Australian teachers boycott SATS-type tests

Submitted by martin on 13 April, 2010 - 9:30 Author: Martin Thomas

Australian state school teachers will ban SATS-type tests due to take place on 11-13 May. The federal state school teachers' union, the Australian Education Union, voted on 12 April that it would block the tests "until the federal government stops the results being used to publicly brand students and schools as failures in league tables".

The action will be carried out by the various state teachers' unions affiliated with the federal AEU. The Queensland Teachers' Union, for example, has told its members:

"All action associated with the administration of the 2010 NAPLAN tests should be suspended. The tests when delivered should remain unopened and be returned. Where attempts are made to administer the tests, teachers should refuse to administer the tests.

"In the event that the government attempts to use outside employees or volunteers to administer the tests, teachers and principals should not participate in any way with the recruitment of these people, should not cooperate with the use of school premises for the purposes of administering the tests, and should not cooperate in any way with the administration of the tests, including supervision of students or delivering of students to test sites".

The Labor government's education minister, Julia Gillard, called on parents to break the teachers' union action. Dianne Giblin, president of the Federation of Parents' and Citizens' Associations of New South Wales, responded: "The federation is appalled with the decision by Julia Gillard, or the suggestion at least, for parents to supervise the literacy and numeracy tests".

Literacy and numeracy tests have been done in primary schools for some years, and used for diagnostic purposes, but without lots of "teaching to the test" or publishing of school averages. The new Labor government introduced uniform Australia-wide tests, extended them to years 3, 5, 7, and 9, and published school average results on a website called "My School".

"My School" is supposed not to give "league tables", but only to allow comparisons between individual schools, a category of "similar" schools, and overall averages (see, for example, http://bit.ly/indro).

However, the definition of "similar" schools is very dubious, and data extracted from "My School" has been used "unofficially" to construct full-scale British-style league tables.

The federal union of private school teachers shares the AEU's criticisms of league-tabling, but says it will administer the NAPLAN tests. Private schools are big in Australia, with about 30% of primary students and about 40% of high-school students; but the state-school teachers' unions are strong enough to make league-tabling unworkable. Although in Britain teachers are divided between several trade unions, some opposed to almost any industrial action, state-school teachers in Australia are heavily organised into a single union.

They should get the full support of other unions in Australia, not the hedged response of ACTU president Sharan Burrow, herself a former teacher trade-unionist.

Comments

Submitted by martin on Tue, 20/04/2010 - 10:06

On 20 April the Queensland Teachers' Union issued the following statement:

The Queensland Industrial Relations Commission today issued a direction that the QTU lift its moratorium on delivering this year’s NAPLAN tests. The QTU has yet to consider the statement issued and its response.
QTU President Steve Ryan said the QTU’s Executive, in consultation with members, would consider a wide range of campaign activities over the next week, including targeting Queensland Federal MPs’ offices in public protests and setting up a prototype alternative website to give parents real and valuable information about schools.

Martin Thomas

Submitted by martin on Thu, 06/05/2010 - 07:55

On 6 May the teachers' union announced that the boycott had been called off because of concessions from the federal government. At first sight the concessions look limp and inadequate.

Thursday 6 May 2010
Teachers win place at table: NAPLAN moratorium lifted
Agreement has been reached between the Australian Education Union (AEU) and the Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard on a process to improve the My School website.
This process involves the establishment of a working party under the auspices of ACARA (Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority) as requested by the AEU last week.
Queensland Teachers’ Union President Steve Ryan said union representation through the AEU on this working party was guaranteed.
“The Deputy Prime Minister has finally acknowledged that the teaching profession, through its union representation, deserves a strong voice on issues with profound impact on education in this country – that’s the breakthrough we have been waiting for in this campaign,” Mr Ryan said.
Mr Ryan said that following extensive negotiations, and after continued pressure from the national teachers’ campaign, the Deputy Prime Minister last night wrote to the AEU proposing that ACARA establish the working party – including AEU involvement – to find ways to improve the My School website, and develop protections against the misuse of student performance data, including simplistic league tables.
“This proposal is a significant shift in the position of the Deputy Prime Minister and has only been achieved by the strong commitment of teacher union members to this campaign, in particular the strong resolve shown by our principal members,” Mr Ryan said.
“State school teachers and principals across Australia have demonstrated that they are ready and wiling to take action to protect their students and schools. This campaign has never been about ‘accountability’ and ‘transparency’ – it has always been about preventing political expediency from damaging education.
“QTU members have appreciated the ongoing support from principal associations and parents groups, which has been a critical element in our success.”
The QTU understands that most schools will proceed with the NAPLAN tests as scheduled on 11-13 May 2010, and is continuing negotiations with the State Government to allow extra time for those schools which require it.

Martin Thomas

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