The review into the nature of the teaching profession has been dense and sorely needed. Below we have done our best to summarise some of the key takeaways from Denis Fitzgerald’s public hearings on the morning of day two. Denis Fitzgerald has a long, distinguished and admirable career in education. His background is in English and History teaching, primarily in disadvantaged areas of NSW. He was a foundation member of the NSW Board of Secondary Education, the NSW Board of Studies, a past President of the NSW Teacher’s Federation and many more relevant roles in education.
1. Cuts to Support during Assessment and Curriculum Changes
Fitzgerald echoed some of the main lessons that came from Angelo Gavrielatos’ public hearings, namely that the ‘Local Schools, Local Decisions’ policy was a subtle way to cut funding to the support programs of students. His own experience in the Equity Strategy Unit – designed to support targeted schools with anti-racism, gender equality, multiculturalism and similar programs – made this clear. As head of the Unit, Fitzgerald oversaw 160 staff who became were disbanded with the policy cuts. Similar support units and programs were casualties of these cuts. These funding cuts increasingly pushed administration from department bodies down onto principals, executives and teachers. An example of this is seen in the shift from the Year 10 Certificate to the Record of School Achievement (ROSA).
From Year 10 Certificate to the RoSA
Fitzgerald highlighted the growing role of schools, like Gavrielatos highlighted, as being at the ‘centre of the community’. Teachers are extremely hard-working and take pride in this role. However, big changes to assessment and policy can have mixed results. Below we’ve summarised and expanded on some of the pros and cons that Fitzgerald highlighted. For a more personal look and deep dive into some of the statistics, read Natassia Chrysanthos’ great article on, ‘How raising the school-leaver’s age transformed NSW schools.’
- The Year 10 Certificate was a barrier to higher education for students.
- It was also extremely costly for the state to administer.
- More reluctant students, who traditionally would leave school (in the past as young as 14 years old) for apprenticeships, would not be forced to stay in school. This also lowered the youth unemployment rate.
- Collaboration between TAFEs increased and new courses perhaps suited to a wider range of students were developed.
The Revolving Door of Syllabuses - Reviews abound, but no end to change in sight
The increase in VET courses has not been the only change to syllabus rollouts since the last inquiry. Fitzgerald highlighted that syllabus changes have been frequent, often lacking proper consultation with teachers and poorly supported. In fact he quoted the following statistics:
- 47% of Secondary Head Teachers said curriculum support had decreased
- 55% of Primary school Assistant Principals said so too.
- 62% of Secondary Principals said the same thing.
Less than 20% of these educators surveyed said support had increased. The remaining said it had stayed the same. Fitzgerald also pointed out that similar numbers were seen with regards to behaviour management support. Covid-19 also revealed the limitations of online delivery of the curriculum as many teachers will attest to the need for technical, face-to-face and responsive teaching of the content for student understanding. We have seen already many articles highlighting the challenges parents faced supporting their child’s learning from home accompanied by online delivery.
Fitzgerald pointed out from the start of the hearing that “the curriculum has become more intense, more inclusive and of a higher standard and for every student” since the last inquiry. These are steps in the right direction, but challenging without support in transition. One of the next key takeaways was also foreshadowed in his opening points about the growing expectation on teachers that depend on and make up a “rich, deep curriculum experience.” The curriculum changes have reflected the “increased aspirations of parents, increased social pressures, significant political demands of the profession, the changed society and economy.”
2. Teachers Expected to be Content Experts, Councillors and Everything in Between
The growing tension between the home and school is evident with a quick Google search of teacher + parent memes. Fitzgerald highlighted that as funding is reduced for institutions that support the home, teachers are increasingly expected to take on almost parental responsibilities. He noted that teachers are increasingly thrust into being “first responders” for students. Meanwhile, political announcements put pressure on schools to cover “anxiety to pet safety and everything in between.” Since the Public Sector Management Act has allowed any senior official to be sacked for “any or no reason” the department can interrogate school management plans to ask if they are managing student depression through to road safety.
Panel interviewee, Hon Dr Tricia Kavanagh, raised the question, “is this not a failure of management?” This was in response to her own summary that teachers have said 80% of their work has to do with teaching and education, the remaining 20% is trying to pick up these other duties like data analysis and those Fitzgerald mentioned above. She emphasised, “90% of teachers said they couldn’t manage this workload.”
Past NSWTF President, Maurie Mulheron, foreshadows some of the concerns of the Local Schools, Local Decisions policy in 2012.
3. Management Culture of Control, Accountability and Constant Revolution
Fitzgerald highlighted various concerning trends that have created a poor managerial culture within the Department of Education. “Increasingly it manages upwards. It manages in terms of the government interests, rather than downwards, supporting the teaching profession,” Fitzgerald noted. While the support has gone, Fitzgerald repeatedly declared that “the work has not gone away, the push has gone down to schools.” In more dire and worrying terms he added, “the state has abandoned the teaching profession and left with the assumption that schools and staff have the social capital to fill the void.” Fundamentally the managerial philosophy was stated to be in opposition to educational reality as it assumed that “all schools have equal social capital.” The politicisation and lack of trust in educators as professionals is clear by the list of issues he raised:
- Many of the highest positions within the department have been given to people who have no experience or background in education.
- Prior to and during Covid-19, the department has turned to the media to release policy changes and updates before even consulting the professional education bodies and teachers. This was even evident recently with the behaviour management strategy.