Opinion: Piccoli’s Legacy – Not All Bouquets

by John Frew10 Mar 2017


Much has been reported regarding the legacy Adrian Piccoli left after his time as Minister of Education in NSW.  The overwhelming response has been positive and rarely has a Minister had such visible support.  

However, analysis of these favorable reviews shows they predominantly come from elite sectors of the education community. Although he has universal support for his defense of the Gonski Reforms not all of the community has basked in the glow from his reforms.  

Those who have had to implement the changes made during his reign are not so positive about his legacy.  

Throughout his tenure teachers and school executives had seen their already busy workload increase exponentially.  This increase occurred with no growth in school-based support and a huge reduction of middle management support.  

During his time reports on the decline in the mental health of principals was reported widely and any school-based practitioner understands the same mental health concerns are equally justifiable for all teaching staff especially Deputy Principals.  

These reports make a clear case for the minister’s failure to comply with work, health and safety legislation and make schools a safe place to work.  

To compound the problem of increased workload, the tasks that have been regulated are seen at school level as being just extreme ‘busy work’ that, despite the claims of these experts they have no positive impact in the classroom.  

The busy tasks including standardized testing, compliance training, formulated management planning, formulated professional development plans and meeting external benchmarks are all externally validated based on the ‘evidence’ each school member must collect.  

All this control is done under the banner Local Schools - Local Decisions, the Minister’s mantra he was giving the schools ‘freedom to make their own decisions’. 

This extra work has been compounded by new administration tasks which are now to be carried out using pathetic, unfriendly computer software that rarely works first time and has cost the system unbelievable amounts of wasted money.  

The Minister has confessed to spending over $800m, an amount that would increase to a frightening level if the cost of training and dealing with the resulting mental health issues were included through the introduction of the Learning Management and Business Reform. This system is still not up and running across the state and continues to drive schools to despair. 

The real damage done through Piccoli’s reign is the constant mantra “in future we would have quality teachers”.  

Through this statement he has put on record current teaching staff are not quality; there is no other way to interpret his announcements.  This has led to the public’s perception that the teachers have not been ‘good enough’, a view reinforced by the tabloid journalists.  As a result the public abuse of teachers and school executive is at levels never seen before is somehow sanctioned.  

Not only are the teachers not ‘good enough’ they can’t be trusted and as a result they must continually be monitored to prove they are doing as they are told.  Now a teacher spends a significant amount of their time filling in forms, providing ‘evidence’ and attending prescribed hours of training.  

Satisfying these compliance tasks results in a significant amount additional hours of work. These hours have been at the expense of them being in front of their own class. 

These new initiatives appeal to those who have lauded Piccoli’s influence, they are those who work outside schools.  The ex-Minister’s error has been to listen to his ‘experts’ who have created small kingdoms within the bureaucracy or more insidiously in NESA, formally BOSTES, formally BOS.  

These kingdoms have consolidated power through creating change.  They work independently and evaluate their worth by the volume of changes they can make and the amount of work they can create for schools.  There is no real collaboration or consideration of how and when each dominion unloads their latest idea on schools. 

The problems for teachers and schools outlined above are not the makings of Adrian Piccoli but as Minister he has the responsibility.  Like all Ministers before him in both the state and federal jurisdictions he has fallen in love with the idea of being a great education reformer.  

We all remember Prime Minister, Gillard, who credits her work in education as her most important achievement but her legacy is the My School Website, a place no one looks and NAPLAN Testing that no serious educating practitioner takes any notice of.
  
These superfluous programs are still running and take millions out of the education budget and into the pockets of ‘private providers’.  Educational testing is big business. However, where ever a Minister goes they reassured that they are making a difference. Few have the courage to communicate they have ‘no clothes’!  

So I am not confident the new Minister will be able to resist being seduced by the importance of the position and the admiration of the kings of the castles.  It is not the practice to criticize how things look.  

But I suggest the new Minister would be wise to purchase a mirror and check out his own clothes!

 

 

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