The Guardian June 20, 2001


Ramsey report gets it wrong NSW Education

The Ramsey report was released on November 29, 2000 by NSW Education 
Minister John Aquilina. Prepared by education specialist Dr Gregor Ramsey, 
it recommended over 50 changes to education in the State, including the 
dismantling of the current pay system, and major changes to the employment 
and ongoing professional development of teachers. It is the 21st such study 
commissioned since 1980, and has been heavily criticised by the NSW 
Teachers' Federation (Federation), and the Independent Education Union. 
Kelvin McQueen* takes a look at the Report.

The Ramsey report is the most Federation-unfriendly document since the 
Liberal Government's "Your School  Right to Choose" of the early 1990s.

Ramsey's report stretches its concerns far wider than just teacher 
training; he wants to take all serious professional input away from 
Federation.

Ramsey's report recommends a "professional" Institute of Teachers that is 
nothing more than an attempt to do away with Federation.

The terms of reference for Ramsey's review were put together by the 
Ministerial Advisory Committee on the Quality of Teaching Working Party.

In its obviously hectic six meetings, it surveyed Deans of Education, the 
Board of Studies, 30 beginning teachers in the Bathurst district, 30 
"experienced" teachers from government and non government schools, and some 
teacher educators.

At best, this was an extremely limited survey and, again, there was no 
direct Federation input.

The inclusion of non-government schools is interesting considering their 
parasitic benefit from fully publicly-funded teacher training (indeed, 
Ramsey calls private schools "free-riders" on the system).

In his report's acknowledgements, Ramsey mentions many, but no unions or 
their representatives.

Following the promulgation of the terms of reference, Ramsey's review was 
completed on November 29, 2000.

It was entitled "Quality Matters: Revitalising teaching: Critical times, 
critical choices".

In his covering letter, Ramsey notes two of his three key criteria were the 
questions, "How can the professional interests of teachers be advanced? How 
can the necessary changes be brought about?"

The title and these questions more or less say it all. Quality teaching is 
ill (otherwise, why would it need revitalising?), teachers are not 
"professional" enough, and some serious changes are necessary.

We've heard these things before, but that was under a NSW Liberal 
Government, no friend of teachers or the Federation.

And like the Liberal Government, the same central recommendation for the 
"revitalisation" of teaching is advanced by Ramsey: a "professional", non-
union Institute of Teachers.

Ramsey gives it straight: "Evidence gathered by the Review indicates a need 
for the Government to establish an organisation, the primary purpose of 
which should be to enhance the level of professionalism of teachers and 
teaching".

However, the professional association for teachers established 10 years ago 
by the NSW Liberal Government failed miserably.

It offered no rewards to teachers, excepting some claims about professional 
development which failed to materialise, and, apart from some departmental 
and academic goody-goodies, failed to attract more than a couple of hundred 
`professionals'.

It was rightly seen as an attack on teacher unionism.

Is Ramsey's proposed revival anything different? Ramsey cavalierly states 
that "there is no unified voice for teaching as a profession at the state 
level".

Hasn't he heard of the Teachers' Federation and its 60,000 members, over 90 
per cent of all teachers in NSW government schools?

But, of course, unions are an insidious force in education, according to 
Ramsey. He writes of "the need for a change from union and employer control 
to a greater level of professional authority".

I haven't seen much evidence of union control in teacher training, workload 
or curriculum issues lately.

Ramsey laments the dead hand of "union and employer control" on the same 
page where he calls for a government established (and de facto controlled) 
professional body for teachers!

It seems that for Ramsey, some dead hands are preferable to others. Indeed, 
Ramsey's recommendations show he certainly won't bite the dead hand that 
feeds him.

Yet Ramsey also writes of teaching as a "profession that has been largely 
disempowered". But what happened to that nasty, controlling union he 
pointed to? Or does he mean that its officials, all duly and mass-elected 
classroom teachers, are out of touch with those who elected them?

Well, then, let teachers elect others. This is far more empowering and 
accountable than anything a dictatorial department or shouting minister has 
offered. And certainly more democratic than Ramsey's largely appointed 
Institute of Teachers.

The sweetener in all this is that Ramsey's proposed accreditation and 
disaccreditation system, to be enforced by the Institute of Teachers, could 
offer "significant individual financial benefits" for accredited teachers.

This is apparently because they would be in more demand.

What it really does is fragment teachers into competing individuals (do I 
hear individual contracts?) as they jump through his three-stage competency 
hoops (and easier dismissal if a hoop is missed?), and removes 
accreditation from any semblance of workplace collegiality.

Ramsey even writes glowingly of "differentiated salaries" for teachers.

And for the privilege of having the Institute of Teachers determine your 
fitness to teach, teachers will be charged an annual fee of $150, with the 
employer and Federation charged an additional $350!

How's that for prisoners paying for their keepers!

The Ramsey report simply proposes what is, in fact, a parallel union in the 
form of his Institute of Teachers.

This is partly to marginalise Federation's input into teacher training, 
standards and workload, and partly to get around the problem of Aquilina's 
rejected Teacher Registration Bill 1998 which foundered on both 
Federation's and the private schools' objections to its laxness/rigour 
(respectively) in accrediting teachers in NSW.

What are the mechanics of this proposed Institute of Teachers?

It would comprise a "relatively large council", an "executive board" and 
"appointment rules" (for elections) to represent a "cross section of 
teachers with positions reserved for government and non-government schools, 
primary and secondary school leaders and teachers" and "early childhood, 
TAFE, indigenous, rural and isolated communities".

The structure proposed is a direct copy of the Federation's representative 
and decision-making bodies, and all Ramsey's identified groups, except non-
government schools, already have the ability to be represented in all 
Federation bodies and indigenous members are given advanced standing in all 
Federation decision making bodies.

Federation also has committees and policies on every aspect of teaching.

That, Dr Ramsey, is real professionalism.

The point is that the Federation, as the democratic voice of the 
overwhelming majority of teachers, should be the `professional' voice of 
teachers: making decisions about, or at the very least having significant 
and direct input into, training, workload, curriculum, assessment, ethics, 
collegiality, registration and all the other areas that not only impact on 
wages and conditions, but which impact on teaching quality, the ostensible 
issue under scrutiny in the Ramsey report.

* * *
* Kelvin McQueen is a casual teacher
and a member of Promotion Of Public Education (POPE). Acknowledgements: Education, journal of NSWTF.

Back to index page