Making Up for Lost Time


Rod Chadbourne




The year long 1995 industrial dispute between the WA Education Department and Teachers Union brought the government's extensive reform agenda to a standstill. During 1996, implementation of the coalition's 'program of improvement' gradually began to gather pace. By July 1997, it had changed into top gear. The following brief notes list a few of the developments currently underway.

System and School Development

In June, Education Minister Colin Barnett released a draft of the new Education Act, destined to replace the 1927 Act. Changes proposed under the new Act include greater powers for school councils, recognition of home schooling, restrictions on school sponsorship and the prohibition of corporal punishment. Also, parents face fines of $2,500 if they allow their children to miss school regularly.

The 1987 restructuring of WA's education system saw 9 education regions replaced with 29 school districts. Under changes announced in June 1997, the 29 districts will be restructured and reduced in number to 16; by September the 29 District Superintendents will be replaced by 21 District Directors. The new district offices will manage "local area education planning", which means having the power to sell off `excess' school land, close schools, amalgamate schools and create hub schools.

This year, over 60 schools have opted into a scheme which allows them to fill vacant staff positions via local selection, a process which is currently voluntary but in the near future looks like becoming mandatory.

Teacher Development

By December, 300 teachers will have been promoted to a new Level 3 teaching position and receive an annual salary of $51,000. The selection process for this new career structure has been contracted out to a consortium of Murdoch University academics and private HR consultants.

The 1996 Government School Teachers Enterprise Agreement contained clauses to phase in performance management (annual appraisal cycles) and 15 hours of PD outside of school hours for all teachers. Both clauses have been implemented this year.

In another development, moves are afoot to establish a $1.5 million Centre for Professional Excellence in Education. According to a discussion paper, the overall purpose of the centre is to enhance the status of teachers by supporting excellence in teaching, strengthening professional teacher associations and developing a positive view of teaching in the community.

Curriculum Development

At the (in)famous July 1993 meeting of the Australian Education Council in Perth, the conservative states 'rebuffed' the Commonwealth's attempt to implement national curriculum statements and profiles. However, WA continued work on the national curriculum under the guise of an approach called Student Outcomes Statements. That work came to fruition in July 1997 when Education Minister Colin Barnett released WA's new 300 page draft Curriculum Framework. This document outlines the objectives that students from K-12 are expected to achieve in 8 core subjects. After a period of community consultation and PD for teachers, the Curriculum Framework will be implemented, under the watchful eye of the newly established WA Curriculum Council.

Industrial Relations Development

Most of the 1997 reforms have been initiated by the Education Department. A few of them have met with a cool response from the Teachers Union which has been active in promoting some reforms of its own. For instance, the June edition of The Western Teacher reported a Teachers Union State Council resolution, 'That unless the Government commits to a four-year plan agreed to by the union by September 30, 1997, Executive directs all members not to accept schools class sizes over 28' At present the maximum class size is 32 except in Years 11 and 12 where it is 25. Another resolution was, 'That the union match the Independent Education Union NSW/ACT Salaries Agreement of $55,518 for top-of-the-scale teachers, which represents a 22.04% increase'.

Clearly, it is not only the Department that is trying to make up for lost time (and money).

Rod Chadbourne, Department of Education Policy and Administrative Studies, Edith Cowan University.

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