Teachers responsible for acute financial stress on families during COVID-19 pandemic? Our response to Scott Morrison’s gaslighting

By Beth Muldoon, Mary Merkenich, George Lilley and Bonnie Zuidland

On our first day back with our students after the school holidays, Wednesday the 15th of April, teachers listened cautiously to Scott Morrison’s video message to us: “I want teachers to know, from me, both as a parent, and as a Prime Minister, just how appreciated you are and how important the job is that you’re doing right now.”

Straight away, something didn’t add up. If we are so important, why is this the first we are hearing from you? Why have we just begun Term 2 without the resources and arrangements we need to maximise safety for our students, their families, and all school staff? 

In Victoria, our State Government has thankfully gone some way to creating appropriate conditions for teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last Tuesday the 7th of April, we were notified: students who can learn from home must, while those who cannot be supervised at home may continue to attend school; no school staff can be compelled to work on-site; class sizes must be limited to a maximum of 10 students; and any student who would otherwise be unable to access an online curriculum will be provided with a device and internet connection.

However, even in Victoria, the holes in these measures are gaping, and neither the State nor Federal Government are stepping up to ensure job security for all school staff or workplace safety provisions to protect our whole community. 

Schools in Victoria and around the country still need a guarantee of sufficient hygiene supplies, cleaning regimes, personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff working with students unable to practice physical distancing, and temperature checks for every student each day in the school foyer before being admitted.

Yet, ultimately, the measures that are most needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools, along with many needless deaths, relate to job security and wage protection. The Victorian Government has said that only staff who volunteer to work on-site will make up the skeleton staff required to teach the minority of students who are still attending school. But what about staff employed as casuals, many of whom cannot work remotely, including casual relief teachers, IT support, education support (ES), cleaning and office staff? And what about teachers and ES staff who are working from home but struggling with caring responsibilities?

During this pandemic, all workers should have the choice to stay home to protect their health and the health of their loved ones. Paid leave should be available to all workers who cannot work from home if no alternative duties can be mutually agreed upon. Moreover, paid leave or reduced hours and responsibilities should be available to all workers with caring responsibilities. 

Sadly, no government in Australia is talking about granting these provisions to school staff, and the Australian Education Union (AEU), while continuing its negotiations behind closed doors, has so far done little to raise public awareness of our most urgent demands, or articulate the underlying problem of casualisation, which has resulted in nearly one in five teachers also missing out on basic protections, such as sick leave and working from home, during this pandemic. 

It is time for the Victorian Government to admit the failure of its bipartisan neoliberal agenda and return to employing all school staff on a permanent full-time or part-time basis, so that our precarious casual staff are able to access the same leave and benefits available to departmental employees during this pandemic and beyond. It is also vital for the Federal Government to extend the Job Keeper payment to over a million workers who have missed out, including the many casual and migrant workers based in our schools. 

Scott Morrison has attempted to confuse parents by asserting, “It’s so important that children are able to keep physically going to school, particularly for these kids – the kids of workers with no suitable care arrangements at home to support their learning.” However, it remains important for parents who can keep their children at home to do so, otherwise our schools will be overcrowded once more, putting students, staff and families at risk.

While Morrison claims that the “risk remains very low” for children, reports from around the world show us that children are contracting coronavirus on mass, many require hospital care, and some have died.  Moreover, we work in schools with hundreds of adult staff, where hundreds more adults congregate at the end of each school day to pick up their children. Does Morrison expect parents and carers to lead their children straight home without stopping to play at a public playground, understanding that this is not currently safe? And what about all the children and teens who travel to school sandwiched together with other members of the public on buses, trains and trams?

He clearly does not care. His only apparent concern is protecting the profits of his business mates and allies. That’s why he wants people to think it’s safe to send their children to school and return to their workplaces. 

And if that wasn’t deplorable enough, he concluded his message to teachers, with an unambiguous threat to scapegoat us if we refuse to play the role of his sacrificial lambs: “We cannot allow a situation where parents are forced to choose between putting food on the table through their employment to support their kids, and their kids’ education. And I know teachers don’t want to force those choices onto parents either. ’Cause of course, thousands of jobs would be lost, livelihoods forsaken.”

No, Prime Minister, teachers are not responsible for your failure to provide income protection to all workers who need it. We do not want any more of your disingenuous compliments. We want job security and safe work conditions for all our co-workers. We want you to prioritise public health over profit. 

Safe and Fair Conditions for Education Workers During COVID-19 Pandemic – Motions for AEU Sub-branches

As rank-and-file members of the Australian Education Union (AEU), we welcomed the Victorian Department of Education and Training announcements Tuesday the 7th of April regarding the shift to remote and flexible learning in schools in Term 2. There are many aspects of this policy that provide relief and reassurance. Yet, several issues still require urgent attention. 

As AEU leadership continues to negotiate our working conditions with the Department, it is vital that sub-branches pass motions to affirm the conditions we require to continue our work. 

These motions highlight many of the pressing needs of workers in both schools and early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings, but we encourage you to also look to the United Workers Union statement of demands for a more detailed look at current needs in ECEC. 

We encourage education workers in other states to use this document to inform their own struggles for safe and reasonable working conditions.


This sub-branch endorses the position taken by the Victorian Government that:

  1. Students who can learn from home must learn from home
  2. School-based learning will continue for vulnerable children and the children of those who can’t work from home
  3. No school staff will be forced to work on-site, as the limited on-site staffing schools require will only include those who have volunteered for these roles
  4. Class sizes will be limited to a maximum of 10 students
  5. Hand sanitizer will be provided at entry points to classrooms
  6. COVID-19 testing will be available for school and ECEC staff where they have symptoms

Yet, we call on the Government to:

  • Extend the first five measures to include ECEC settings, so early childhood workers, children and their families are equally protected.

We also ask for the following additional measures to be implemented in both schools and ECEC settings:

  • Where a person’s job cannot reasonably be done remotely, they are given paid leave or alternate duties if these can be mutually agreed upon
  • Sufficient hygiene supplies and facilities, including soap, hand sanitiser, toilet paper, tissues and sinks, are provided
  • Frequently touched objects and surfaces are cleaned every two hours
  • The number of children per class is appropriate to the age of children and their ability to practice physical distancing, with a maximum of 8 students per class from Grade 3 to 12, and 5 children per class from Prep to Grade 2 and in ECEC settings. The only time 10 students might be permissible is in rare cases when on-site classes are offered for VCE students in spaces where appropriate physical distancing is possible.
  • Starting, finishing, meal and break times are staggered to enable physical distancing
  • As practiced in Singapore, every child or student has their temperature checked in the school or ECEC foyer each day before being admitted. If their temperature is higher than 37.5 degrees, they return home and COVID-19 testing is made available to that student and all staff and students who have been in close contact with them. Any staff members conducting temperature checks are covered in appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), at a minimum face mask and gloves.
  • Additional PPE is provided to ECEC staff, due to the enormous difficulty maintaining hygiene and physical distancing with small children
  • School and ECEC workers, and our trade unions, are respectfully and transparently included in decision making about closing schools, restricting attendance or returning to full on-site teaching and learning. For this to occur, we need the government to keep the public informed with the most up-to-date data and modelling being used to inform policy recommendations.


Recognising that the transition to home-based learning is an enormous challenge for teachers, students and parents, this sub-branch calls on the Department to issue a more comprehensive policy that gives teachers the trust and flexibility to evolve teaching and learning practices that cater to the specific cohorts of students we teach, and allows us to focus on connection and care in this time of crisis. 

We welcome aspects of your recently-issued policy, such as: 

  1. Protecting teachers from an excessive workload by directing that teachers are only available for online communication during their hours of work
  2. Bridging the digital divide by providing a device and internet connection to any student who would otherwise be unable to access an online curriculum  

However, we must learn from recent experiences interstate and overseas, where attempts to proceed with “schooling as usual” online have created enormous problems. These have included:

(i) reduced engagement of students

(ii) difficulty faced by parents having  to split their attention between work and supporting their children’s education at home, including teachers who are also parents

(iii) excessive work hours for teachers, who are expected to be supporting students online all day, while also redesigning their curriculum for online delivery

(iv) frustration from both teachers and students when internet connections fail to keep up with the current usage

Therefore, this sub-branch calls on the Department to:

  • Give teachers and education support staff the professional autonomy to determine how they work with students and their families to keep students meaningfully connected to learning
  • Suspend the normal curriculum and cancel all standardised tests, including VCE exams. Commit to developing alternate paths to tertiary entrance.
  • Suspend attendance and minimum work requirements for students during periods of online learning to reduce pressure on students, teachers and parents alike
  • Place compassionate and realistic limits on what schools can ask of teachers and ES staff working from home, and provide paid leave or reduced hours and responsibilities for staff members struggling with caring and work responsibilities 


Casual workers, including cleaners, education support staff, relief teachers and administrative staff, are essential to the running of schools. There are currently inadequate provisions for their job security.  

Thus, this sub-branch asks that the Department:

  • Hires all casual school staff on a permanent full-time or part-time basis, so they are able to access the same leave and benefits available to departmental employees during this crisis and beyond

And asks the Federal Government to:

  • Nationalise and fully fund all ECEC settings, employing all staff on a permanent full-time or part-time basis
  • Bring any private schools facing bankruptcy and closure into the public education system


This year will be severely disruptive for all students. They will need intensive, targeted face-to-face support on their return to school. This will make the ongoing need to reduce class sizes and increase teacher preparation time even more urgent. 

Therefore, this sub-branch asks that when schools fully reopen, the Department:

  • Reduces class sizes to a maximum of 20 students 

Reduces face-to-face teaching hours to 16 per week (to increase teacher planning time)

Link to GoogleDoc to download and adapt.

Petition to support Victorian teachers and education workers during COVID-19

We Call on the Victorian Government to Prioritise Care, Health and Education for All

As Victorian teachers and rank-and-file members of the Australian Education Union (AEU), we welcomed the Victorian Department of Education and Training announcements Tuesday the 7th of April 2020 regarding the shift to remote and flexible learning in schools in Term 2. There are many aspects of this policy that provide relief and reassurance. Yet, several issues still require urgent attention. 

We created this petition to galvanise community support for the conditions we require to continue our work, while AEU leadership continues to negotiate these with the State Government. These negotiations concern everyone as the agreements reached will have a major impact on the health and wellbeing of children, young people and their carers throughout the state. We also ask for your solidarity as fellow workers as we affirm our right to a safe workplace. 

With this petition, we seek to highlight the needs of workers in both schools and early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings, but we encourage you to also look to the United Workers Union statement of demands specific to ECEC. So far, the AEU has not released any comparable statement, which is partly why we are doing so today from our position as rank-and-file members. We encourage education workers in other states to use this document to inform their own struggles for safe and reasonable working conditions.


A pivotal moment for Victorian public school teachers

Victorian public school teachers have a significant opportunity before us – the AEU will be negotiating a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) this year.

AEU leadership have asked sub-branches to submit our Log of Claims so they know what we want them to fight for in the upcoming negotiations with the Department of Education. Above all, this is our chance to achieve the reduction in face-to-face teaching hours and class sizes that would make such a difference to the health and wellbeing of teachers and students alike. To be the kind of educators we want to be and support our students in the way they deserve, we need this workload reduction. We also want the EBA to achieve pay rises from the bottom up, protect the time and autonomy of teachers and education support workers, and put an end to NAPLAN.

To assist teachers in bringing these important issues to their sub-branch meetings, the MESEJ organising collective has put together a statement of recommendations for the Log of Claims, which includes a motion committing to industrial action in order to win gains in our priority areas. You’re welcome to download this document, send it to your co-workers and adapt it in any way required to address the particular issues of your workplace.  

Sub-branch submissions to the Log of Claims are due no later than the 27th of March, the last day of Term 1 (three weeks from today). Please send your completed Log of Claims to us at mesejforum@gmail.com to help us keep track of what other teachers are asking for. You’re welcome to contact us there for more information or to arrange a phone chat or meeting about your particular concerns.

MESEJ hits the news for its call for teachers to “fight like real unionists”

Article text (see below for link to article in The Australian):

A radical sub-branch of the Australian Education Union is threatening industrial action in the wake of a bruising federal election campaign, calling on members to “fight like real unionists” by drawing inspiration from legions of red-shirted, striking teachers across the US.

Melbourne Educators for Social and Environmental Justice, a division of the AEU’s Victorian branch that wants NAPLAN scrapped and an end to public funding for private schools, has urged the union to cease gambling on electoral solutions and lobbying strategies and “return to our real union strength: members taking industrial action to win our demands”.

While it is not known whether the group’s views are replicated more broadly in the union movement, its staunch opposition to NAPLAN — it claimed to have orchestrated a pre-election boycott of the test at a high-profile Melbourne school but was talked out of it by a union leader — was echoed at this week’s NSW Teachers Federation conference, where the national testing tool was described as a “fiasco”.

NSW Teachers Federation executive member Denis Fitzgerald welcomed last month’s surprise announcement by NSW, Victoria and Queensland of a review of NAPLAN, declaring that the union’s lobbying on the issue was “bearing fruit”.

However, MESEJ, which has more than 500 members, has hinted at tensions within the teachers’ union over its expensive campaign to have the Coalition booted from government, claiming that millions of dollars was spent on advertising, campaign vans, T-shirts and mail-outs “without anything to show for it”.

MESEJ has sought advice from prominent union figures in the US, where rolling strikes over wages, conditions as well as social causes, including the deportation of migrant students, have taken place over recent months. Teacher activists, including Brendan Muckian-Bates, who helped orchestrate the West Virginian strikes, will speak at an MESEJ forum later this month to assist local teachers “apply the (US) lessons to our struggle for public education in Australia”.

“With strong leadership, this frustration could fuel an industrial campaign for public education, taking on the tangled web of federal and state neoliberal education policies,” the group said in a statement to the Victorian AEU State Council meeting last month. “While we need to be politically prepared to challenge anti-strike laws, we can start with symbolic, galvanising local actions as the teachers in West Virginia and the red states did. They wore red shirts to show their commitment to the campaign, held protests at politicians’ offices, campaigned with street stalls … and finally they built up to indefinite strike action.”

According to MESEJ, which in addition to railing against NAPLAN wants greater control over the school curriculum, no more than 16 hours of classroom-facing time a week for each teacher and class sizes to be capped at 20, members should be willing to confront Australia’s anti-strike laws.

“Teachers and education workers are in an excellent position to exercise our right to strike,” it said. “We are hugely well connected and respected … and politically difficult to jail, threaten or intimidate.”

Both the AEU and the Victorian branch declined to comment and MESEJ spokeswoman Lucy Honan did not return calls.


Where to for “Fair Funding Now”?

This statement was brought to the June 2019 Victorian AEU State Council meeting for discussion by teacher representatives who are part of MESEJ.

The 2019 federal election

The election results are a blow for AEU members. $14 billion worth of public school funding, plus billions for TAFE and pre-schools were at stake. Our union was right to call to put Labor and Greens ahead of the Liberal government this election.

But, for the second federal election in a row, the political and financial costs of the AEU marginal seats campaign have not paid off.  Without anything to show for it, the Victorian branch spent millions of union dollars on radio, movie, billboard and digital advertising, on t-shirts, campaign vans, mail-outs, not to mention the time unionists committed to the campaign.

There was also a political cost. Union leaders talked a strong sub branch out of a boycott of NAPLAN a week before the election. What could have been a lightning rod for debate and even further action against the testing agenda was instead seen as off-message noise, competing with the election campaign.

The AEU didn’t articulate an opposition to the ‘school choice’ agenda, the poisonous heart of the inequality in Australian education, and even conceded the word ‘public’ at door knocks and polling booths, asking the electorate to vote ‘for education’. Now we are facing down another three years of a Federal government that is ideologically opposed to public education.

Mobilise and build industrial strength

We need to shift gears and return to our real union strength: members taking industrial action to win our demands.

Educators in public schools have every reason to fight. We are teaching with inadequate preparation time and no enforceable cap on class sizes. Even when we have time to think about what we take into the classroom, many of us are being asked to implement a tightly micro-managed curriculum. The standardization of curriculum driven by the testing agenda is alienating us from our students. We are publicly castigated for the increasing gap in educational outcomes between rich and poor students, whilst government funding and enrolment policies are responsible.

With strong leadership, this frustration could fuel an industrial campaign for public education, taking on the tangled web of Federal and State neo-liberal education policies. It has been fuelling such a campaign across the US since 2018, starting in the heart of Trump territory and spreading now across six states. Rank and file education workers have organized strike actions, gaining victories defending and increasing public education spending, fighting against deportations of migrant students, winning support services, wage rises and conditions. In the same spirit, 50,000 teachers in NZ went on strike this month.


To mobilise teachers for industrial action we need sharper demands and to fight for them inside and outside of Enterprise Bargaining periods. As a priority, we want:

• A maximum of 16 hours of classroom teaching per week

• A real cap on class sizes: 20 students in each class

• Control over our curriculum so that it can be rich and responsive to community needs, not driven by competition for NAPLAN scores

• A fully funded place at the local public school for every child; no more funding for private schools

• MySchool and NAPLAN must go

The right to strike

Importantly, we need to be willing to confront anti-strike laws. Under current legislation, we are not allowed to strike around class sizes, or conditions that will force the employer to employ more teachers! We are not allowed to strike to enforce EBAs even if the principal is flagrantly disregarding the agreement. The ban against NAPLAN the AEU planned in 2010 was ruled to be illegal industrial action, so the union backed down. These laws have been a shackle on the entire union movement for decades, but teachers and education workers are in an excellent position to exercise our right to strike; we are a hugely well connected and respected group of workers, and politically difficult to jail, threaten or intimidate.

Building strength

While we need to be politically prepared to challenge the anti-strike laws, we can start with symbolic, galvanizing local actions as the teachers in West Virginia and the red states did; organizing “walk-ins”, where teachers all walk in together at the start of the school day, a show of solidarity around a set of demands. They wore red shirts to show their commitment to the campaign, held protests at politicians offices, campaigned with street stalls, local meetings, network meetings, parents and community information sessions, and finally they built up to indefinite strike action using the rank and file networks they had developed, successfully staring down their own draconian anti-strike legislation.

In the wake of such a bruising election campaign we now have a responsibility to rebuild the rank and file confidence to lead a fight back ourselves, not gamble again on another electoral solution, or lobbying strategies. There is now nothing to lose but our class sizes and our data walls. We have a public education system to win.

AEU VIC councillors:  Lucy Honan, Chris Breen, Fiona Taylor, George Lilley, Mary Merkenich, Lachlan Marshall

Speak Out Against NAPLAN rally

DAY: Friday, 10 May 2019

TIME: 4.45pm

LOCATION: Steps of Victorian Parliament House, Spring St

Our demands:

-End NAPLAN testing
-Shut down MySchool website
-Fully fund public schools to provide a rich, challenging and supportive education for every student

Speakers include:

AEU state councillors and public school teachers
Prof. Marie Brennan – education academic and former teacher
Elizabeth Wheeler – parent withdrawing child from NAPLAN
Carl Campbell – student at Merri Creek Primary School

As the 2019 NAPLAN testing season begins, teachers, psychologists, academics, unions, parents, students and politicians continue to condemn NAPLAN for its devastating impact on our education system. The tests produce dangerously misleading data and have led to a narrow, mind-numbing curriculum and socially segregated, unequally funded schools. In the UK and New Zealand, Labor parties are taking a stand against the standardisation and testing agenda. But so far, in Australia. neither the Labor nor Liberal Party have committed to ending NAPLAN and the Victorian State Labor government continues to measure school performance using debunked NAPLAN results.

Join teachers, support staff, students, academics and parents to share your experiences and/or stand in solidarity and call for an immediate end to NAPLAN.

Bring sub branch union banners, your own placards, and wear union t-shirts.

Please click attending on the Facebook event and share it with your friends:

You can also oppose NAPLAN by:
-Withdrawing your child from NAPLAN and let your school, friends, and politicians know why
-Supporting teachers to speak out against it – in some circumstances this can be a risk to our jobs!
-Posting about this issue and use the hashtages #No2NAPLAN and #Yes2PublicEdFunding
-If you’re a teacher in any sector, signing this statement and share it with colleagues:

Organised by MESEJ – Melbourne Educators for Social and Environmental Justice

Contact Lucy or visit mesej.org for more information 0404728104

No to NAPLAN 2019 – support for AEU sub-branch teacher boycott

You may have heard that the Mount Alexander College (MAC) AEU sub-branch has resolved to refuse to administer NAPLAN in 2019. This bold resistance to the standardised testing agenda needs our solidarity.

The MAC sub-branch has asked for messages and motions of solidarity – the sooner the better! Individual messages of support are welcome, and if possible please follow it up with a sub-branch motion. Below is a model motion, with an optional additional clause to join MAC in boycotting NAPLAN! Send to: mesejforum@gmail.com and we will pass them on to MAC teachers.

“This sub-branch applauds the stand taken by the Mount Alexander College sub-branch in refusing to administer the NAPLAN test in 2019. We agree that NAPLAN tests are flawed measures of student achievement and the use of NAPLAN results to compare school performance on the MySchool website distracts from extremely unequal school funding. NAPLAN has led to the narrowing and standardisation of curriculum, which devalues teachers and damages student learning. This sub-branch pledges its solidarity with the MAC sub branch and calls on the AEU Victoria Branch Council to co-ordinate a state wide boycott of NAPLAN testing.”

(Optional: This sub-branch resolves to refuse to administer the NAPLAN test at this school in 2019. We resolve to engage the parent and carer community, students and other staff to seek their support. We call on other AEU sub-branches to join us in refusing to administer this test for the welfare and good education of our students.)

If you want to tweet your support, make sure to include @MESEJ_forum and @AEUVictoria in your tweet.

For your information, here is the MAC resolution to refuse to administer NAPLAN in 2019:

“The Mount Alexander College AEU sub-branch expresses its complete opposition to NAPLAN and similar standardised tests which are a legacy of a bygone era of factory style schools and categorising students. We note the stress and anxiety these tests cause, and how they have practically become a flawed measurement of school performance, with schools teaching to the test. We are proud our school does not teach to the test but offers subjects directly related to student interest and educates all students inclusively in relation to their needs, not an arbitrary standard. The time for NAPLAN is over. 

We resolve to refuse to administer the NAPLAN test at this school in 2019. We resolve to engage the parent and carer community, students and other staff to seek their support. We call on other AEU sub-branches to join us in refusing to administer this test for the welfare and good education of our students.”

Looking forward to reading your messages of support 🙂

Plibersek’s pledge to raise the teaching ATAR is nonsense

Our latest published education policy analysis looks at the federal Shadow Minister for Education, Tanya Plibersek’s proposal to raise the required marks for teaching degrees to the top 30% of school leavers. We argue that this is not just wrongheaded, but regressive, as it will shut out more people from diverse socio-economic, cultural and language backgrounds from the teaching profession. Sign up for a free trial at Crikey to read the finished piece, or read our draft here:

As Federal Shadow Minister for Education Tanya Plibersek dared universities to defy her plan to raise the required minimum Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) score for graduating high school students aspiring to become teachers, countless practicing teachers around the country shook our heads in disbelief and disgust over her disingenuous political posturing.

There is no way Plibersek could be under any illusion that there is a research basis to this policy. For someone apparently so committed to academic standards, she has not offered a shred of evidence that raising the required marks for teaching degrees to the top 30% of school leavers will actually improve the quality of teaching in schools. Moreover, when the Australian Council of Deans of Education respectfully explained that there is no such evidence, she refused to back down, hitting back with the school yard taunt “try me”.

Even more disappointing is that President of the Australian Education Union (AEU) Correna Haythorpe rushed in to give her public endorsement of Plibersek’s shameful policy. Teachers see straight through Labor’s adversarial blame game and are fed up with AEU leadership for failing to stand up for policies that genuinely support teachers and improve our education system.

The fixation on teacher quality as a solution to Australia’s declining results in international standardised tests – such the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) – is in itself wrongheaded. It overlooks strong evidence of the persistent link between students’ socio-economic status and performance on standardised tests. A 2017 report on Australia’s PISA results showed students from the highest quartile of socioeconomic background perform on average 3 year levels higher than students from the lowest quartile.

Thus, if Labor are so concerned about the declining test results of Australian school students, why don’t they turn their attention to developing policies that address the growing inequality in Australian society and socio-economic stratification in our school system?

Then, if they still want to talk about improving teacher quality, why not talk to teachers about what is holding us back from providing a first-class education for our students? Research has consistently found excessive workloads to be amongst the top reasons why so many teachers leave the profession after just a few years of practice. Insufficient funding is the main cause of staff and resource shortages in our schools, which lead to teachers being overburdened with administrative duties.

Trends towards an ever-increasing focus on standardised tests and punitive monitoring of teacher performance have also proven extremely demotivating for teachers. These trends devalue the proven importance of teacher-student relationships to learning and constrain us from using our professional judgement to devise targeted learning programs for our students.

Addressing the real, pressing issues of teachers would go a long way towards attracting the best possible candidates to teaching degrees. Yet, ironically, through policies that place undue emphasis on teacher “quality”, Labor politicians have been key instigators of teacher bashing in the media, tacitly licencing parents and students to treat teachers with disrespect. Is this how they expect to make teaching a more appealing career choice for talented graduates?

There is even more sad irony in the fact that this policy is based on a concept that both research and teacher experience tell us is false – that a person’s capacity to learn the skills required for teaching can be determined by their ATAR score. In fact, the specific academic skills imperfectly tested in high-stakes Year 12 exams are only a small part of a much broader skillset required for teaching.

It is the proper role of teacher educators, not politicians, to determine prospective students’ suitability to fulfill the requirements of a teaching degree. Most teacher training courses now require prospective students to complete a range of assessments as part of their selection process, from general intellectual aptitude and social capabilities tests to personal statements about their motivations for pursuing teaching as a profession.

While these measures may not be perfect, they better reflect the breadth of what it takes to be a teacher and the reality that the best teachers will often come to the profession after fulfilling careers in other industries, bringing with them the immeasurable benefits of varied life experiences.

The most disturbing aspect of Labor’s policy is that higher ATAR score requirements for teaching courses would reinforce the language and cultural bias of the education system. ATAR scores, as much as standardised test results, sort students according to class and cultural background. Thus, the people most likely to be shut out from the teaching profession are those with language backgrounds other than English and those who have experienced socio-economic disadvantage.

With much evidence to suggest that students learn better when their teachers come from a similar cultural background, it is sad to see Labor promoting a policy that will make it even harder to increase the cultural and linguistic diversity of the teaching profession.

Labor finds it easier to blame universities for their overenrolled teaching courses than to create policies that alleviate the pressures they now face from massive funding cuts. It prefers to blame teachers for declining test results rather than accept the real socio-economic reasons for this decline.  

It’s time for Labor to provide adequate funding to support disadvantaged students and look to build a teacher workforce that enables schools (and universities) to reflect the cultural diversity of the communities we serve. Teachers need the AEU to support us in holding Labor to account so we can achieve the best possible education system for our students.

MESEJ endorses Rank and File Educators as our preferred candidates in AEU Victoria election

Statement from Rank and File Educators


We want the voice of rank and file members heard.

As the attacks on public education and all workers escalate, we need a stronger AEU that is more willing to take collective action.


If elected (and even if not elected!) we will fight for an AEU that:

– Says “No” to NAPLAN, MySchool and all testing tools and educational fads that force us into competition for data.

– Is not afraid to take industrial action to win fair funding, equal pay, smaller classes and more preparation time. The future of public education depends on us winning and exercising our right to strike, and ensuring government funds go to public, not private systems.

– Fights for trust, respect, and control over school decisions for educators and support staff. Our union must stand up to principals and managers (including AEU principals) who bully and undermine union won conditions.

– Stands up against racism, sexism and homophobia in our schools and society. While the right is on the offensive against African students, Muslims, refugees and anti-bullying programs for LGBTI students, education unionists must act.

– Actively campaigns and engages with schools to achieve sufficient funding and policy reforms to make schools inclusive of all students, particularly Indigenous students who experience unacceptably high rates of school exclusion and incarceration