Rank-and-file action wins on class sizes

Teachers at a high school in Melbourne’s North West won a victory against our principal’s penny-pinching plan to over-fill classes.

After months of excuses for crowding more kids per class than the agreed 25 (“there’s no money for more teachers and no room for more classes”, and “there is no legal limit to class sizes”) last week the principal announced plans for extra classes at years 8 and 9 to spread the students across more teachers.

As rank-and-file union members, we had to fight not just the school principal, but also our union officials, who did more to support the boss than they did to support us!

The president of the Australian Education Union consulted with our principal over the issue, but not the sub branch. The organisers refused to start the grievance process, and they refused to sign our statement calling for the school to keep classes to 25. This obviously boosted our boss’s confidence—after these disappointing betrayals from the union the principal told us there would be “no difference” to the planning process for classes in 2015.

So we had to take things into our own hands. The principal’s tune changed after 55 union members signed a statement saying unless we saw a shift we would stage a public “walk-in”, where teachers and support staff would meet at the gates at the start of the school day, distributing information about class sizes to parents and students, and then all walk in together.

Suddenly the school administration has found the will, the money and the space to plan the right sized classes.

We still need assurances about class sizes for year 7 in 2015, and we need to make sure the extra classes don’t become overcrowded as well. But now we’ve got a winning strategy: not waiting for the union officials, but being prepared to take collective, public action can win!


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