For our first workshop this year, we decided to meet up and analyse the Victorian Liberal Nationals School Education Values Statement.
Today, the critique we wrote together was published in The Age, online and in print (page 33).
Here is the original version of the article with hyperlinks:
Guy dreams of discipline, data and indoctrination – but where is Labor’s alternative?
When Victorian Opposition leader Matthew Guy tries to whip up a moral panic about the state of our education system it is only so he can propose kicking it further down an authoritarian path.
The Victorian Liberal Nationals School Education Values Statement released last month points to the stagnation of literacy and numeracy test results as evidence of the breakdown of “discipline”, “teaching the basics” and “instilling sound values”.
Guy’s draconian plans – which include installing police in our ten most “high-risk” schools, abolishing the Safe Schools program, pumping up parochial Australian nationalism and stamping out celebration of diversity in the curriculum – are bound to have a devastating impact on the educational opportunities of our most disadvantaged and marginalised students.
But if Guy’s fear mongering about falling standards touches a nerve for some, it is because we really do have good cause to be worried about our education system.
The AEU’s response to the Coalition’s statement, published this week in The Age, gets it right when it champions the great work teachers and support staff can do when they are adequately funded and trusted. However, as teachers currently working in schools, we were disappointed by the failure of the AEU to address the reasons why this trust and support for teachers is rapidly disintegrating.
The plateauing NAPLAN results Guy refers to are a reflection of a much deeper crisis in our schools, the cause of which remains both Liberal and Labor policy – the thoroughly discredited market-based model of education, which research suggests has been a key factor in the recent flatlining of student results.
Guy claims billions of government dollars spent over the last 15-20 years have done nothing to improve educational standards. Frankly, many teachers would agree, although not for the reasons that Guy suggests.
In the first place, public schools have not seen the majority of funding increases. Between 2006-07 and 2015-16 government funding to public schools increased by around 23%. In the same period, government spending on private schools increased by 42%.
This madness is justified as governments supporting parent choice in the marketplace of educational options. The Liberals’ not-so-invisible hand reached peak corruption last year when the Turnbull government legislated to federally fund 80% of private schools’ basic needs (regardless of their capacity to charge fees many times this amount), whilst funding only 20% of government schools basic needs.
But the problem of marketisation runs deeper. Public schools have been set in competition not just with private schools, but also with each other. We have had nearly 10 years of Labor’s MySchool website, which encourages parents to play the school system like the stock market. Low scores are punished with low enrolments, as privileged families flock to high performing schools, and the least socially mobile remain at schools with the least resources to support them.
As a result, when public schools in Victoria have received meagre funding increases, these are too often wasted on programs that principals think will boost scores and reputation – even if they undermine real learning. Despite plenty of evidence that streaming actually reduces student achievement, select entry programs are breaking out like algae plagues around the state. As are uniform policies that mimic private schools in pettiness and pricing.
There are so many commercial consultants offering to sell schools magic bullet strategies for lifting literacy and numeracy results that the Department of Education and Training has developed a “preferred suppliers list” to help principals choose between them.
These data merchants are wreaking educational havoc; their trade relies on principals remaining in perpetual suspicion of teachers’ competence. “Coaches” at my school are interrupting excellent teachers in front of their classes, mid lesson, to tell them they aren’t implementing the right strategy for the moment.
Teachers across Victoria’s public schools waste hours and hours of precious preparation time reformatting lesson and unit documents to fit each new guru’s formula – only for the model to be replaced at the behest of the next guru. And whoever the consultant is, teachers are encouraged to see their students as data points on an array of commercial, internal and external tests.
Education market ideologues like Matthew Guy (and sadly, Labor’s James Merlino) are hostile to funding preparation time for teachers to plan to the individual needs of their students, and craft bespoke lessons to engage and challenge everyone.
The kind of education that starts with the students, not the test, is particularly terrifying to conservatives like Guy. He is so disturbed that teachers could tell our students that LGBTIQ people and same-sex attraction are nothing to fear that he would axe the Safe Schools anti-bullying program. He is so petrified of students learning that Indigenous and non-“Western” people have profoundly shaped our world that he would cut non-compulsory curriculum references to them. What a nightmare for Guy, that we might teach students that literacy and mathematics are powerful tools for understanding and changing society; he would rather we keep our eyes on the “basics”, i.e. test scores.
The apex of Guy’s fearful vision is his call for police in schools. It suits his agenda perfectly to stigmatise and threaten young people who are being fleeced of a world-class education, rather than rethink the marketised mess that is leaving teachers and students demoralised and angry.
Teachers are appalled by the Liberals scapegoating our most disadvantaged students. But in order to truly defend them, we must also fight to stop the marketisation of our schools. We must demand that Labor breaks with MySchool and NAPLAN and starts funding a public education system that trusts and resources teachers.