From the President: Time to trust our profession for good
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 4, 5 June 2020, page no. 7
The decision by the state government in the final weeks of Term 1 to move learning for Queensland students out of the classroom into the online space occurred largely without reference to the teaching profession, as it did right across the eight states and territories in our federation.
The imperative of the rapidly spreading COVID-19 contagion underpinned the urgency and expediency of making such a decision, but it must not become an excuse for reinforcing the habitual recourse of any government to unilateral decisions on matters at the core of education and the practice of teaching and school leadership.
For some time now, the QTU has been developing a position paper on professional autonomy through consultation with members, beginning with workshops at the 2019 QTU Biennial Conference and culminating in the adoption of a position statement by the QTU Executive just a few weeks ago. The formal position of the QTU will act as a foundation for our ongoing efforts to reassert the professional rights of educators across the public sector to control those things that matter to students and to the teaching profession.
Around the globe, political leaders have removed professional representatives from decision-making roles in education policy. In Queensland, the LNP removed the representative voice of the profession from the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the board of TAFE Queensland – a loss that has not been restored under the current Labor state government. At a federal level, the main national bodies purporting to inform education – the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) and Education Services Australia (ESA) – have become political curios bereft of leadership from and by the profession because of a deliberate strategy of the current Coalition government’s precedents. This is a lamentable triumph of reductive ideology over constructive pragmatism.
Practising educators remain in control of our state teacher registration authority, the Queensland College of Teachers, but this is not the case in all parts of the federation.The governance of the profession has suffered from the lack of consistency in the locus of control remaining in the hands of the profession. Attempts to reduce entry standards, attacks on quality teaching and persistent downwards pressure on wages and working conditions are intended to relieve government of the “burden” of maintaining a strong, resilient, respected education profession.
In a similar vein, education policy in many countries has been focused on constraining the teaching profession, including the most extreme measures of reducing the curriculum to scripts to be read to students by teachers with no formal training beyond a basic school education. Professional autonomy is an anathema to political forces that fear the political, social and economic power of a well-organised teaching profession and lack the imagination to conceive of a teaching profession capable of autonomous operation, self-governance and stringent accountability without the need for complex legislative and bureaucratic limitations.
What a wonder then when the crisis of COVID-19 hit and governments had no option but to acknowledge the pivotal role of educators in our community and, perhaps most critically, trust that the profession could take a classroom based education system and flip it to an alternative delivery system aimed at effective learning for hundreds of thousands of students in the space of just a few days.
History will show that when called upon to lead by example, the profession did what it must to make continuing learning a reality for students. Learning took place, not just in the online space but through a variety of flexible options. These were as variable as the needs of the students in our classrooms, necessitated by the inequity afflicting our community in education and so many other aspects of life, such as health care, technology and communication and employment.
Our hope then should be that the world, with its eyes opened to the efficacy of the teaching profession, will realise the error of its ways and move rapidly to embrace the desire of the profession for authentic professional autonomy. The truth will be that the uncertainty of the pandemic will likely lead to a redoubling of efforts by some in politics to tighten the shackles on our profession, to exploit the chaos to achieve in a compressed timeframe what they have been actively working toward for years.
Our Union has prevailed for 131 years through many such crises. We can and will resist any negative agenda and together push instead for an awakening of the community to the power of a teaching profession allowed the professional autonomy to work for the good of students in an education system funded to overcome the economic and social disadvantages that would deny many their right to strive for success. The potential of the profession is limited by the deficiencies imposed upon us, but our power lies in our capacity to go beyond those limits every day to make the improbable possible.