KBates-tn.jpgQTU President's comment 29 July 2013

Minister all tied up in red tape

Comments from the Queensland Education Minister over the weekend, issued in a media release as is his want, reveal an interesting twist in the education funding debate: teacher and principal workloads cannot be increased, there is nothing left to give, so the accountability measures (“red tape”) associated with the Gonski reforms should be jettisoned to protect Queensland schools.

Let’s be clear about the language being used here. When governments feel the need to justify money spent from the public purse, they implement essential accountability measures. When these measures are found to be inconvenient, they become “red tape”.

Therein lays the rub. It is true that teachers and principals have never been so tired – or so busy. It is equally true that government accountability measures contribute to this. However, that should not result in a once in a life-time reform of the education funding system being lost because of a feared increase in accountability processes.

In all things governmental, the process of weighing cost and benefit should be at the core of a value judgement. The Gonski reforms offer the first chance in 40 years to redress the chronic underfunding of education that has led to an increasing reliance on the effort and financial resources of teachers, principals and parents to prop up the system.

Gonski has the potential to free schools from the shackles of chronic underfunding, ending the famine culture that results in money being skimmed from across the school's budget to fund essential services and resources, and replacing it with the real freedom that financial independence brings: the ability to distribute resources when and where they are needed most without compromising other programs. It’s that simple.

Extra teachers, teacher-aides, school leaders, support staff (such as therapists and guidance officers) and other non-traditional employees could be brought in to meet the real needs currently foregone due to underfunding. Budgets redirected to top up prep teacher-aide hours or support students with disabilities can be used for their original purpose, administration and support for the mechanics of running a school.

The Commonwealth rightly expects the investment of an additional $3.8 billion in Queensland’s education system to come with accountability measures. Most teachers, principals and parents would agree with such a responsible approach. The detail of these measures is currently the subject of negotiation with the state government and not publicly available: not least because the Minister has refused to discuss the Gonski reforms with the QTU.

In contrast to the potentially transformative impact of Gonski is the state government’s Great teachers = Great results program. Again the details of this program are sketchy at best, but what we do know is that $537 million will be spent over the next four years to deliver on 15 actions.

These 15 actions include: discipline audits linked to teaching and learning audits; written annual performance assessments for all teachers; increased expectations in applying for experienced senior teacher; increased restrictions on applying for school leadership positions including a requirement for a higher degree in business; and contracts for principals and deputy principals subject to renewal every three years.

Every one of these new requirements will come with processes, procedures, administration - more red tape, in other words.

Immediately noticeable is the lack of any mention of students. The program's title alludes to students in terms of results, but no other mention is made. This misguided attempt to “reform” education is reflective of the failure to engage with the teachers and principals of Queensland, the workforce with the expertise to ensure that any investment in education is precisely targeted for maximum effect.

In the wash-up, the choice is clear. The Commonwealth offers resources on a scale not imagined just two short years ago. Resources that will transform the education experience of every student and free up teachers and principals to do their job. The Queensland Government offers less money, less flexibility in its use, less impact on students and more “red tape”.

Kevin Bates