LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Birth pangs

I am a Retired member writing in reply to Fred Rainger (“Gender history”, Letters, December 7, 2015).

I went on maternity leave at the end of 1971 (note: much more than 20 years ago). There was no pressure to resign. There were, however, comments from the deputy principal about staff having to “carry” women who became pregnant. I had up to that time only taken one day’s sick leave and didn’t think the Deputy’s comment was appropriate.

You were only entitled to six weeks’ paid maternity leave for the period before the baby was born. You had to go back to work in order to be paid. Because my daughter came early I only received five weeks’ pay when I returned to teaching in 1973.

There were other things I didn’t like: you could not do any casual teaching while on leave; you had no right of return to your school; not only was I sent to a different school but I had to teach a different subject; before going on leave I was sent to another school to cover the sick leave of a teacher at that school.

After this experience I resigned the next time I became pregnant with the intention of afterwards taking up casual teaching part-time (which I did for seven years).

Because I resigned I was kicked out of the State Superannuation Fund, my contributions were not rolled over and I was not allowed into the State Superannuation Fund in 1983 when I returned to fill a permanent position.

That was by far the worst treatment of female teachers. I actually worked until after the age of 65 to save sufficient superannuation, which is in no way near the pension received by permanent teachers who commenced teaching in 1970.

Dianne Young
Retired

Going in different directions with sex education

I would like to add to Dr Van Davy’s comments (“Social Cohesion It Is Not”, Letters, December 7). It is common for children to attend school from the ages of 4-18 within the confines of their own belief, and I would like to give an example of the effect this is having.

I am gay and, having no children of my own, have taken on the responsibility of looking after a young man and his nephew, refugees from Rwanda. The young man knows I am gay but his nephew, who I will call “Jeremiah” in this letter, doesn’t as yet.

Jeremiah attended a Seventh Day Adventist private school for some time, funded by someone else in his church. When Jeremiah was having sex education around 2012, he brought his textbooks home and I was alarmed to note from the textbooks that his school teaches that homosexuality is bad. The textbooks referred to gays by expressions such as “gender confused”. Last year, Jeremiah hotly expressed his disapproval of same sex couples, saying that the government shouldn’t encourage such people.

I can only imagine what would be taught in sex education classes in Catholic schools, Anglican schools, Islamic schools and so on.

As Dr Davy said, I see no good educational reason for this separateness. After all, is there any difference in Catholic mathematics/science/English/etc., Anglican mathematics/science/English, Islamic mathematics/science/English and so on?

Haven’t we learnt from the trial of Galileo about the suffering caused to innocent people when we don’t separate Church and State? Or are we doomed to repeat this?

Mark Frew
Padstow TAFE College

We turned right and crashed

A momentous anniversary has passed unremarked. December 13, 2015 marked 40 years since Malcolm Fraser won the election brought on by the dismissal of Gough Whitlam’s government. Fraser’s win turned Australia hard Right onto Milton Friedman’s neo-liberal, free-market, economic rationalist path. The question must be asked: are we better off now?

Has all the downsizing, privatising, outsourcing, deregulation and rationalising made life any better for the average Australian? Can average wage-earners aspire to home ownership now as easily as they could then? Do today’s school-leavers have the same access to tertiary education or post-secondary vocational education as those who left school before 1975? Are our finances in as good a shape as when Whitlam delivered budget surpluses in every budget? Is our manufacturing sector as strong as it was then? Is it as easy to buy Australian-made goods now as it was then? Are we as egalitarian, fair and altruistic now as we were then? Do Australians have as much control over their assets, resources and economy as they once did? Are rural and remote communities as well served by government agencies and infrastructure as they once were?

I would assert that the answer to all these questions is a resounding “no”. It is time to declare the neo-liberal economic rationalist experiment a dismal failure. It is time we declared that the emperor has no clothes and that 40 years of belt-tightening by the masses has only benefited the rich.

It is time we abandoned the free-market, deregulation myth of the “level playing field” and “small government”. It is time we rediscovered the true meaning of the word “commonwealth” and re-asserted the primacy of the public good over private gain.

Ryszard Linkiewicz
Woolooware HS

Swimming award caps struggle for survival

As a former teacher in charge in the Special Swimming Scheme (as it was first known) and SIG member I was gratified that the scheme has received the Austswim Award for Most Significant Contribution to Water Safety by an Organisation (Education, December 7, 2015).

This is a far cry from 1982 when, as a cost-cutting exercise, the state government abolished the scheme at a moment’s notice. Fortunately a public outcry, media coverage and hard work by the SIG (aided by John Dixon) and Sports Consultants saw it reinstated.

For several years thereafter it was under constant threat of cutbacks or abolition, not least because most swimming teachers were employed as casuals and were female.

It is wonderful that the scheme has received the recognition it deserves. Well done, SSS. I wish I were still young enough and fit enough to be part of it!

Barbara Sawtell
Retired

Room to differ but not to attack

I agree with Paul Treacy (“Equality campaign takes no prisoners” Letters, December 7) addressing the article, “Fighting the good fight on marriage equality” (Education, October 26, 2015) by Tim Blackman that “the debate over changing the definition of marriage has to be honest, open and fair”. His question on whether Federation has “removed that possibility” is answered by the publication of his letter.

Is it honest, though, to ask “for what” Tim Blackman threatens suspension or expulsion, suggesting it might be for expression of an opinion?

The original article clearly acknowledges the right to hold contrary opinions and have classroom discussion on these. Disciplinary measures are specifically raised in relation to “behaviour that deliberately and persistently interferes with the rights of other students to learn or teachers to teach, including bullying, harassment and vilification”.

No student could or should be disciplined for arguing for the traditional view of marriage (on religious or other grounds) but abuse and bullying on this issue or any other is unacceptable.

I am also puzzled by Paul Treacy’s assertion that marriage and its redefinition do not only affect homosexuals. If the redefinition simply goes to allowing two consenting adults of the same sex to marry, whom else does it affect?

Equally, how can homosexuals “enjoy” protection against discrimination when they cannot marry the consenting adult they love?

The comments about allowing homosexuals “to always be ‘victims’” and “he starts on about harassment and vilification” are best answered by a question: how many heterosexuals are bashed or killed just for being heterosexual?

Al Svirskis
Life Member

Inclusive decision-making

It’s alarming to discover that up to eight “lighthouse” or “identified” schools will be established over the next five years.

These lighthouse schools may result in the forced amalgamation or closure of existing schools. Furthermore, staff affected by these changes will be forced to transfer to the lighthouse schools. For a period of five years, all permanent position vacancies at lighthouse schools will be filled by local choice, exempt from our statewide staffing agreement.

Lighthouses signal danger ahead. Is this why the term “lighthouse” was recently changed to “identified” schools? Despite the name change this development remains alarming, especially Professor Steve Dinham’s warnings at the 2015 Annual Conference about the dangers of “local autonomy”. In his address, “A Tsunami Approaches: Long Wave Changes to Australian Education”, Dinham emphasised there was no evidence of better student learning outcomes from such autonomy.

Anyone who argues this development is “not so bad because it’s only eight schools” fails to recognise it as the thin edge of the wedge.

I am concerned at the belief in some quarters that this proposal is a one-off that won’t be expanded in the future. Like charter schools, Independent Public Schools or academies, lighthouse schools are a component of the global economic reform agenda and should be vehemently opposed.

Over time, they undermine both student and teacher conditions, divide our public education system and weaken our union.

Notions that our staffing or salaries agreements are a distraction from our Gonski campaign are mistaken. Most agree Gonski is vital, but it must be remembered that our staffing and salary agreements bind our wages and working conditions and warrant the input of members at all levels.

It’s disappointing this significant development wasn’t brought to the attention of the broader membership for genuine input and debate.

Not so long ago Federation surveyed members and organised members meetings to make informed, inclusive decisions regarding our salaries and working conditions. It is hoped that last year’s October Council decision to survey members around increasing workload issues is carried out before our new Salary Agreement is finalised to ensure every member has her/his say.

John Gauci
Taverners Hill Infants School

Deputy President Gary Zadkovich responds:

The schools known as “identified schools” in the new Staffing Agreement were announced as part of the NSW Government’s capital works investment program in the context of the state election.

These schools are not new specialist high schools, as have been established previously. They are either being rebuilt on existing sites or constructed on former university sites to meet the growing demand for public school enrolments. This increased investment in infrastructure is long overdue and welcomed by the Federation.

Much more is needed, of course, not only to refurbish and modernise existing schools but to build the new schools and classrooms required to accommodate the predicted 23 per cent increase in public school enrolments over the next 15 years.

This building program pre-dates and is separate from the staffing agreement. The latter is an industrial agreement to regulate how teacher positions are filled in schools.

Teachers in existing schools affected by the establishment of the “identified” new schools are guaranteed transfer to the latter should they wish to do so.

The Staffing Agreement provides significant benefits for students, teachers and schools over the next four years, as outlined in the article on page 1.

As this is the final year of the current Salaries and Conditions Award for school teachers, Federation will survey members in the coming months to inform the development of the claim for a new award. This will be debated at this year’s Annual Conference on July 3-5.

Consistent with the union’s strong democratic traditions, members will be encouraged to communicate their views in this survey and contribute to discussion and debate through the Federation’s decision-making forums.

Anne O’Hara
Federation Representative
Orange PS

Carbon copy

EBS has beaten me

The Sunday Telegraph

It is good to see that Mr John Barilaro, the Minister for Skills, realised that there was a problem with the TAFE computer system (EBS) and apologised to TAFE managers. It is pity he did not apologise to the TAFE teachers who have had to deal with for 18 months.

I have overcome many technical problems in my career, starting off as an electrical apprentice, completing the TAFE Electrical Engineering Certificate, studying electrical engineering at the UNSW, and then working as a Senior Electrical Engineer with Pacific Power, as well as being a part-time TAFE teacher for 20 years but the new TAFE EBS computer system has defeated me.

In the 2nd semester for 2015, I tried to enrol my students through the EBS but failed after numerous calls to the Help Desk.

As it takes over an hour to enrol a class, teachers have been forced to set up their own spreadsheets to record student attendance and results.

The trouble is compounded because head teachers cannot easily access student results especially if they did subjects at different TAFE colleges. Also, teachers don’t have access to employer details. They did not come across from Clams (previous students enrolment computer system).

Even the Auditor-General in late 2015 was having trouble trying to access $477.4 million in TAFE course revenue.

Instead of the EBS enabling technology, it is the opposite. It is a disabling technology that is acting as a parasite on the organisation, destroying the intellectual capital of the organisation. It is also destroying the goodwill in the organisation.

Tony Morrissey
Ultimo College

School choice

Sydney Morning Herald

Why is it that some things that seem so blindingly obvious to the average citizen become lost in the mire of self-interest?

John Bailey (“Parents should pay”, SMH Letters, February 12) highlights one such anomaly with his comment on transport to out-of-area schools.

No-one is suggesting that school choice is not a right. If, however, that choice imposes a financial burden on the stretched resources of the state when a local opportunity is provided by that state it is only reasonable that those making the choice to incur the cost should pay. And of course, this argument could be extended much further in the education sphere.

Gus Plater
Life Member