Principal power is code for education budget cuts
Public school teachers remain deeply concerned that the NSW government is retreating from its responsibility to ensure that every child in every public school community is taught by a qualified teacher, and that class sizes will not be increased, and subject choices for students will not disappear.
The first O’Farrell Government Minister to announce the policy of devolving responsibility to schools was not the Education Minister but the Treasurer, last September. He declared it in his Budget papers as an example of ‘fiscal and economic reform’.
A private consulting firm, the Boston Consulting Group’s expenditure review of the Education Department, demonstrated that the desired cuts could be achieved by devolving more decision making to the school level.
They will reduce support for schools by slashing district, regional and state office jobs and pushing this workload onto principals and staff in schools.
No government starts such massive changes without having a fully costed proposal. There has been no release by government of costings, modelling, documentation and details. This policy is not about improving education, it is about cutting the budget.
The cost-cutting has already begun. Last week support for schools for the implementation of crucial subject areas like English and Maths was cut. The Premier and Minister might hide behind rhetoric like “back-office jobs”, “reducing red tape” and so on, but what teachers and principals know is that really means “people who help us do the job of teaching won’t be there any longer.”
The department has eliminated its program supporting teachers of non-English speaking migrant and refugee students in regional and rural areas. Those areas are the Hunter, Central Coast, Western, Riverina and New England areas.
The mentoring program for teachers of newly arrived ESL students in schools will end. There will be no dedicated registered training for ESL teachers in ESL targeted schools in rural and regional areas. The new Arrivals Program website supporting teachers will no longer be developed or maintained.
These are not “back room beaucratic” jobs as the government insultingly calls them. They are programs run by real teachers assisting other real teachers assisting students in schools.
By devolving 70% of the education budget to local schools, the government will shift the blame for their extensive budget cuts onto principals. Public school principals will have to shoulder the blame for increased class sizes, the teacher shortages that will arise from the dismantling of the state-wide teacher transfer system, and the worsening of student learning conditions as the government reduces budgets over time.
All of this has happened in Victoria in the 1990s. There they now spend 12% less per student than NSW. This is the equivalent to NSW public schools employing 7500 fewer teachers and 1500 fewer support staff.
Currently, schools are staffed based on the number of students and the subject mix. There are allocations of specialists like teacher-librarians, careers advisers, school counsellors, and in primary, assistant principals, who perform essential co-ordinating roles.
Teachers and other support staff for students with special needs, ,like disabilities or whose first language is not English, is directly decided by the number of students with those needs.
All of this is at risk. The Minister has said, on record, that there will no longer need to be any number of teachers in any subject area, or any specialist teachers. This means students cannot be guaranteed the support they need, or that there will be teachers in the subjects students want to study.
Because principals will have to pay teachers from their own staffing budget, the squeeze will occur when they find that the experienced, permanent staff they have cost too much. Then the only options will be to raise class sizes, or replace permanent teachers with less experienced, cheaper casuals.
Casual teachers do a great job relieving for absent permanent staff, but are also free to move on to more attractive positions, or alternative careers. Casuals may find that as they become more experienced and more expensive to employ, they will also be overlooked for permanent positions. We know that as the baby boomer generation of teachers retire, one of the most difficult jobs is attracting and retaining the “best and brightest” into teaching.
After years of marking time, waiting for a permanent job, casual teachers often become disillusioned and look to other careers. Students may find their education disrupted as a result of a revolving door of teachers.
The staffing of schools, curriculum guarantees and class sizes are all at risk.
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