Class sizes at risk of rising: teachers

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said classes sizes will remain at existing levels.A breakdown in negotiations between the NSW government and the teachers union has ended a staffing agreement that regulates class sizes and teacher numbers.
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Teachers today warned there was nothing stopping the Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, from increasing class sizes on a whim.

However, Mr Piccoli said he was committed to maintaining existing class sizes as policy.

The director-general of the Education Department, Michele Bruniges, told teachers they had until 5.30pm yesterday to sign a new staffing agreement, with the current one due to expire within weeks.

The president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Maurie Mulheron, said he was not in a position to sign the agreement at such short notice without consulting his executive members.

One sticking point in the negotiations was the government’s refusal to guarantee the number of senior teaching positions.

Mr Mulheron said the staffing agreement would also have formalised class sizes, but these were now at the discretion of the minister.

“There is no way of regulating class sizes and the number of teachers we have,” he said. “These will all be determined unilaterally by the minister.”

Recent research has suggested a tenuous link between educational outcomes and class sizes, despite a long-held belief that smaller class sizes improve student results.

In a letter to staff, Dr Bruniges said four months of negotiations with the teachers federation over new staffing arrangements arising from the Local Schools, Local Decisions reforms had failed.

“Unfortunately these negotiations have not resulted in an agreement and as such the department will implement the new staffing procedures from Day 1, Term 4, 2012 by way of policy,” she said.

“A key element of the Local Schools, Local Decisions reforms is putting an end to the centrally determined one-size fits all staffing model.

“The minister and I have been very clear that the Local Schools, Local Decisions staffing reforms will maintain a statewide staffing system, which has greater opportunities for teachers to be selected at the local level to better meet student needs; maintain the department’s class size policies, and provide greater flexibility for schools to determine the mix of permanent and temporary staff to meet student needs and workforce planning requirements.”

Dr Bruniges said the department considered issues raised by the federation in negotiations, and where consistent with government policy they were included in a draft staffing agreement.

“The department has confirmed that the new Resource Allocation Model will fund schools to maintain their current staffing entitlements if they wish, including the notional executive and specialist teaching positions, assuming student enrolments do not change,” she said.

“The department also confirmed that in determining the number of deputy principals, assistant principals, head teachers and specialist teaching positions schools must meet Board of Studies curriculum requirements and school operational needs.”

Dr Bruniges said the staffing agreement offered to the federation maintained class sizes and incentive teacher transfers would remain.

“Once incentive transfers and Aboriginal employment applicants are placed, schools will be able to fill at least every second vacancy by local choice,” she said.

The Greens MP John Kaye said the real intent of school devolution had “now been exposed”.

“Classroom sizes and important administrative positions in schools have now been completely deregulated,” he said.

“Adrian Piccoli is about to destroy two decades of progress towards better education by making schools entirely cost driven without regards to the consequences for students.”

Mr Piccoli said class sizes would not increase, but be maintained at existing levels.

He said teachers still had the option of signing the agreement to make it legally binding.

“If it’s not an industrial agreement, it’s policy,” Mr Piccoli said.

“The federation can lock this in, making it legally enforceable until 2016 [if they sign the agreement]. The principals wanted the flexibility to determine their mix of staff and we’ve given that to them.

“This is the last thing the teachers federation wants and we are not going to give it to them.”

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