From the President: Our schools are too crowded!

You would be forgiven for thinking that this column was about overcrowded classrooms or the jam-packed curriculum. Both issues are important, current and sadly true. However, this discussion is about how schools are being swamped by “good” ideas and what we need to do as educators to clear the decks so that we let teachers teach.

Experienced teachers will know only too well about the precious time, energy and resources that are consumed by the implementation of “innovations” in education. The situation, as described by Professor Stephen Dinham* (President of the Australian College of Educators) in a recent address to the QTU Education Leaders Conference, is that schools are a laboratory for educational innovation, without the safeguards that apply to other fields such as medicine.

Innovation in medicine requires exhaustive research, testing and proof of benefit to the patient before it can be introduced to practice. In sharp contrast, changes being visited upon schools are cloaked in the alleged validity of international and national research outcomes, whereas the reality is that researchers in the field know only too well that the evidence is often the opposite of what is claimed. Consequently, our schools are littered with “innovations” that have been tried and failed to deliver, but we continue to implement them rather than clear them out.

Dinham highlights significant areas of highly questionable practice in Australian education “reform”:

  • alternative school establishment and funding: the “school choice” proponents
  • teacher quality: perpetual attacks leading to the unwarranted decay of public confidence and growth of alternative training proposals
  • school governance and leadership: the growth of school autonomy despite evidence it is harmful to schools and student outcomes
  • school accountability: the proliferation of procedures designed to inappropriately measure, quantify and assess educational practice.

Effective, timely consultation with the QTU as the voice of the teaching profession will do much to prevent the implementation of untried and untested innovations. The Union can and should act as a filter for such programs being imposed on schools. Furthermore, and where appropriate, deliberate decisions must then be made to cease unhelpful practices already in place in schools, with a view to saving our students, our schools and ourselves from continuing to waste time, energy and resources.

Regular readers of this column will be aware of the work being done to highlight the negative and destructive impact of the forces of marketisation on education around the world. Education researchers in Australia are now part of a world-wide movement calling for the truth to supplant the myths of the manufactured crisis in education.

Dinham joins luminaries such as Pasi Sahlberg of Finland and Dianne Ravich from the USA in exposing the influence of big business in these attacks, with the ultimate agenda of the marketisation of education as potentially the largest untapped source of profits on the globe.

The QTU, through the Australian Education Union (our national union) and Education International (our world union), is part of a global initiative to expose and oppose the intimidating power of the edu-business alliance. With more than 30 million teacher union members world-wide, we can muster great power for good. This is another case where thinking globally and acting locally is the best response.

Kevin Bates

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 120 No 4, 5 June 2015, p6