to the terms of the current agreements. New agreements are required for teachers in schools. Any new agreement must currently pass the no-disadvantage test (Industrial Relations Act 1999 Qld, s156(1)(h)) which would exclude wholesale changes to the essential terms and conditions that would be to the detriment of the relevant employee groups.

Problem – changes of the scale proposed by the LNP would require wholesale changes to the terms and conditions of employment of school employees and the Queensland Industrial Relations Act 1999.

2.        Workplace consultative arrangements

Successive agreements in schools have enshrined very high levels of consultation. Flexibility at the workplace level is delivered through timely and effective consultation with workers in the initiation, implementation and evaluation of all proposals impacting on the working and learning conditions in schools. Formal consultative structures involving Local Consultative Committees are well established and already play a central role in decision-making in these workplaces. Workplace flexibility arrangements currently available to Queensland schools offer maximum benefit delivered through democratic decision-making processes that respect fundamental industrial and educational rights and entitlements.

Problem – the LNP proposal would delete effective workplace consultative arrangements in favour of school boards and autocratic school managers at the whim of narrow interest groups and subject to economic vagaries. The LNP claims that their policy will be one in which school communities “opt in” but they have given no information on the process by which that will happen. The real-life experience of teachers and parents of “Leading Schools”, the last Coalition Government’s education “reform”, was of schools that resisted nomination being bullied and coerced into a program universally condemned. Such memories do not fade easily.

3.        Job security and career progression

As a front-line public service, education relies on a stable workforce that has confidence in the ongoing nature of the employment arrangement.

Problem – the LNP proposal would eliminate the stability of the teaching workforce by removing the certainty of job security. Single line budgets have universally resulted in diminution of the seniority of the workforce: experience = expensive. More experienced teachers cost too much and will no longer be required. If schools are constrained by single-line budgets, they will be forced to make decisions between providing basic resources and paying teachers increased wages in recognition of negotiated wage outcomes. Experience in other states suggests that employees are forced to sacrifice reasonable wage increases and career progression in favour of preserving their positions in a particular school.

4.        “Decapitation strategy”

Most attempts to radically alter the public education system involve the traditional divide and conquer approach. The LNP “Independent Public Schools” proposal involves the removal of principals from the current employment arrangements embedded in the Teachers’ Award and the Teachers’ Certified Agreement in favour of contract employment managed by school boards. Education success relies on collegiality. Dividing principals from their teaching colleagues through separate industrial arrangements is contrary to the formula for a successful state-wide education system. Furthermore, placement of parents in the role of employer strikes at the heart of positive school/community relations at the core of Queensland public schools: parents as partners not consumers.

Problem – the LNP proposal would, like the actions of Jeff Kennett in Victoria in the 1990’s, excise principals from the ranks of teachers, setting up instead a tenuous, coercive employment arrangement. This action would involve radically rewriting current industrial and legal arrangements and yet details of this are not provided. Uniquely, more than 500 Queensland schools are served by teaching principals who juggle the daily tasks of teaching students with the complex role of leading an educational institution. These small schools are forgotten in the LNP plan.

5.        Every child in every school deserves the best teacher available

The Queensland public education system is among the most geographically diverse in the world. Over many years, carefully crafted industrial and legal arrangements have been set in place to ensure that quality teachers can be appointed to and retained in all schools, no matter how isolated.

Problem – the LNP proposal provides that some 120 schools in prime locations are removed from the mainstream and set up in competition with the state-wide education system. Any view that this development can coexist with the principles of providing quality teachers in rural, remote and isolated schools is fanciful. The teacher transfer system cannot operate in this environment and with its demise, country schools and schools in complex urban communities will become impossible to staff. The LNP policy will produce a rapid expansion of the divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, which, sadly, is unlikely to be an unintended consequence.

Kevin Bates
QTU President
16 February 2012