Lessons not learnt – will the federal budget be an epic fail for education?

QTU President
Kevin Bates

Today’s pre-budget announcement of $17m to monitor university outcomes for teacher graduates proves that the Abbott federal government has not been paying attention on the crucial issue of education.

The announcement, provides for $16.9 million over four years to implement the federal government’s response to the recommendations of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG). Elements of these recommendations revisit the discredited plan to test university graduates for literacy and numeracy skills when they complete their degree.

Let’s dispose of this issue first. Australian Universities operate to internationally recognised standards. The degrees awarded by our universities are nationally accredited and regularly monitored to comply with government standards and requirements. Taxpayer money is rightly channelled to universities to provide this high standard of pre-service teacher education. It is absolutely appropriate for students, employers and the community to expect that any such degree awarded prepares teachers appropriately for the role they are intending to undertake: teaching.

How can it be then that this same government that sets and monitors these standards and contributes towards the cost of the qualification being delivered in the first instance, will now pay millions more to test those graduates to see if they meet the most basic requirements? Moreover, it is incomprehensible that students would be subject to a mandatory examination after completing such university qualifications in order to be allowed to use that qualification for its intended purpose.

The answer is simple. The Abbott government and Minister Pyne are desperate to create a distraction from their failure to deliver on the promise of school funding for all Australians by committing to the full six years of the Gonksi school funding reforms proposed by the previous Gillard/Rudd Labor governments. The added embarrassment of a failure to deliver on promises for students with disability funding also helps to explain this policy position.

What causes the most ire for those of us in the teaching profession is that the Abbott and Pyne team would resort to the age old practice of blaming teachers for the ills of the education system. They are happy to attack teachers, but have no positive agenda to deliver more resources to disadvantaged schools, address shortages of specialist teachers, or address the chronic underfunding of disability in schools.

The federal budget will be handed down on 12 May. The true test of whether the current federal government has been listening to the real and resounding public discourse on schools and education will be the presence or absence of the fifth year of funding for Gonski and long-awaited support for students with disability. The budget will be judged harshly if they fail to deliver.

Kevin Bates