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NSW INDEPENDENT EDUCATION UNION

SUBMISSION TO THE
REVIEW OF TEACHER EDUCATION IN NSW TASKFORCE

1. PURPOSE OF SUBMISSION

The NSW Independent Education Union represents some 21,000 members in NSW non-government schools, early childhood centres, Elicos and private training colleges. The great majority are teachers, although the union also represents school support staff.

This submission is not a comprehensive response to the report "Quality Matters" as the IEU understands the Taskforce is commissioned to provide advice to government on what it might do by way of responding to the Report, that is to implement its recommendations in whole or in part or to respond to the issues raised in some other ways. Nonetheless, some remarks on the Report are necessary as a context for the IEU's submission to the Taskforce.

2. COMMENTS ON "QUALITY MATTERS"

(a) Professionalism

Ramsey's dismissal of teaching as a profession is rejected. The view

"there are no standards to describe teacher practice in NSW, and teachers
have no accountability other than to meet minimum competency requirements
set by employers"
(4.3, p.31)

is trite and underpins a range of confusions in the Report. Standards applying to teaching are found in Board of Studies syllabuses which control the substance of teachers' work, in various policy requirements of school authorities, in requirements of industrial instruments, in school review processes (eg whole school review processes in Catholic systemic schools which embody, but go beyond, Board of Studies re-registration and accreditation requirements - there will be comparable processes in other systems and schools), in requirements of "duty of care" law to be found in decided court cases and policy, in child protection laws and procedures/guidelines of the Ombudsman's Office and the Children's Commission, etc.

Barbara Preston's approach, in a paper commissioned for an IEU Conference on these issues (extract attached) is preferred to Ramsey's. In essence, there is a misrepresentation of the nature of teachers' work, as well as glibness about the source of market power of some other "professions" that teachers are urged to emulate. Professionalism is located in the making of complex judgements in a myriad of contexts. Human qualities are brought to bear on an array of knowledge and skill requirements (curriculum, pedagogy, context and purposes) to guide teaching and learning through various communications strategies. Work in classrooms, schools and other sites of learning is collective and strategic and, at its best, is democratic in its processes and in its outcomes (cf Preston extract).

However, a superior but different point is embedded in Ramsey's account, when he discusses the fragmented state of affairs that exists. The various standards which apply to teachers' work are not consolidated and in various instances are not sufficiently developed or promulgated, do not operate across the entire profession and are subject to a myriad of processes located in different tribunals and authorities. Some of this will always remain, and occurs to a substantial extent in other professions as well. The IEU is supportive of a measured move towards a consolidation of the structures and processes affecting the teaching profession, in appropriate ways.

(b) Implications of some recent history

It is regrettable that Ramsey did not investigate and evaluate the experience of different groups of teachers across Australia in the early 1990s in regard to "advanced skill teacher" classifications. Given the proposal for a three-level accreditation structure, issues of criteria, quota and recognition could have been better addressed and understood.

If an Institute is to be a vehicle for enhancing teaching, and be seen as such by teachers, the question of its relationship to the actual work and careers of teachers is fundamental. If employing authorities are free to ignore the work of an Institute, or utilise it predominantly for performance management strategies, then the IEU is not supportive of such an Institute. Teachers will not see it as worthwhile.

If, however, standards of the Institute, such as induction requirements (time release for the beginning teacher and mentor, for instance), are mandatory on schools, then some meaningful improvements could emerge.

The Australian Teaching Council episode in the mid 1990s further illustrated the necessity for the relationship between such a structure and the operation of schools (the major determinant of teachers' work) to be strong. This is not to assert an industrial profile for a professional body. It is to argue that these relationships should be clear, strong and worked out to some reasonable extent prior to establishment of a new body.

(c) Public-Private

The Report oscillates between linking teacher professionalism with notions of individualised practice within emerging market-driven funding and regulatory strategies, and connecting it with teachers' actual work in institutions which have profound social and public purposes. The Report is poorly informed or perhaps uninterested in relevant aspects of teaching in non-government schools.

The discussion of salaries in the non-government sector is not well-informed, and the scenario (p.123) of increasing numbers of teachers moving to individual practice to meet the increasing expectations of their communities might be better described as teachers undertaking coaching, after hours, of students from other school communities to supplement inadequate primary salaries while feeding parental anxieties created by school funding/selective schooling policies and strategies.

The section on private school funding (9.8, p.182) complains that teachers are properly inducted into the profession in government schools (at a cost) but then transfer to non-government schools. The game is given away in the next section (9.9) where it is acknowledged that "too little is spent on this important activity" and that if it is too expensive to fund properly, then teachers could pay for it themselves! Helpfully, Ramsey suggests that "the reduction in salary need not be borne in the first year alone. The salary foregone could be amortised across, for instance, the first three years."! Thus, the only reasonable thing about teachers' salaries, namely their starting rates, is to be eroded.

The Report substantially ignores the relation of the Australian Catholic University to Catholic schools and has little to say on induction of teachers within non-government schools.

The above proposal on self-funded induction only operates to intensify teacher and IEU cynicism about proposals such as those recommended in the Report. There will need to be a major effort made by Government and school employers to demonstrate a bona fide commitment to teachers through such strategies before they can be trusted.

(d) Strong features of the Report

Ramsey's discussion of the reality in many cases of teacher preparation and induction and the need for enhanced strategies in this regard is well made and supported in general terms.

The general proposal for advanced accreditation, if applying to classroom-based practice as well as specialisations and readiness for/exemplification of leadership roles, is supported in principle (as the IEU did in the A.S.T campaign over a decade ago), but subject to the necessary clarification of criteria, quota issues, access and recognition.

An Institute that gives the possibility of a greater visible public presence of a unified teaching profession in NSW is worth pursuing, and such an Institute having a strong relationship with Universities and employing practices and structures is an important requirement.

Ultimately, teachers will want to understand how the operation of such an Institute intersects with the reality of their daily work before ready assent will be given. Accordingly, a key objective of the Taskforce's advice to Government should be mechanisms to allow the possible benefits to teaching and learning and the work of teachers to clearly emerge for assessment by teachers themselves.

3. IEU'S ADVICE TO THE TASKFORCE

a) An Institute of Teaching would be entertainable in the current climate if its establishment were accompanied by simultaneous agreements in the various sectors to implement, with appropriate resources, the important elements.

That is, binding agreements to the implementation of good practice induction strategies, appropriately resourced, should be struck at the same time as an Institute is being established with one function (among others) to promulgate and keep undated, standards applicable to this issue.

The same is true of advanced accreditation. Agreements which set out the salary implications of successfully gaining advanced accreditation, or other forms of career recognition say in relation to leadership positions, should be negotiated and be in place as the Institute is being established. The implementation of the agreements is of course dependent on the Institute based standards being developed and applied, but the necessity of a public demonstration of good faith by government and employing authorities is essential.

The IEU sees little to trust in the establishment of an Institute without such guarantees. It is unlikely that the development of an Institute will, of itself, positively impact on the work and careers of teachers in circumstances, acknowledged by Ramsey where that work is so strongly controlled by employers and the general operation of schools.

Accordingly, the IEU proposes that the Taskforce advise government that suitable binding agreements be reached, in the various sectors in a manner which foreshadows the utilisation, for the benefit of teachers and students of the outputs of the work of an Institute. The Taskforce could suggest mechanisms whereby this could be achieved.

b) Status and operation of Institute.

The Institute, if it is to exist, should not be a membership based organisation, but a body with statutory functions, controlled by teachers with appropriate committees or sub boards with appropriate membership to perform designated functions.

It should be empowered to set required standards for entry into teaching, binding on all teachers and schools. Alternative pathways into teaching, provisional registration subject to ongoing supervision and training in particular circumstances and such issues should be part of the mandatory provision, rather than a position of voluntary compliance with entry standards being adopted. Existing teachers would be given registration, perhaps in designated cases with upgrading requirements or restrictions on practice.

Advanced certification would be voluntary, although in relation to leadership positions, certain standards might be developed which were prerequisites for promotion.

The IEU does not believe the conditions of trust exist for such an Institute to be charged with the power to mandate professional development requirements (quantity or quality) for re-registration/re-accreditation. The observation by Ramsey of the poor experience of many teachers of employer determined inservice - where it exists - is correct and teachers would have no reason to expect an Institute to be an improvement. However, the development of standards for inservice, assessment and accreditation/identification of good courses etc. in various professional areas would be valuable and over time, depending on employer recognition of teacher rights in this regard, could be the basis for the issue of mandatory inservice to be re-opened. The issue of teachers own learning being predominantly conceived as individual access to courses, seminars etc. or being understood as portfolio, work based experience and reflection would need careful attention to avoid a somewhat trite approach based on hours spent attending listed events.

The Taskforce should propose the accreditation of preservice courses as a key function, with an appropriate Board or Committee with suitable university and teacher education membership to undertake the requisite work.

The IEU supports the Institute being able to develop the ethical dimension of teaching, with standards being embodied in appropriate employer-based or industrially grounded instruments.

The Taskforce should recommend that government charge such an Institute with the power and responsibility to clarify appropriate guidelines, in a child-protection context, which govern teacher-student relationships and require the Ombudsman's Office and Children's Commission, as well as employers and teachers to observe them. Of course, all relevant parties to such a context would be consulted on the development of such standards. Ethical standards relating to issues such as the coaching of students for fees should also be developed for the profession as a whole.

Ultimately, the successful development of such a structure with mandatory entry would entail suitable deregistration proceedings, utilising an appropriate judicial format.

c) Other Matters

  • As has been indicated strongly to the Taskforce, the IEU strongly supports Early Childhood Teaching being embraced within the professional structure of an Institute, with the necessity for some specialist functions and membership to give effect to this.
  • The IEU is not convinced of the usefulness of a single Australian School of Graduate Teaching. Specialist schools of international reputation should emerge on their own merit, not be artificially created by the showering of resources of the inevitable expense of other institutions.
  • The IEU opposes the tendering out of teacher education courses; this would serve no productive purpose and be destructive of institutions which should be worked with co-operatively.
  • The IEU strongly urges the Taskforce to recommend to government an appropriate strategy for involving teachers in a wider discussion around these issues, perhaps similar to the Victorian process.

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email: teachrev@det.nsw.edu.au