Unionised teachers in the secondary, primary and early childcare unions, PPTA and NZEI, attended paid union meeting nationwide to discuss a fightback against the government’s attacks on public education this week.
Thousands of teachers filled the Auckland and Wellington town halls to voice their anger and concern about the government’s plans. Thousands more filled halls from Invercargill to Northland – these mass meetings show the depth of the opposition to Bulk Funding 2.0 amongst teachers. There is a clear mood for resistance.
There’s a reason why this government hates teachers and the teaching profession: teachers fight back. Teachers have a strong and proud tradition of standing up for public education and demanding more for education.
Attacking the profession and education
Education Minister Hekia Parata last month announced a three-pronged attack against public education. The first and most far-reaching is Global Funding. The government is anxious to dissociate itself from the name of ‘Bulk Funding’, because the last time they tried this they lost, and badly. Under bulk funding, schools are given the ‘flexibility’ of using money that is usually tied to teachers’ salaries for other ends. Veteran trade unionist and socialist Adaire Hannah commented on the detrimental impact of bulk funding “allow[ing] schools to reduce the number of qualified teachers, increase class sizes, reduce curriculum options, replace teachers with teacher aides, reduce support staff, and defer maintenance”. Money that is currently pegged to teachers’ salaries – and thus the responsibility of government – will be devolved to schools. But this does not mean extra funding.
The other attack the Ongoing Resource Scheme (ORS), a proposal to shift funding allocations for students with special needs. Far from increasing funding into this woefully underfunded area, Parata is suggesting that funding be taken away from those students who need that funding just as they are attempting to transition from high school to the workforce. As Giovanni Tiso points out too, this is a competitive model and so deeply flawed: co-operation and solidarity between children, families, schools and communities is central to improving education for us all. Pitting families against each other will not help.
The third attack is COOL (Communities for online learning) is clearly an ideological attack to devalue the teaching profession and public education more broadly. There are currently online schools. But the minister’s proposal is that anyone can teach in a COOL – teachers would not have to be qualified.
Teachers have won before
This is not the first time National have tried to attack public education. Last time they tried brining in a similar scheme – during the 1990s – a concerted campaign of industrial action, strikes and campaigning by the PPTA forced the scheme into the ground. The post of Education Minister has been the end of many National politicians’ careers, precisely because they have taken on the unions and lost.
Teachers’ unions start from a position of strength. The industry is still organised, and what teachers strike to defend – public education, the rights of children to decent classrooms and good schools, and a healthy, functioning public system – has widespread and deep support in the working class. When teachers defend their own conditions they strike a blow for the wider community.
There have already been calls from the rank and file for strike action to take on this latest rounds of threats. Certainly the Government is gearing up for a fight. We’re going to need to study the lessons of the 1990s – and the tactics that can win – if we’re to push back this latest round of attacks.
These mass paid union meetings are an excellent start. And more will be needed from here, including shows of industrial strength.
Teachers stand for education.
Image credit: PPTA Twitter feed