As The Greens education spokesperson I spoke in a Parliamentary debate on the Education and Teaching Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, you can either read my speech below or watch the video.
The bill amends three major pieces of legislation that govern schools and education in New South Wales—the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards Act 2013, the Education Act 1990, and the Teacher Accreditation Act 2004. While in many respects this legislation merely reflects the authority that already exists with the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards [BOSTES], it provides for the additional power of random inspections and is grounded in a governance and management theory model that, in our view, does not engender safe and settled learning environments.
I state at the outset that The Greens do not oppose the bill. There are a lot of positive things in the bill, but we are concerned about certain aspects of it and will propose amendments in the other place. The Greens understand that respectful relationships in learning environments are at the heart of positive student outcomes. In my capacity as the education spokesperson for The Greens, it has been communicated to me by a number of stakeholders and constituents that the attitude of the Minister in his media comments and in his second reading speech relating to random compliance audits—and that if schools are doing the wrong thing they should be very afraid—belie a deficit and fear-based view of learning environments that we reject. Having a regulator to ensure compliance and standards is expected because all students in this State deserve the best, their families expect the best, and teachers and educators want the best for their students.
Teachers and educators deserve to work in the best possible learning communities. However, a fear and punishment approach is completely at odds with the qualities that we know engender the best outcomes for school communities—trust, adequate resourcing, support and respect. We welcome the changes to the board because the current board has only two teachers on a board comprising 23 members and the new governance model allows for greater representation from stakeholders who work at the coalface of teaching and learning. The potential inclusion of parents, teachers and principals at the committee stage is also an improvement.
The NSW Education Standards Authority will remain a single independent statutory authority and will retain all the current functions of the Board of Studies, Teaching and Education Standards. The bill clarifies that a principle objective of the Education Standards Authority is to drive improvements in the standards of school education. This involves recommending improvements to schools and school systems and changes to government policy where necessary. A governing body will be established to provide leadership in improving standards of school education across the State and overseeing the performance of the authority. The governing board will be guided by an annual ministerial statement of expectation to ensure that the authority is clearly focused and delivers on its objectives.
The size of the governing board will be reduced from 23—to 12 to 14 members. The board will be comprised of members from across the different school sectors—Aboriginal education, the NSW Teachers Federation, the Independent Teachers Union, universities, vocational education, parents, early childhood education, special education, business and strategic advisory skills, and rural and remote representation. We welcome this change. The board will exercise its function through five decision-making regulatory committees. The committees will focus on teacher accreditation and registered professional learning, syllabus development and curriculum engagement, technical assessment issues, school registration and assessment, and initial teacher education accreditation. The existing Quality Teaching Council will be replaced.
The bill aims to reduce the regulatory burden associated with the registration of schools on the authority and schools. The registration process will focus on the quality of learning rather than on the existing administrative or process-driven approach to compliance. The authority will be able to undertake random and risk-based audits and unannounced inspections. The government system will also be subject to random and risk-based audits and spot checks by the authority in the same way as non-government schools and non-government systems are. The new power of the authority to conduct random, risk-based audits and spot checks will also apply to quality assurance arrangements with teacher accreditation authorities.
I will not go through the amendments to the three pieces of legislation because the Minister made a detailed second reading speech. I will now discuss the areas that The Greens believe should be looked at again. It is the position of The Greens that new section 14 (2A) must be amended to allow for procedural fairness. We will be seeking amendments in the other place to insert a requirement that at least five days notice be given before the authority inspects a premises and that the nature of the non-compliance be identified to enable a person or body to suitably prepare. We understand, however, that in cases of genuine urgency where the authority would be remiss in its duty to protect children and young people, or to respond to serious matters where time is of the essence that the authority should be able to do so. We do not think that random compliance checks for non-urgent matters will engender improvements in learning settings. In fact, it has the potential to set up a bullying and fear-based culture in schools and learning settings, which was foreshadowed by my colleague.
For example, if we wanted to embrace the Minister's governance and management model for schools, which is at odds with evidence-based research on the kinds of learning environments in which teachers and students thrive, how does this sit with the management of employees in any other sector? Imagine if I walked into my electoral office and randomly conducted a performance review of my staff and did not tell them what it would be for or what aspect of their incredibly diverse job description I would be reviewing. They would get no notice and no time to prepare. I can assure members that the Parliament would have something to say to me about administrative principles of due notice, reasonable notice, procedural fairness and plain old poor management. Why then is the Minister not applying basic management principles of due notice and procedural fairness to one of the most diverse working environments in the State? Would a random audit of my staff give me a cohesive and complete picture of their work? Would my random inspection engender a spirit of professional trust and collegiality? I think not.
Analysts suggest that the new section 14 (2A) is modelled on the United Kingdom's version of our Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards [BOSTES]—the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills [OFSTED], which is the inspection authority in the United Kingdom [UK]. The provision in the United Kingdom legislation was drafted in 2012 in direct response to an allegation that a nest of terrorists had infiltrated an English school, which OFSTED argued it could not investigate properly if it had to give the school notice of an inspection. The law was changed in the United Kingdom to allow that. I do not propose to go into why OFSTED and not a counterterrorism unit might be the appropriate authority to investigate, but suffice to say that there was no finding of terrorist activities in the school, but rather a very poor and disadvantaged school community.
OFSTED kept the no notice provision until 2005, but amended it after significant professional and community backlash. Under the current UK legislation, schools are usually notified at around midday on the working day prior to the start of a routine school inspection. Schools previously rated inadequate for behaviour may be subject to no notice inspections, as may schools about which there are significant concerns. If the Minister is looking towards the UK for precedence then this may assist his thinking around the blanket no notice provision. The Greens urge the Minister to amend section 14 (2) and allow for serious matters to be inspected without notice, but allow due process for non-urgent matters.
I am sure none of us wants to see a culture of bullying in learning communities, and if we are not careful this model may engender just that. When the Teacher Assessment and Review Schedule [TARS] was introduced in New South Wales there were many overzealous supervisors who used it to place unprofessional and unreasonable demands on subordinates. Even though the department made it very clear in the wording of the review process that TARS was not intended to be used in a punitive fashion, it had that potential, and it did happen. What potential is there, then, for the notion of random compliance checks being used as a bullying tactic? We will need to carefully monitor this if the no notice provision prevails.
I will finish on the morale of students, teachers and parents within a learning community when deficit‑ and fear-based models are applied to teaching and learning. What sort of demeanour do you want the teacher of your child to have? Does this model engender safe, settled learning environments? Respectful relationships are a prerequisite for that kind of learning environment and we encourage the Minister to look at a whole school as the sum of its parts, and do everything he can to support respectful relationships and professional trust.