From the President: A year of “F” words
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 124 No 8, 8 November 2019, page no. 7
No, it is not what you are thinking. As the 2019 school year draws to a close, it is a good time to reflect on the year that has been, the good and the bad.
The year began, not unlike a few others of the past decade, with catastrophic floods. Townsville bore the brunt of the unprecedented weather event, and students, teachers, principals and school communities showed their true power through their concerted response to the damage and rapid restart of school. For some communities it was a role in reopening a school trashed by floodwater. For others not in the direct path of the floods, their role invoved opening their doors to welcome in schools that had to be closed to allow for the clean-up. In all cases, teachers and principals provided leadership to their community, often while trying to deal with the personal circumstances that arose from their own homes being inundated and their families displaced. The flood also devastated struggling properties in the west and north west of the state, with massive loss of livestock. Schools again played a role in helping to support vulnerable people going through bad times.
Our QTU spent much of the early part of the year focused on campaigning to achieve fair funding for early childhood education, state schools and TAFE. A succession of annual funding extensions for early childhood education has left that industry and the teachers who work in it struggling to manage under uncertain funding levels. For schools, a decade long process beginning with the original Gonski Report has laid the foundations for a revolutionary approach to school funding. The QTU and our community partners have championed both the need for full implementation of the legislated funding model and the need to maintain the integrity of the principles of needs-based funding that the Gonski Report introduced. Retrograde policies on TAFE continue to frustrate a great public institution that is focused on providing Queenslanders with the training they can trust, right in their local community. TAFE Queensland has demonstrated high quality provision of education through a strong performance in audit, leading to reregistration, and significant economic importance for Queensland, with an independent assessment of TAFE programs pointing to a many-fold return for every dollar invested in TAFE specifically.
Before the year was half spent, we faced the challenge of a federal election. Election campaigns have become trials to be endured every three years, and this one was no exception. The progressive political parties went to the electorate with comprehensive platforms on funding for early childhood education, schools and TAFE and on the vexed issue of industrial relations that were better than any seen recently. Ultimately, these outstanding policies were rejected, and the policy poor Coalition government re-elected for another three years. Ongoing denial of much needed funding and anticipated attacks on the teaching profession are the legacy of this election outcome.
The second half of the year has so far been punctuated by more disasters, in the form of fires that have destroyed parts of drought-stricken Queensland and temporarily closed many schools. Several large school fires in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Warwick have seen almost super-human efforts by Department of Education and Department of Public Works teams to remove destroyed buildings and replace them with brand new modular spaces within the space of a weekend. The replacement of physical space does not compensate students and teachers for the loss of work and resources, but it allows for a rapid return to normal school operations and the work of teaching and learning.
A first for the QTU in 2019 has been the achievement of membership of 47,000 teachers and principals. We started the year at an all-time high of about 46,000, and we have not stopped growing. With membership density once again at more than 90 per cent, we can use our collective strength to ensure we continue to win with members.
This is the point in this story where the clever device of using “F” words falls over! Our great Union celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2019, a year we have marked with major outcomes such as: new enterprise bargaining agreements in schools and TAFE Queensland, the long-awaited commencement of the climate control program in classrooms, member-driven development of a formal QTU position on professional autonomy, a campaign to deliver the first change in pre-service teacher supervision payments in decades, departmental action on occupational violence, a rebel tri-state review of NAPLAN, roll-out of the teacher housing improvement program and wins for members such as instrumental music teachers and instructors. None of these start with an “F”...
One last thing, the fantastic work done by our formidable teachers and school leaders across the more than 1,240 schools in Queensland deserves to be recognised and celebrated. The public debate, at least in Queensland led for so long by our Union, is now focused on accentuating the many positives and building them into a better future for all Queensland kids. Best wishes for the end of the school year and for a safe and refreshing holiday.