The Future for Our Schools

  • 27 August 2015

Across Australia our respective branches are involved in the many challenges confronting state Education more now than at any other time in the last two decades.  Some of those challenges are system driven by either a state or federal Government policy initiative, or they are school based driven by poor decision making be either the Department or a School Principal.  Irrespective of the source, the subsequent impact these changes are having on our members and their communities are influencing the future for our schools.  On review of the various state campaigns, similar themes have emerged that transcend state borders.  Those themes can be categorised as: Devolution of functions from a central agency down to individual schools; Inadequate funding models that impact on resources available at a school and on staffing; De-professionalisation of the student support roles: i.e. - psychologists, speech pathologists; Representative structures for staff who are not teachers and the impact/ability to have non teaching issues raised; and Specifically in Victoria, the recent impact of the IBAC corruption inquiry into a schooling financial system, known as ‘Banker Schools’. 

Whatever the challenges, they are having significant impacts on members, both personally and professionally.   These themes are applicable in all states and sharing what the impact is and how we collectively respond is part of my Federal role. 


In Tasmania, the new Government has frozen school funding to 2012 levels, meaning a real cut to school budgets.

Similarly the WA Barnett Government has announced major budget cuts across all schools in WA, potentially impacting on 1,000’s of jobs.

Victoria’s new Labor Government has committed to 4 years of the Gonski funding model and has set up an inquiry chaired by former Premier, Steve Bracks, to ascertain workforce needs for the outer 5 and 6 years.

Part of the funding issues in the States is predicated on the reduction on State Tax take and these issues will be further exacerbated when the impact of the Federal Governments Abbott multi-billion dollar funding cuts to the state education budgets come into effect.

The reality on the ground for schools’ members sees industrial matters becoming more complex as a budget constraint often overlays the decision. 

Victoria, NSW, Tas and WA are all at various stages of function devolution from central departments down to schools.  Yet the classification for school based staff do not reflect this changing level of work value, resulting in SSO’s/ESO’s (however defined) doing complex budgetary administrative work at the SSO rate not the PS equivalent rate.  This sees work value and pay equity arguments emerging.  NSW is doing preparatory work for a work value case and is looking at the Pay Equity principles to bolster the basis of the claim.  Workload issues are also exacerbated by this model and as a result many industrial matters of an individual manner emerge.  Be they, stress, under performance, bullying, as schools try to cope.  Classification of employment from full time to part time, or school year funding for employment, has been attempted by schools.  Denial of entitlements, paid training for professional development, back filling of positions, compassionate leave, return P/T from parental leave.  Some schools have been pushing for SSO’s to undertake student supervision in breaks.  Victoria has run and won a number of cases and successfully prevented it being applied to SSO’s/ESO’s.  Many States reported horrendous work load issues being raised and more and more functions are devolved to schools with no additional funding placing greater workload pressures on school based staff.  Early indication in some states show that the role-out of the NDIS may also have an impact greater than mental health, as it is yet to be determined how the Bilateral States and Federal Government funding agreements, for the rollout of NDIS, will interact with student support programs aimed at support students with intellectual disabilities to access mainstream education.

Governments consistently try to narrow the funding models applicable to programs like education, by allocating funds solely to the capital works budget or to a component of education, such as teachers or principles, meaning that the vital support roles are starved of adequate funding.  In turn, this further exacerbates the fragmentation of program deliverables.  A more progressive funding model would involve the concept of matrix funding.  This model acknowledges that education policy and programs are delivered by many people, each contributing to the development of the children in their case.  Governments that adopt a compartmentalised approach to budgetary allocations undermine their education objectives by short changing allied health professionals, lab techs, librarians and administrative support that keep the school community functioning. 

School Support Staff across Australia have more in common with each other and it was time their voices were heard.  Becoming unionised and active in CPSU/PSA is the beginning of the campaign to be counted and to have your voices heard by Governments.

Thank you for the invitation to speak and I have been the Victorian Branch Secretary since 1993 (I started in the same year as your PSA State Secretary Jan McMahon) and I was elected as Federal Secretary in 2012, a job I have held concurrently since. 

Federal Secretary