The Guardian February 23, 2000


Open season on class sizes, teacher numbers

by Peter Mac

Hard on the heels of its protracted dispute with the State's public 
servants, the South Australian Government has embarked on a campaign to 
dump state controls over teacher numbers and class sizes.

As revealed in a recent application made to the Industrial Relations 
Commission (IRC), the SA Government now wants to give responsibility for 
all matters affecting teachers' pay and conditions to local school boards, 
who would then design "staff profiles" within "global budgets" which would 
be set according to "staffing formulas".

Beware the euphemism! The implications for teachers are that overall 
uniformity of pay and conditions would be lost, with the emergence of poor 
schools and poor teachers an inevitable result. 

Even worse than that, however, are the implications for the whole state 
school system.

SA President of the Australian Education Union, John Gregory, has warned 
that the fragmentation of the system could set the stage for the eventual 
privatisation of the state school system in SA, and could serve as a 
precedent for similar action in other States.

Mr Gregory commented last week that the Government's application to the 
Commission proposes complete deregulation, and that is what makes it of 
national significance.

"What the Government is doing here is attempting to get a national award 
that completely deregulates class sizes and staff commitment to government 
education."

The Government application to the IRC is an outcome of application lodged 
by the AEU more than two years ago, for a log of claims which included a 
pay increase of 10 per cent for teachers, smaller class sizes and 
initiatives to retain teachers in country areas.

The pay rise was intended to bring SA teachers into line with teachers in 
other States. They are currently paid some $3,000 less than the national 
average.

In December last year, the IRC granted the teachers a four percent rise as 
an interim decision.

As it did with the State's public servants, the Government has used a 
variety of tactics to prolong the dispute. Its recent submission to the IRC 
is further evidence of this tactic, and of its willingness to "raise the 
stakes" in such disputes.

The IRC is set to hear the case this week, with a total hearing time of 27 
days. The indications are that education is now the number one area of 
public concern regarding the Government's performance, but it is not only 
the people of South Australia who will be watching the outcome of this very 
significant case.

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