No. 04-20, 10 March 2020 | DOWNLOAD PDF
To QTU Members
10 Mar 2020 : NAPLAN must go
The 120 teachers and principals of the QTU State Council voted unanimously on Saturday to conduct a ballot of members across the state to boycott NAPLAN (in its entirety) in 2020. Unlike previous ballots concerning NAPLAN Online, this applies to ALL NAPLAN related activities.
The Council recommends that teachers throughout the state vote in favour of the boycott.
The ballot closes on Friday 27 March 2020.
The ballot will be conducted at workplaces by Union Reps as usual.
Why must NAPLAN go?
The QTU has exhausted all reasonable efforts to minimise the negative effects of NAPLAN on students, teachers and education generally, with only limited and inconsistent success. The prospects of the current tri-state review of NAPLAN doing so are negligible.
The negatives of NAPLAN continue to far outweigh its positives. It cannot be adjusted, it must now be abolished. That will only occur, it seems, through the teaching profession refusing to implement it.
The QTU Conference – 250 teachers and principals from around the state – voted in June last year to conduct a ballot of QTU members. Having discussed the current situation at length, Council is enacting that decision now.
A federal problem
NAPLAN is a high stakes standardised test, imported in its theory from the United States and imposed on Australian education by the federal government. The conduct of the test is a requirement of funding “agreements” imposed on the states in return for federal government funds and, strangely, is incorporated into federal legislation.
The federal government has no constitutional responsibility for education – it resides with the states – but the federal government holds the purse strings. It uses those purse strings not to coordinate national education policy, but to dictate. It owns not one school, employs not one teacher or principal but dictates national testing.
Effects of NAPLAN
The most accessible summary of the negative effects on Queensland education is the report of the Queensland Government’s review of NAPLAN, which it conducted in 2018 with the encouragement and support of the QTU. The negative effects of NAPLAN include:
- narrowing the curriculum to focus on NAPLAN elements
- excessive practice tests
- anxiety and distress for students
- extended disruption of teaching and learning
- reduction of the merit of schools and applicants for promotion, as a consequence of NAPLAN results
- media league tables.
A joint statement was negotiated by the QTU with the department in 2018 to address the negative effects of NAPLAN. The statement was well intentioned but, practically, has had limited and inconsistent success.
Facing a national roadblock
To their credit, the Queensland Government and Education Minister, on the back of the Queensland review of NAPLAN, sought a national review of NAPLAN. The issue was raised at the Education Council – the periodic meeting of state and territory Education Ministers with the Federal Minister for Education.
The Education Council would not agree to a national review. It works on consensus and it only takes one to block a decision.
The Queensland Minister then brokered the creation of the tri-state review of NAPLAN with the governments of NSW and Victoria (later joined by the ACT). Its interim report was provided in November 2019, with the final report due in June 2020.
The interim report of the review proposes adjusting questioning, tinkering with domains, and sample versus census testing. The failure to consider whether NAPLAN has on-going value that outweighs its costs is hardly surprising when one examines the negotiated terms of reference of the review: they assume the continuation of NAPLAN.
From our perspective, NAPLAN is beyond redemption.
Even if the tri-state review were to recommend the abolition of NAPLAN, two obstacles would remain:
- the Education Council, where an agreement could be frustrated by a negative vote
- the federal government, which could refuse to change funding agreements and legislation.
There is strong likelihood of one or both occurring. There is little point, therefore, in waiting for review reports and a ballot in 2021 if we want to see the end of NAPLAN.
The risks of the boycott
The Department of Education helpfully outlined the risks of this action in a letter sent to the QTU on 6 March, which was provided to Council and considered in full at its meeting on 7 March before it made its decision.
In summary, the risks are (with commentary):
- the state may be deemed non-compliant with federal funding legislation and subject to financial penalties at the discretion of the Federal Minister of Education, risking a total of $1.96 billion (One doubts the federal government would withhold all federal funding to Queensland state schools for failing to give a test – if they apply any financial penalty, bring on the next federal election!)
- The boycott would be regarded as unprotected industrial action, which can have financial consequences for the Union and for individuals (Whether this is unprotected industrial action as opposed to a professional refusal to implement a harmful test is contested – in any case, QTU members have NEVER been fined individually for any arguably unprotected industrial action, nor has the Union in living memory.)
- If it is unprotected industrial action, employees would not be protected from the docking of pay or disciplinary action (Docking pay in that circumstance would undoubtedly be the employer’s right, but docking pay for teaching instead of administering a test – we’d like to see that. Again, no member has been disciplined for taking part in industrial action in living memory.)
The QTU will provide its full and unwavering support to QTU school leader members who may be pressured to ensure that their school still participates in NAPLAN this year. Principal members have every right to follow a directive issued by their Union, and any attempt to discipline or intimidate them will be pursued by the QTU.
Interstate teacher unions and the private sector in Queensland support the QTU’s policy position and action. However, because of their own circumstances, they are unlikely to be able to undertake the same action as the QTU and its members.
Queensland teachers will again be leading the way on the issue of NAPLAN, as we have for the past several years. Action by Queensland teachers will undoubtedly disrupt whatever precarious validity NAPLAN retains after the debacles of the past two years.
The Australian Education Union Federal Conference – the annual conference of state and territory public sector teacher unions from around Australia – was held at the end of February. The Conference statement, which was unanimously endorsed by delegates (including more than 20 from Queensland), reinforced the need to abolish NAPLAN.
Queensland will take the lead.
Ballots are to be conducted at workplaces by Union Representatives. In workplaces without a Union Representative, school leaders are asked to work with QTU members to ensure that the ballot is conducted within the timeframe.
Only financial members of the QTU can participate in the ballot on the NAPLAN 2020 ban.
Members who are unfinancial or wish to join should seek to become financial members prior to the ballot opening within their workplace.
When will the NAPLAN boycott commence?
Once the ballot results are returned to the QTU, they will be reported to Executive on Monday 30 March. The outcome of the ballot and any decisions arising from Executive regarding the boycott of NAPLAN 2020 will be communicated to members on Tuesday 31 March.
If supported, the boycott will apply to all NAPLAN-related activities, including NAPLAN Online, NAPLAN pen and paper, practice tests, platform testing, training and all other preparation and implementation activities.
Authorised by Kate Ruttiman, General Secretary, Queensland Teachers' Union
21 Graham Street, Milton, QLD, Australia, 4064