Teaching Services Amendment Bill
Debate resumed from 26 October.
Mrs JILLIAN SKINNER (North Shore) [7.30 p.m.]: I lead for the Coalition in debate on this legislation, and I indicate at the outset that we will not be opposing it. The bill amends the Teaching Services Act. It relates particularly to the appointment of people to senior positions in the teaching service, that is, principals and other people who are promoted. The definition of "senior position" is:
… any position in the Teaching Service to which a person employed in the Teaching Service could be promoted.
The bill provides for merit appointments to senior positions in the teaching service, and allows for appointments from outside the New South Wales public education system, including persons from interstate or from the non-government school sector. I have seen an earlier draft of this bill, and I am pleased that the Government did not proceed with that earlier draft. A great deal of anxiety was expressed by stakeholders, individual teachers, union members and members of various principal organisations—and there is some residual concern—about the context in which this legislation was first floated. For example, they were worried about the proposal to put principals on contract at a time when there is considerable pressure on principals to toe the line, to not speak to anyone. They were afraid that pressure would be applied to principals, through these contractual arrangements, to keep silent on issues critical of the Government.
There is still some residual fear about this legislation. The stakeholders are concerned that such pressure might be applied through the performance evaluation process. I simply put it on the record—because I think it is a matter of grave disquiet to many people—that the Government and people at certain levels in the department already pressure principals, teachers, and even sometimes parents, to be quiet. I have experienced this myself. I am religious about following the protocols established by the Minister about seeking his permission to attend a school; I always do so. In recent days I visited a school where the principal spoke candidly to me. I quoted the principal afterwards, and the principal was hauled before the local bureaucrats and asked to explain.
If the Parliamentary Secretary or any of the Minister's advisers want information about that, I suggest they speak to the Teachers Federation, because the federation told me about the carpeting of this principal. On another occasion recently I made arrangements with the Minister to visit a school. At the eleventh hour there was an attempt to change those plans. When I got to the school I was asked to keep my visit brief. Honestly, the teachers who spoke to me were frightened; they were totally intimidated. I left the school without visiting their classrooms, as I had been advised I was able to do.
The same thing has happened to parents who have written to their local member and to me to raise concerns; they have got principals in trouble. Such scenarios have led members of the New South Wales Teachers Federation and the various principal groups to fear that in this context pressure will be able to be applied to principals to remain silent, to be servants of the Government, rather than speak up when they genuinely believe it is necessary for them to do so to raise issues about the provision of education to students, their workplace and so on. I shall deal with the bill in some detail. Besides providing for appointments on merit and defining those who will be affected by the bill, it mostly deals with the performance framework. It separates performance issues from conduct issues for principals in government schools, and introduces a new performance management framework, including annual performance reviews, implementation of performance improvement programs and streamlined procedures for dealing with unsatisfactory performance.
I turn now to the performance management framework. Although not covered in the bill, the following details are outlined in the Minister's second reading speech and are included in the draft Principal Assessment and Review Schedule, known as PARS. I have a copy of PARS. I did not get it from the Government; I received it from stakeholders and others in the field. The management accountabilities included in the PARS framework are educational leadership; management and implementation of curriculum; learning outcomes; management and implementation of programs for student welfare and child protection; establishment of effective decision making and communication procedures within the school and community; enhancement of the performance development and welfare of staff; implementation of equal employment opportunity principles; whole-school planning and risk management, including occupational health and safety; participation of the school community in developing and achieving the school's goals and purposes; and promoting the development of constructive professional relationships amongst staff.
All those accountabilities are admirable. Principals are expected to be accountable. Various principal councils have commented that there is little change to these accountabilities. Indeed, they are already in place, as is a performance review process. This is about demonstrating that principals are accountable. Principals do not object—nor does the Coalition—because it is important to send that message to the community. It will not be the first time that principals have been appointed on merit. It will not be the first time that principals have been expected to meet such criteria, although the criteria have been expanded somewhat.
In the process outlined in the framework, principals are required to undertake an annual review. If they do not meet the required level of performance they will be required to undertake performance improvement programs designed around identified concerns. If at the end of that program a principal's performance is still not satisfactory, the director-general is empowered to take appropriate action, including dismissal or demotion—the Teachers Federation and others have provided me with the previous protocols in relation to the performance of principals. This has always been possible but there is very little will to make it happen. The bottom line is that if the community believes that a principal or a person in a promotion position does not meet the expectations there is a mechanism to ensure that they are given a fair go, and if, after an evaluation, they are found to be wanting, supports are put in place.
This is a great coup for the Public Schools Principals Forum, which has promoted the idea of support and development for principals for a number of years. I have seen its papers, which have been submitted to the Government and the Coalition. The forum deserves brownie points for being able to persuade the Government that this important move is necessary, and I support it. It means that new school education director appointments will be made. These positions were advertised in the Australian Financial Review on 31 October this year, even before the legislation came before Parliament. The Government must have been confident that we would support it. These senior officer grade two positions will be very important. The principals forum believes, and I agree, that the success of this project will depend on the quality of those who are appointed to the positions.
The appointees must have recent experience as principals. It is no use finding somebody who is on the list of people in head office or the bureaucracy who are not needed in the position any longer. They have to be able to demonstrate to principals in schools how things can and should be done. As was said at the principals forum, it is not jobs for the boys—and I use those words advisedly; we want more females in these positions—but for highly skilled people who have had recent experience as principals, who can demonstrate how things should be done, and who can provide assistance to principals who are not measuring up.
The legislation provides for a five-year review of a principal's appointment to a particular school. The review will consider the principal's performance since being appointed at the school against the major areas of accountability for principals—the development of skills and abilities necessary to drive continuous improvement—and feedback from parents, caregivers, students and staff. Following the five-year review, principals will be transferred to new schools or retained at their current schools, depending on the determination of the review committee as to whether they have completed their task of bringing the schools up to the goals they set or whether work still has to be done.
The Public School Principals Forum, the New South Wales Secondary Principals Forum and the Teachers Federation have all expressed concerns about this part of the bill. They generally support the five-year review but they all say it is sketchy as to how it will work. The principals forum has submitted a paper to the department for consideration as to how it will work. I have read that paper and commend it to the department. It is an extremely good paper. It states that it is no use waiting until the five years, or 4½ years, are up. The mechanism should be put in place now to ensure that it works smoothly.
The Teachers Federation has expressed concerns about the requirements of principals in relation to occupational health and safety. No-one is suggesting that principals should not meet their obligations, but that must be in the context of resources supplied by the Government. The Teachers Federation has been working closely with the department to develop the wording to clearly indicate that occupational health and safety responsibility is linked to resources being available to enable principals to meet their obligations. That is a very important part of legislation. Whenever I visit schools I am told by parents, principals and teachers of the shocking state of our schools. I am told of the lack of maintenance, torn carpets, walls that are out of alignment, and bricks that have moved. These are all potentially occupational health and safety issues, and if the Government fails to provide principals with the money to upgrade those schools it is unfair to expect principals to be accountable for occupational health and safety provisions. Of course, no-one would question the fact that they have to make sure that power boards are not across floors, and so on.
The Coalition supports the bill, which will make principals accountable. The bill is about appointment on merit, and providing principals with support should they need it. The only other point I would make is that it is all very well making principals accountable, but how about giving them more authority, and more autonomy in the appointment of staff so they can select teachers who truly meet the expectations and needs of their individual schools? We look forward to the Government introducing policy and programs in line with the Coalition's policy.
Miss CHERIE BURTON (Kogarah—Parliamentary Secretary) [7.47 p.m.], in reply: I thank the honourable member for North Shore for her contribution.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.