The Federal Australian Education Union (AEU) held a National Symposium to highlight issues regarding NAPLAN and school rankings in Sydney on July 21.
At the meeting, held in association with national principal and parent organisations, teachers spoke of problems such as narrowing of curriculum resulting from the NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) test, as well as “naming and shaming” of schools in league tables.
Further state-wide principal conferences are to occur in coming months. These conferences are aimed so as to feed input to the ACARA (the minister’s advisory board) working party into NAPLAN as well as into a senate inquiry – now dissolved due to the Federal election.
However, the “professional issues” strategy of the AEU, claimed to be part of the ongoing campaign against league tables, falls far short of the proposed mass action during the abandoned moratorium on the conduct of the NAPLAN tests earlier this year.
The ACARA working party, for instance, while containing the leaders of both the public and private school teacher unions, is also chaired by Barry McGaw who heads the ACARA board, which developed the MySchool website. Two other working party members are part of the standardised testing lobby. Stuck in the middle are national parent and principal organisation representatives. Of special concern is the stated intention to expand information published on MySchool to include “growth” measures as well as satisfaction survey comments from fellow teachers, parents and even students.
At its recent 2010 annual conference, the NSW teacher union carried a resolution pledging to restart union action if school league tables are published later this year. However, as education unionists have come to realise in recent months, issues such as testing, curriculum and teacher credentialing are rapidly being shifted to a national agenda, away from the traditional state coverage.
This means union action must also take on a national outlook to achieve real success. The NAPLAN moratorium bans earlier this year would have been a historic first national action. The bans were called off at the national executive level of the AEU, nominally as the minister had agreed to the working party addressing “misuse of student performance data including simplistic league tables”. The threat of $6600 fines on teachers and principals – a legacy of Labor keeping such “Fair Work” rules from John Howard’s WorkChoices laws – had a significant role in the decision for union leaders in Victoria, South Australia and West Australia.
While affiliated state unions have regular state members meetings, at the AEU level there is no member level meeting until the annual conference in January 2011. Activists will need to address the need for more frequent national members meetings to mobilise collective strength and keep officials firm.
The testing agenda is part of a bigger programme of neo-liberal shifting of responsibility onto teachers, rather than governments addressing the real causes of poverty and disadvantage with adequate resources and teacher numbers.
Teacher activists can take heart from the address to the NSW Teachers Federation Annual Conference by Deputy-General Secretary of the United Kingdom National Union of Teachers. DGS Kevin Courtney stated, “We have banned SATS (national standardised tests) after 25 years…. You are right to start now, to destroy league tables before they grow”.
The President of the NSWTF has pledged that teachers will renew action if league tables are produced later this year using NAPLAN data. The meetings from now until then are an opportunity for teachers to discuss not just league tables but the fundamental problems with the NAPLAN test itself.
By John Morris