Gillard budget 'F' for education
12th May 2011

In the following and on the Drum Opinion I argue that the Gillard federal budget fails in relation to education and that the ALP's history of delivering on educational promises is abysmal.

Kevin Ruddís slogan Ďeducation revolutioní has long since disappeared from the federal governmentís political lexicon and Julia Gillard no longer touts herself as the minister for education and productivity but itís clear that the ALP is refocussing on education in an attempt to salvage its political capital.

Evidence includes last nightís budget commitment of $1.7 billion to reform the nationís TAFE system, $22 million for apprentices, $222 million for school chaplains and $18.1 million for Teach Next.

In the week before the budget Prime Minister Gillard also announced a $1 million performance-based plan to reward successful teachers, argued that mothers on welfare should be compelled to return to school and, according to an AAP report detailing a speech give at given at a Canberra primary school, stated that education and training is a budget priority on the basis that ďthere is nothing more important to the nationís future that what is happening in schools todayĒ.

That Gillard is playing the education card should not surprise. In October last year, while overseas, the Prime Minister famously admitted that she had little interest in foreign affairs preferring, instead, to be in a classroom as education was the reason she entered parliament.

During her time as education minister, when she was responsible for implementing the Rudd Governmentís much vaunted education revolution, Gillard felt she was on safe ground and won media plaudits for forcing increased testing and accountability on schools, championing merit based pay for teachers and initiating plans for a national curriculum and school reporting framework.

Judged by the media reaction it appears that Gillardís strategy is working. One national newspaper last week commended Gillard for her ďlong standing commitment to educationĒ and very few, if any, in the Canberra media clique appear willing or able to offer any criticisms of Gillardís attempt to re-badge herself as an education Prime Minister.

Such a critique is long overdue. 

Budget initiatives like trying to increase the number of apprentices and tradesman by reforming the TAFE system and ignoring that fact that what we most need is a return to technical schools with a dedicated curriculum is a recipe for continued failure.

Spending $425 million to introduce a merit-based system to reward high-performing teachers might make for a good headline, but the reality is that it is also a flawed initiative that ignores the realities of classrooms and how schools best work.

There is also the reality that Gillardís record when education minister and the policies associated with the ALPís education revolution have done little to strengthen schools, raise standards, help students or ensure that teachers are better resourced and supported.

The Building the Education Revolution (BER) program has been costly, inefficient and wasteful as schools have been forced to accept off-the-shelf designs delivering over priced and, in may cases, useless buildings.

The promise to give every senior secondary student a computer and all schools access to high-speed, broadband internet access remains unfulfilled, as does the 2007 election promise to give every secondary school a trades centre.  No wonder last nightís budget accepted the inevitable and admitted that such initiatives are years away from being delivered.

The national curriculum, originally promised to be available to schools at the beginning of this year, will not be finalised until October, with the starting date put back to 2013.  Notwithstanding Gillardís late conversion to teaching the Bible and introducing students to the nationís Western heritage, itís also the case that the history and English curriculums are politically correct and new-age with a undue emphasis on sustainability, indigenous and Asian perspectives.

When education minister, Julia Gillard boasted that making test results and school data public on the My School website was one of her triumphs.  Itís here again, that the ALP governmentís rhetoric outstrips reality and instead of helping schools, the opposite is the case.

The over-emphasis on standardised national literary and numeracy tests associated with NAPLAN (otherwise known by teachers as NAPALM) is narrowing the curriculum by forcing schools to teach to the test and pressuring schools to adopt suspicious practices like refusing to allow all children to be involved.   Ranking schools is also leading to many schools being unfairly stigmatised as failures.

Such criticisms are in addition to the widely held view amongst test experts, both here and overseas, that the results of tests like NAPLAN are often unreliable and invalid.  Even the official body responsible for NAPLAN, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), warns against using the results to measure school and teacher performance.

No wonder the New York testing and accountability regime introduced by Joel Klein (who Gillard invited to Australia and lauded as an example that we must follow) has now been proven to be a flawed and wasteful exercise in political spin and populist sloganeering.

Teacher merit-based programs, one of the key policies in the budget and one that Gillard boasts as evidence of her new won passion for education, are also increasingly seen as impossible to implement and counter-productive.

Anyone who has taught will know that teaching, by its nature, is a collaborative affair and, while there are teachers who are more effective than others, it is difficult, if not impossible, to properly identify those for bonus payments.

I taught Year 12 for many years and achieved solid results but even I admitted that the reason my students did so well was because of the groundwork laid by teachers in Years 9, 10 and 11. There is also the danger of a performance pay process becoming so bureaucratic and time consuming that it takes valuable time away from the classroom.

For all Gillardís rhetoric and supposed passion about education, the reality is that her track record bears little scrutiny. Itís also the case that the Prime Minister and her compliant educrats are ignoring the issues that are most pressing for teachers and that are the greatest cause of falling standards and teachers leaving the profession.

Poorly behaved and disruptive students are issues that teachers consistently place at the top of the list when asked about what most concerns them.  Itís also true that many beginning teachers leave the profession after four to five years because of the dead and inflexible weight of the bureaucratic and time wasting processes associated with the ALPís education revolution they are being forced to endure.

Teachers no longer have the freedom and time to teach as hours and hours are spent every week preparing for tests and other accountability measures, fulfilling registration and certification requirements, undertaking irrelevant and faddish professional development programs and being made to implement the most recent dictate emanating from the Ministerís office.

Based on announcements and speeches since her return from the Royal Wedding, itís clear that Prime Minister Gillard knows she is facing political oblivion and that she has decided that one way to try and resurrect her governmentís political fortunes is to revisit her interest in education.

Last nightís budget initiatives and her governmentís record since being elected in 2007 prove that such a hope is illusory.

Kevin Donnelly is Director of Education Standards Institute and a former chief-of-staff to Minister Kevin Andrews.


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In the following and on the Drum Opinion I argue that the Gillard federal budget fails in relation to education and that the ALP's history of delivering on educational promises is abysmal.Kevin Rudd...
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