Vinson inquiry highlights teacher struggles
by Peter Mac Teachers have welcomed the early release of part of the Vinson Report into public education in NSW. The section released deals with student behaviour and confirms teacher concerns at rising rates of poor behaviour, reflecting social problems as well as shortcomings in the education system itself. The inquiry into public education is funded by the Parents and Citizens Association and by teachers through the Public Education Fund. (Details of submissions and hearings can be found on the NSW Teachers Federation website http://www.nswtf.org.au) The NSW Teachers Federation stated that, "It is no surprise that student behaviour is one of the dominant themes in the inquiry. . Most (young people) work well with others and make a positive contribution to their school. However, experienced teachers report an increased level of difficult behaviour. . The government has moved very slowly on this important issue." The Vinson report's initial recommendations call for a major increase in the number of places available to students with disruptive behaviour; streamlining the workload of school counselors; and a reduction in the size of early learning classes. The Teachers Federation commented: "Compelling research shows that children who have spent their first four years of school in small classes have better literacy and numeracy outcomes and achieve self-discipline earlier". The report has also highlighted the need for adequate remuneration for teachers and, by implication, for genuine support for public education in NSW. In this it differs radically from the approach advocated in Australia's Education Choices, a paper produced by the conservative think-tank, the Menzies Research Centre (MRC) paper clearly reflects the predominant view of the Howard Government, that public education should be downgraded and private education supported. The Federation commented that the MRC paper "is core liberal in its thinking. The release of this paper must be coupled with Federal Local Government Minister Wilson Tuckey's proposal that local councils be given responsibility for education. ".it is part of the mounting evidence that the Federal coalition . is confidently testing out the deregulation and destruction of public education." Students would receive an education, and teachers a remuneration, which corresponded to the wealth of the locality in which they lived. Poor area, poor education! As the Federation noted: "Teacher salary levels would be determined by supply and demand in different areas. Relative disadvantage based on low socio-economic status and/or geographical isolation would be perpetuated." Significantly, the conservative NSW Opposition has not ruled out putting the Menzies Research Centre's paper into effect. Indeed, this tendency has already been demonstrated at the federal level by the enormous growth in the funding of the wealthiest schools in Australia. The NSW Carr Labor Government also appears to be heading down this track. Its 2001 Grimshaw inquiry into the funding of private education produced what has been described as "a report to promote private education". The recommendations of the Grimshaw report, many of which have been implemented already, include the establishment of a "quality assurance" system (which will be used by private schools to argue for increased funding), and the establishment of a private schools council, (which will in effect act as a lobby group for private education). The Teachers Federation has welcomed the Government's decision to retain Marrickville and Dulwich Hill High Schools, but is under no illusions about the difficulties it faces in dealing with either of the two major parties as governments in NSW.