Editorial: When it comes to education, you're the expert!
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 4, 28 May 2021, page no.5
There’s been a lot said about accountability lately.
According to some, we need NAPLAN to ensure that:
- schools are held accountable for the money invested in them by the government
- we know the outcomes of student ATARs, so that parents know where to send their own children to high school
- we know which schools have the most suspensions and exclusions, so that we know the best schools in Queensland.
- “We know all these things, because education is the second largest drain on our economy and our education standards are failing”, as someone said to me recently.
These sentences seem to roll off the tongues of people standing around the BBQ, of politicians and of some media commentators. They are designed to be controversial. They are designed to suggest that they are the opinions of experts, and that we should listen. They are not.
For more than 130 years, the QTU has been the professional and industrial voice of teachers and school leaders in state schools and TAFE. We were proudly established for state school teachers and school leaders, by state school teachers and school leaders. We do not have “education advisors” because our officers have all been teachers and our policies and decisions are made by teachers and school leaders.
These policies are reviewed at least every two years and confirmed by our supreme decision-making body, our Biennial State Conference.
We are also not afraid to ask our members their views. Recently, I asked school leader members to provide input about the impact of the workload reviews, and we are following this up with school leader forums across the state. This year alone we have also conducted surveys on NAPLAN, Expect Respect and the needs of Union Reps. We have encouraged members to have a voice in the review of the Australian Curriculum and online formative assessments. We have also held more than 200 branch meetings across the state and two State Council meetings. We report, seek feedback and we respond.
So, when we say we are the most democratic voice of the teaching profession in Queensland’s state schools and TAFE, we are telling the truth.
That is why we can say with authority that the majority of our members loathe NAPLAN and that it is not a measure of accountability. It is a standardised test which assesses some elements of numeracy and literacy. It is not a measure of the effectiveness of a teacher in a classroom, or the abilities of a student across all learning areas, or the effectiveness (or otherwise) of the intervention programs schools choose to support the learning needs of students. It is a standardised test applied to students, every one of whom is different and has different learning needs.
It is also why we celebrate the non-publication of ATAR results. The only people who need to know a student’s ATAR are the student themselves, their significant adult/s (parents/caregivers etc) and their teachers. What is missed in the idea that ATARs should be published is that not every student leaving high school will receive an ATAR. Some do not want to do further study, and instead choose subjects that will result in them entering a career, rather than a tertiary entrance ranking.
Why is it that we do not trust our teachers and school leaders to do the best for the students they teach? Health receives a greater investment in the State Budget than education, and yet we don’t see a call for standardised assessment, or the publication of patient numbers, forms of illness or diseases cured levelled against the health department. Our doctors and nurses, after years of study, are trusted to do all they can to make people well.
Why then, after years of study, is the same faith not placed in our teachers and school leaders? And when making decisions about policies for education, why don’t we ask the profession, those people who have studied education and work in the field every day, what it is that they need to make a difference to the lives of the students that they teach?
It seems easier to use data (in this case, results of standardised tests or ATARs) to assess the effectiveness of a profession, rather than acknowledging that the true experts in determining which support or programs students require to succeed are the people who are trained to make that decision.
So, when the government (or anyone else) suggests that by supporting the non-publication of ATAR outcomes or aggregated NAPLAN results and calling for NAPLAN to be scrapped, the Union is supporting “poor performing” teachers, I know that they have not spoken to teachers and school leaders and therefore cannot speak for them.
The QTU will be holding its Biennial Conference on 28-30 June this year. This will allow our members, our profession, to shape our policies and set the future direction of our campaigns. This is what a democratic organisation does. It is also why the QTU (despite those who suggest otherwise) truly is the professional and industrial voice of state school teachers and school leaders and TAFE.