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


Call for Union Action – Teachers Say No To NAPLAN

Thanks to everyone who signed the “Say No to NAPLAN” statement. Our statement got plenty of media coverage during the week of NAPLAN, and state and federal ministers had to respond to our demands with increasing defensiveness. 

ABC: https://iview.abc.net.au/show/abc-news-vic/series/0/video/NU1802V116S00

Channel 9: https://www.facebook.com/9NewsMelbourne/videos/2019812934949024/

3AW radio: https://omny.fm/shows/mornings-with-neil-mitchell/teacher-wants-parents-to-pull-their-children-out-o

There is momentum building against NAPLAN, but both Labor and Liberal leaders have made it clear they plan to keep NAPLAN and MySchool, at best tinkering with it through a review, at worst replacing it with a more intensive testing regime, like Gonski’s proposed “tool”.

NAPLAN results start to be released in August. It is important that we escalate the campaign during this period, as political attention refocuses on the issue. We are calling on the branches of the AEU and IEU to mobilise members in a collective action during August/September to call for the end of NAPLAN and the MySchool website.

Already the Inner West region of Victorian branch of the AEU passed a resolution calling for this action, and more resolutions like this will help keep the issue alive amongst union members, and demonstrate to the leadership that there is strong rank and file support for union action around this issue.

Are you able to pass a motion like this one in your sub branch or regional meeting?

Motion for union action to stop NAPLAN and MySchool: 

“This meeting supports the call for AEU (or IEU) to mobilise members for an action during the release of NAPLAN results in August/ September 2018, to demand the end of NAPLAN and the MySchool website.”

Please let us know if you do pass this motion, so we can keep a track of how much support is building.

Email: mesejforum@gmail.com

Media Release – Teachers Say No To NAPLAN and MySchool

83 educators, including 57 primary and secondary teachers in Australian schools, have signed a statement calling on the Federal Government to “end NAPLAN” and “shut down the MySchool website”. Full statement is published here:


Their public criticism of education policy comes at the risk of reprimand from education departments for breaching public sector codes of conduct. The teachers are also encouraging parents to withdraw their children from NAPLAN as part of a campaign to end the NAPLAN testing regime.

Victorian secondary teacher and co-author of the statement Fiona Taylor says, “As teachers, we can see first-hand the disastrous impact of NAPLAN. Even state education ministers are now conceding it’s a faulty test, but they’re still not recognizing the real problem with NAPLAN. The entire approach of reducing students’ learning to standardised scores and enforcing competition between schools has poisoned our education system.”

Victorian primary teacher and co-author Ella Ryan says she is not hopeful that Gonski’s “Growth to Achievement” recommendations can correct the problems created by NAPLAN. “NAPLAN has driven a data obsession in education, and Gonski’s recommendations continue that. As a teacher, I want to encourage deep thinking and a love of learning. But instead, I’m caught in a system geared toward superficial data-chasing strategies, with the constant pressure to teach to tests.

“Teachers need trust and time so that we can meet the needs of our students at a human scale. We need to be respected as the people who can make nuanced assessments and useful interventions. Standardised tests should not be prioritised over that important work.”

The statement describes the way “(r)esources are diverted away from year levels, subjects and programs that are not considered to have a high impact on the data. The pressure to improve test scores also promotes a culture of teaching to the test and countless hours wasted on practice tests.”

Victorian secondary teacher George Lilley says that the impact of NAPLAN on students’ mental health is particularly troubling: “At our school, we have major problems with student anxiety and depression. These tests add to that anxiety and remove the time that teachers have to address individual student problems. Another compulsory standardized test won’t improve this and will probably add more stress.”

The statement also draws attention to the way inequality in education is cemented through NAPLAN test scores: “The MySchool website puts terrible pressure on parents to “shop” for the school with the best NAPLAN scores and avoid “bad” schools, while federal and state governments evade their responsibility to fully resource every public school to teach their local students. This market model of schooling means local diversity is no longer reflected in schools; instead students are increasingly segregated according to socio-economic status.”

Teachers Say No To NAPLAN – Sign our open letter

With the dreaded NAPLAN fast approaching, some teachers from MESEJ have written a sign on statement – an opportunity for teachers to say “no” to NAPLAN.

We invite you to read our statement and sign if you agree. You can select to only publish your name if more than 20, or more than 50, other teachers sign on as well, so you can be assured you will not be a lone voice.

There’s a lot of pressure building against NAPLAN this year from unions and state governments. But there’s nothing out there yet offering a teacher’s perspective on how fundamentally corrosive the NAPLAN regime has been in education.

If we get a good number of teachers signing on it could be a significant blow to NAPLAN/MySchool credibility, and help deepen the criticism, so that it’s not just about getting a better test, but getting rid of the test entirely. This statement could also prepare the ground for some other actions to stop the NAPLAN madness.

Please share this statement widely amongst your teacher friends so we can gain strength in numbers!