Dialogue needed to resolve TAFE programming concerns

in:Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 120 No 3, 24 April 2015, p18

Differing approaches to programming and timetabling are causing concern for a number of members in a range of disciplines and teaching teams across the public provider network.

Of paramount concern is a tendency for middle managers to dictate hours of contact, course structure and staffing. This runs contrary to section 16 of the DETE TAFE Educational Employees Certified Agreement 2012 and section 14 of the 2014 Central Queensland University Copied Agreement, both of which describe the parameters of the programming process.

The agreements mandate that all delivery teams will have programs and timetables, and that “programming” is composed of two distinct stages, being 1. development of a semester or yearly program or planner, and then 2. the subsequent development of teacher timetables.

The program or planner is defined as a documented outline of the teaching team’s delivery for the semester or year. Its purpose is to set the required delivery hours and the available staff to achieve reasonable and efficient use of resources. It must be educationally as well as financially sound, accounting for planned delivery funded via all sources. It needs to account for planned staff professional development, release to industry, non-attendance time, recreation leave, long service leave, public holidays and any known and negotiated project work.

This comprehensive planning document is mandated for development by the teaching team in consultation with its manager and signed off by management prior to commencement of delivery. In fact, the agreements state that: “The agreed program and timetable will be approved by management”(my emphasis).

In TAFE there are a number of good reasons why the best people to design the program are the teaching staff. Given the highly technical and inherently dangerous nature of many discipline areas and the concomitant health and safety issues, in-depth knowledge is essential to ensuring both that the delivery mix and structure is appropriate and that it can be conducted safely, incorporating appropriate levels of oversight given the students' level of competency. Removing or overriding teacher input in many cases leaves the organisation open to risk of either WHS or VQF compliance issues, if not both.

This is not to say that there is not a role for the manager in the development of a team’s program. To the contrary, as stated above, the planning document must meet a number of criteria, including ensuring financial viability. Setting budgeting parameters, including making decisions as to the capacity of the organisation to support leave applications, is properly the province of the manager. Additionally, they have a statutory obligation to ensure that the workplace is healthy and safe, that is that workloads are fairly distributed and manageable and workplaces are appropriate.

Both sides of the table have important parts to play. It is a conversation which, for it to work properly, needs to be a constructive and reasonable discussion examining individual and organisational need. If one or the other party is locked out, dysfunction will ensue, a situation too often familiar in TAFE staff rooms around the state. Both sets of expertise, management and content specialisation, must engage in positive dialogue to find collaborative solutions to the many problems that public providers face in the new world of the vocational education market.

David Terauds
TAFE Organiser