My School brawl exposes unions’ culture of mediocrity
In the mid 1990s the teachers credit union Satisfac came up with a kindly and seemingly innocent idea to celebrate the excellent work of its teacher members.
The credit union, which historically had served teachers but like many other institutions now has a wide customer base, decided that to recognise the role of the teaching profession in its own development it would establish an annual awards event called The Best Teacher Awards.
But when the awards were initially proposed the reaction from the teachers union was one of outrage and dismay. Satisfac was told in no uncertain terms to shelve the idea, with the union arguing it was the height of impertinence for a credit union – or anyone else for that matter – to declare that some teachers were better than others.
This quaint Marxist view of the world has been on full display this past week as teachers unions around the country descend into apoplexy over the Rudd Government’s apparently wicked policy of letting parents know how their kids’ school compares to other like schools.
The unspoken backdrop to the unions’ long-standing hostility to any form of comparative rankings is, obviously, industrial self-interest.
The danger which a website such as MySchool presents to the union is that parents might start asking hard questions if they see that their school is performing well down the list of comparable schools. For the first time, this website provides the public with data that is so rich that it’s possible to discern a drop-off in certain years or certain subjects.
There could be several reasons for a decline in performance. It could be a funding shortfall, which can be sheeted home to the relevant state government or education department. It could be explained by a change in the profile of the students in a certain year. It could also be that one of the teachers is no good.
It’s this last point which the teaching unions object to the most. They have taken the all for one, one for all philosophy to such a ludicrous extent that they have made the profession less enticing for passionate people who might consider a career as an educator, if not for the fact that you will forever be held back in terms of both workload and remuneration by the non-performance of the minority of disengaged or dud teachers.
If the unions were intellectually honest, this website would be welcomed as a long-overdue vindication of the excellence of most public schools.
As the proud graduate of a public school, I’ve taken a perverse delight in monitoring the non-performance of some of the toffiest schools in the land, seeing nuggetty little public schools kicking the stuffing out of joints that charge several thousand dollars a term with an unchallenged promise of a better level of learning.
My School has shown that many parents are effectively being fleeced by this empty promise. They might get one of those nice triangular stickers for the back of the Range Rover, and young Angus might end up rubbing shoulders with a future front rower for the Wallabies, but if it’s reading and writing you’re after, you might do better to skip down the road to the local public school.
My School is not without flaws – we spent a couple of hours on it the other night, our child’s school, in Sydney, was compared to a school in Ballina, which at 739km away is a heck of a commute.
But the fixation on such glitches – which are inevitable and can be easily recognised by the average user anyway on a website of this size – is an obvious ploy by the teaching unions to undermine the credibility of the entire venture in a fruitless bid to shame the government into its withdrawal.
There’s one criticism levelled against the site which carries much more weight and which the Federal Government must take very seriously. Opposition education spokesman Chris Pyne is absolutely right when he says there is little point identifying systematic problems with the performance of a minority of teachers, without also giving principals the industrial power to act against them.
And to anyone who would say this is a teacher bashing exercise, it is not. It’s the polar opposite of one.
In the new age of transparency created by My School, it is logical and right to shift next to a discussion of performance pay. And it should have less to do with punishing the minority of bad teachers than giving greater reward and opportunity to the enormous pool of dedicated and brilliant teachers.
Thinking back to my school days I can only remember a couple of teachers who were so bad that they should have been frogmarched off the school grounds. They really should have been. There was one guy who seemed to be motivated by nothing other than a pathological dislike of young people. He would habitually tell kids at this largely working class school that they were so dim that they would be better off leaving immediately and going for an apprenticeship popping rivets at the nearby Mitsubishi factory.
And then there were teachers such as Anna Polias, an English teacher who would habitually write 10 or even 15 A4 pages of comments on your essays, stay back after school to organise extra-curricular stuff such as cycling days, bookshop visits into the city, where she would take us out to coffee, talk about politics and travel and our futures.
People such as Ms Polias represent the majority of teachers in the public system. She should have been paid half as much again as what she was earning; the fellow I mentioned before had no right to be in a schoolyard at all.
I suspect there are a lot of hard-working teachers who privately believe that things should change but are afraid to say so for being marginalised by the union crowd.
The most appropriate memento from my school days for illustrating this entrenched hostility towards assessment and ranking is the absurd trophy I “won” while playing Aussie Rules for the Under 13s. In keeping with the post-70s educational zeitgeist, it had been decreed that it was unfair to simply have a best and fairest and that, just like at the Easter Show, every player should win a prize. The humiliating gong I won read “Most Attentive at Training” but should really have been inscribed “Most Incompetent Back Pocket” or “Pea-hearted pretender who avoids the hard ball”. Rather than getting a pat on the head as a reward for my uselessness, the coach should have taken me aside and explained politely that I was to Aussie Rules what Gary Ablett was to romantic poetry, and pointed me in the direction of the library.
Pretending that everybody is doing quite well at almost everything is no way to prepare them for later life. And teaching is the one profession where the unions believe that this same bankrupt philosophy should apply to working adults.
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