The Guardian July 24, 2002


NSW education:
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.

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