From the President: A victory for fear over hope
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 124 No 4, 31 May 2019, page no. 7
With conservative governments being swept to office around the globe, we should take stock of the implications this trend presents for education.
The QTU has established a strong partnership with the British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) and the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA). QTU Principal Union Representatives recently returned from a 10-day study tour of these two Canadian provinces, including attendance at the uLead 2019 conference with 1,200 school leaders from around the globe. Check back in future editions of the Journal for stories from the delegation on the professional engagements and learning experiences.
A common theme of the professional dialogue experienced during the study tour was the importance of a united membership as a determining factor in the success of our unions. British Columbia legislated principals out of the union more than a decade ago, and the system is verging on dysfunctional from a leadership perspective. Principals are managers whose role in educational matters is perfunctory. Individual employment contracts and alternative representative structures place pressure on school leaders in British Columbia to act entirely as an agent of the government. The loss of collegial partnerships that results is staggering.
Ontario is in a similar, split arrangement. Attempts by governments in other Canadian provinces have so far amounted to nought, but further attempts are expected. The conservative government in Alberta, elected just a few weeks ago, has very little published policy on education, but is expected to attempt to split the membership of the ATA in the first year in office.
During the conference in Alberta, the QTU delegation met with principal association leaders and union leaders from across Canada, who had been meeting to discuss the future with regards to comprehensive education unions or growth in separatist organisations splitting the teaching profession and schools.
A new conservative government in Ontario has also moved quickly to implement a neo-liberal agenda in education reminiscent of the discredited Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) of the early 2000s. Massive budget cuts and “divide and conquer” tactics involving teachers and leaders in schools have disrupted education and student learning but have been met with strong resistance. Movement towards standardised curriculum and testing, professional standards regimes for teachers and leaders, and performance-based remuneration has been accelerated and the regulation of teaching, including the required qualifications and certification, has been attacked.
Ontario is a particularly astounding example of the agenda belying the lived experience of success within the system. Ontario has maintained high levels of outcomes for students in national and international benchmarking activities. There is no suggestion of “failure” in schools or the teaching workforce. Despite these positive characteristics, the incoming government has moved directly to attack public education and teachers and principals.
There was much talk at the conference of the cost to schools and education of splitting the education profession. School leaders are educators and should be supported as such. School leadership is an integral part of the work of the teaching profession to meet the needs of the community of any school. Leadership that is supported by the education system, combined with the professional practice of teachers and a well-funded education system, can overcome deeply embedded disadvantage in communities to deliver real benefits for all students.
The Australian federal election outcome will have an impact on education. The nature of that impact is largely unknown currently due to a lack of clarity around the true education policy agenda of the new government.
More challenges will come. The lesson from around the world is that cohesion in the teaching profession provides the best chance to protect professional autonomy and support the great work happening every day in schools.