Editorial: Negotiation needed for next federal/state funding agreement
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 5, 27 July 2018, p5
Teacher unions nationally have condemned the lack of consultation about the next federal/state school funding agreement, which is due to be signed in September this year. It is a potential flash-point for action to boycott professionally unacceptable or industrially unsustainable changes imposed by the agreement.
Twice in the past six months, Queensland teachers have supported a ballot for industrial action if the agreement includes elements like a phonics test for six-year-olds, an extension of NAPLAN to additional year levels or contracts for principals.
Action of this nature would be unprecedented, but may well become necessary if reports of federal/state negotiations to date are accurate.
What’s so important?
The “National School Reform Agreement” will be the basis for the federal government component of funding to the states and territories for years to come.
Under the school funding legislation that the Turnbull government has put in place of the previous ALP scheme, the federal government will contribute no more than 20 per cent of the funding for state schools up to the “schooling resource standard” (SRS), the minimum funding necessary to deliver the goals of education. The remainder is state funding.
As governments of all political persuasions have, the federal government –which owns not one school and employs not one teacher – has sought to use the funding agreement to control education policy, to impose change rather than reach true agreement.
Unrealistic poor practice at best, the process becomes intolerable when the changes are professionally unacceptable or practically impossible.
What’s the fuss?
The communiqué from the last meeting of federal, state and territory Education Ministers, the Education Council, on 22 June described detailed discussion of a draft agreement. The Education Council will consider the agreement again at its next meeting in September, before signing in October.
Despite numerous requests for proper consultation, negotiations for a replacement agreement have reached an advanced stage without any consultation with the people expected to implement it, Australian teachers and principals.
The Australian Education Union has seen drafts of the agreement, which requires extensive change to, for example, the Australian Curriculum and secondary curriculum and assessment, without considering, let alone addressing, teachers’ concerns about workload or demands for a review of NAPLAN.
The Queensland situation
We seem to be approaching the situation where teachers and principals are expected to make yet more changes, without any consultation, to retain funding that will still see 87 per cent of state schools across the country funded below the SRS in 2023, five years from now.
The federal government wants to dictate education policy in return for a 20 per cent contribution of funding. We think not.
One of the QTU’s key claims on political parties prior to the state election last year was a commitment to negotiate about the contents of the funding agreement BEFORE it was agreed. It was a major element of our briefing to the incoming Minister after the election, and just before the holidays, QTU members reiterated the demand for a ballot for industrial action if the agreement is unacceptable in the school-based Fair Funding Now! ballot.
There is no resolution to the issues of misdirected resources, unmet student educational needs, excessive workload and more while governments dictate policy through funding agreements without genuine consultation with the profession.
We have sought more information from the Queensland Government about the proposed agreement, yet it will ultimately be the federal government, Education Minister Simon Birmingham and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull trying to impose the policy – using the threat of withholding funding from Queensland students to do so.
It may well come to a choice between copping yet more changes, galling or impractical or both, or acting to boycott the changes that are not acceptable. Rejecting unsatisfactory changes is not new to Queensland teachers, but the added dimension of funding attached to the agreement and its conditions will be new.
The choice will ultimately be the same: to cop it or to fight it. The choice will be yours. Keep an eye on this issue in the coming weeks.
I was privileged to be invited to the Creative Generations performing arts show again in July. It is a tribute to a diverse, vibrant, excellent public education system in Queensland and to the students and teachers who help to create it and the organisers and arts professionals who produce such a stunning performance.
Congratulations to anyone with the smallest hand in its organisation. We may have problems, but no one can talk about a failing education system!