If you are reading this message, the election is over ... or is it?

By the time many of you read this, the 2012 Queensland state election will be consigned to the pages of history. How it will impact on us all for the next three years is, or should be, the question on every teacher’s lips.

An unusually long election campaign has highlighted several important things about the issues of political will and the priority our politicians place on education.

Labor’s election campaign has made much of a generally positive legacy for schools and public education. The introduction of the prep year and State Schools of Tomorrow were necessary and welcome changes to the education landscape of this state. The former embedded access to 13 years of schooling for all Queensland students, while the latter comprehensively tackled capital works issues in some schools.

In contrast, the LNP very clearly flagged its position on education to the voters of Queensland by failing to include education in its economic blueprint in any meaningful way. The LNP education policies that have been announced are overshadowed by the spectre of “Leading Schools” mark II (independent public schools) and the promise of single-line budgets for Queensland schools. The LNP has also flagged that it will set up a commission of audit upon taking office. Experience suggests that this pre-empts a move by an incoming government to divest itself of the bulk of its election promises amid claims of “fiscal constraints” and hidden “economic black holes”. It’s a tired and predictable tactic that has been used by the New South Wales Coalition government to break promises and deny public sector workers a decent pay rise.

The election campaign has seen both major parties favour piece-meal approaches to fringe issues rather than addressing real needs in the education community. For example, voters had a choice between iPads for special schools or iPads for Year 7 students. Neither promise would meet a real need in an appropriate way and will in fact create more problems than they solve.

Queensland Labor had the greatest potential to make a significant contribution to real improvements in public schools through the “Mines to Minds” initiative. Instead, they baulked at the critical moment and announced that the bulk of the $2.5 billion from mining royalties would go to individual payments to graduating Year 12s rather than into broader systemic investment in education, as urged by the QTU.

As a side note, federal Labor recently had a similar opportunity to comprehensively change the future of education in our nation by adoption of the recommendations of the Gonski Review of school funding as a means of addressing iniquitous school funding arrangements. They too failed the test, opting for more consultation rather than taking the brave and proper decision to do what is needed. Consultation is a wonderful and necessary thing, but at some point governments need to act.

Much is communicated to us about the philosophy of our politicians by the language that frames their pronouncements on education. Politicians, state and federal, say a great deal about “improving teacher quality” and “raising educational standards”. In truth, our education system is still producing world-standard education in spite of the ideologically driven deprivations of successive governments. Teachers have been doing too much with too little for too long. Huge improvements in educational outcomes could be achieved if our politicians truly recognised the value of teaching professionals with enhanced remuneration and resourcing.

So, the question all our politicians must answer is, do you think our teachers are worth it? Will you keep throwing money at knee-jerk responses and vote catchers instead of paying teachers what they are worth and funding state schools as they deserve?

The answers to these and many other questions will be known soon enough.

Kevin Bates

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 117 No2, 16 March 2012, p7