ACT Educator Term 1 2020

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More than 100 sub-branch leaders attended our EA Implementation Plan training day in Term 4 - our biggest training session ever!

OUR STORIES PATHOLOGY OF NAPLAN 10 TheTHE standardised test continues to fail




Four Canberra schools, only fifteen minutes from Parliament House, reveal a picture of growing segregation in Australian education - and how government policy is at the heart of the problem. TOM GREENWELL



"Personal learning" can take many forms. Some approaches will liberate learners, some will tightly constrain them. The model proposed by Gonski is more likely to do the latter. ALAN REID




Without the skills and knowledge to enforce their rights, young workers are vulnerable to exploitation by adult bosses. That's where UnionsACT's Young Workers Centre comes in. ARIAN McVEIGH


The solidarity of members was severely tested in 1982 when some 2800 ACT teachers were suspended from duty. CLIVE HAGGAR








Our industrial team explains what it is and why we need it.

DISCLAIMER: The assertions and opinions expressed in articles reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the AEU. We do, however, think that these issues are worthy of discussion in our union.


The ACT Educator is your magazine, so if there's a story or a feature you'd like to see included, let us know! Email us at





President's Report


ormally my start of year message would be upbeat, jolly, welcoming you back from a restful summer break. Given that bushfires are still incinerating the south coast of NSW and Canberra continues to choke from the smoke, such a message would be

insensitive at best and potentially insulting. Instead, I want to talk about the strength I derive from my union community. At the time of writing, my partner and I are on high alert for another possible evacuation. Interestingly, this time we have been advised to stay put, for now, possibly because main roads are closed for tree clearing and due to the reality that not many people remain at the coast. It is eerie. Since the start of the school holidays we have evacuated twice. I cannot recall the last time I saw blue sky, and the usual bird songs have been replaced with the sounds of helicopters and other water bombing and surveillance aircraft. Restful, no. The constant state of alert is wearing. There are also times when it is just plain scary. Our first evacuation was sudden. When the smoke extinguished daylight at 2pm and all devices pinged with messages of ‘seek shelter, it is too late to leave’, I was scared. I knew I needed to remain calm and stay strong. Putting on my AEU T-shirt before leaving for the evacuation centre gave me strength. Since then, I have worn a union T-shirt each day (fortunately I have many). It wraps me in strength as we go about the new normal of everyday business: checking on neighbours; talking about property preparation and bushfire plans; commiserating with friends who have lost their homes and livelihood; remaining attentive to the young girl next door who came over to show off her new school uniform and share her excitement of starting kindergarten at the end of the month. For weeks now, we have witnessed communities finding a new sense of shared purpose. We have seen acts of heroism, been reassured by the emergence of new leaders and heard pledges of government support and individual generosity. As school starts for a new year, it will be our time to do what AEU members are great at: to step up and support students and staff. Given the south coast is such a haven for many Canberrans, it is likely that the bushfire crisis will have impacted many of our members and students. For many this summer will not have been restful. It may be reminiscent of the 2003 Canberra fires, however, this crisis is of a scale that is unprecedented. This new term may unfold unlike any other. One of our great strengths as teachers and education support workers is our adaptability. I have no doubt that we will need to draw on this strength as we move into the 2020 school year. Our union is there in a crisis. It is there in the good times too. We are a strong resourceful community at all times, for all members. Let’s take good care of ourselves and each other.


2020 TERM 1 Upcoming Events RSVP at


Wednesday 5 February 5.00pm - 8.30pm AEU Office, 40 Brisbane Ave, Barton


Saturday 15 February 9.00am - 12.00pm J Block Theatre, CIT Reid

WEEK 5 NEW EDUCATOR CONFERENCE Thursday 5 & Friday 6 March Yarramundi Cultural Centre Lady Denman Drive


Wednesday 11 March 5.00pm - 8.30am AEU Office, 40 Brisbane Ave, Barton


Thursday 12 March 6.00pm - 9.00pm Private Function Room, Kingston Hotel


WEEK 7 SCHOOL ASSISTANT NETWORK MEETING (North side) Wednesday 18 March 4.00pm - 5.00pm Ricardo's Cafe, Jamison Shops


Saturday 21 March 9.00am - 12.00pm J Block Theatre, CIT Reid

WEEK 8 SCHOOL ASSISTANT NETWORK MEETING (South side) Wednesday 25 March 4.00pm - 5.00pm San Churro, Woden Westfield

WEEK 9 UNION INDUSTRIAL RETREAT Thursday 2 & Friday 3 April Fitzroy Falls, NSW


Wednesday 8 April 5.30pm - 8.00pm AEU Office, 40 Brisbane Ave, Barton




THURSDAY 5TH & FRIDAY 6TH MARCH Are you in your first few years of teaching?

Our annual New Educator Conference offers you tips and strategies for surviving and thriving during your early career. Delivered over two full days, the conference is a valuable opportunity to meet and network with other new educators and hear from inspirational guest speakers talking about the new educator experience. You’ll also get essential advice on what rights and entitlements apply to teachers working in ACT public schools.

Not an AEU member yet? Visit

Completely free of charge for AEU members Count up to five hours over the two days towards your teacher identified professional learning for TQI

Fully catered on both days You’re entitled to access paid industrial leave to attend

Places are limited, so secure yours ASAP!


Trivia night

12 MARCH 6-9pm

Private Function Room Kingston Hotel $10 for members $15 for guests ineligible for AEU membership

Ticket price includes a drink on arrival and finger food First, second and third prizes up for grabs!

Secretary's Report Welcome back to another school year and, would you believe it, another election year. Politics is not everything (and several times in the past twelve months I’ve been relieved that it isn’t). In fact, some members occasionally express consternation that their union has to involve itself in parliamentary politics or political elections, federal or Territory. It is true that we deliver improvements for our members in numerous ways outside of the party political process – through Enterprise Agreement (EA) bargaining, policy negotiations or the ACT budget process, for example – but electoral politics remains an important and useful forum to deliver on some of our policy objectives. Never underestimate that a re-elected or incoming ACT Government will adopt a particular tone when it considers public education, and when it considers our union or trade unionism more broadly. This will determine how easy it is for us to influence the policy agenda. In the last three years this has been an achievable task. It may not always be so. All parties will contest the election with a raft of education policies and, as always, we will provide an analysis of these policy offerings, considering what is best for public education, its students and all those who work in public education – our members. The AEU is not affiliated to any political party. We have an open mind and we will call it as we see it, without fear or favour. Some parties and some politicians will listen to us more than others. Some may think they can win an election without the support of an ambitious, organised and influential union like ours. If that is the position they adopt, we will prepare to prove them wrong.

I say six is a good number. So, what might be our top six for 2020? Start the conversation with your colleagues now. •

Do we want to prioritise the ongoing delivery of our class size maximums?

What additional support do school leaders require?

Is a bold public school building and refurbishment program at the top of our list?

How can we best deliver climate-controlled learning spaces?

What should the future look like for school libraries and teacher librarianship?

Should we be insisting on CIT coming under the Education portfolio?

How can we best insist that public education comes first?

Later in the year, after much more is known, I will write to you with the AEU’s assessment of the parties’ offerings. It will be the product of calm, rational analysis – assisted by the views of our Executive and Council members – on what is best for all of us to do our nation-building work. Those same colleagues will also work with me to devise a smart, targeted campaigning strategy to ensure that the voice of nearly 4000 ACT educators is heard loudly and proudly across this town in the lead-up to the vote.

With the ACT election set for this October, it is still early days. In the medium-term future, AEU ACT Branch Council will, with the input of all our members, determine our expectations for the elected government. We are likely to follow past tradition and ask political aspirants to sign our Public Education Pledge. In 2016, we had six pledge items, a number of which have pleasingly been delivered, such as $85 million worth of infrastructure upgrades and twenty new school psychologists. 9




nhelpfully, someone used medical terminology in an education setting that eventually led to the lie that a child's learning needs can be scientifically pinpointed with a test; much like a medical test can detect a disease. For years we have heard standardised tests described as diagnostic. Clearly, they are not. Nothing is being diagnosed. Our children are not patients. They are not ill. Teachers are not medical practitioners seeing a patient irregularly at a clinic. A teaching program is not a prescription. Learning is not a treatment. And schoolwork is not a cure. Mind you, I am not aware of any medical test where the doctor who ordered it has to wait four or five months for the results to be returned.


"What standardised testing does do, however, is give the illusion that something constructive is being done, that a pseudo-scientific method is being applied to student need, that political accountability is being served and that the human mind and its progress can be simply mapped. It is scarcely the much-heralded twenty-first century approach to learning. In fact, it bears the hallmarks of a nineteenth century approach to schooling, rather akin to phrenology." Denis Fitzgerald, Crossroads: A Green Paper on Assessment Policy. Denis Fitzgerald is right. As far as NAPLAN tests giving us any reliable information at the classroom level, we may as well hand every teacher a craniometer to collect skull measurements before asking them to feel for the lumps and bumps on each child's head.

But the pseudo-science of standardised testing has taken hold and the annual release of NAPLAN results is a case study of what the US military describes as "incestuous amplification", that is, loud voices each repeating the same nonsense with no individual willing to be the odd one out. To make matters worse, it was as though last year's NAPLAN debacle had not occurred, when students were forced to sit for the test on more than one occasion due to massive technological failures, some with paper and pen, others on a computer. Talk about short memories. Can you imagine the public outrage if politicians insisted on the continued use of a medical test that doctors and health practitioners had found to be faulty and unreliable? Yet, this is exactly the situation teachers experience when it comes to NAPLAN. So teachers and students had to endure toxic discussions once again upon the release of the NAPLAN data. When the results were announced last year, it was almost impossible to find a single commentator talking about NAPLAN who possessed a teaching qualification or who had any teaching experience. The first predictable statement came from the politicians who declared the results showed that we need to go "back to basics". It is a glib comment that is as regular as an atomic clock. My response to the call for children to return to "basics" is to point out that millions of school children understand the complex science of climate change, and can speak, read and write about it, unlike many adults in positions of power and influence. The creation of My School turned NAPLAN from a clumsy, low-quality test into a highstakes, low-quality test. Back in 2008, then federal education minister Julia Gillard had been seduced by the then New York chancellor of schools, Joel Klein, into believing that publishing test scores on a website effectively turning student assessment into an adult spectator sport - would somehow improve school performance. Ignoring the evidence, and disdainful of the opinions of teachers, she pressed ahead.

Within a few years of Klein being brought to Australia by Gillard, he had moved on to work for Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation promoting its investment in testing software, which was being sold to school systems. The obvious conflict of interest was the subject of media speculation. Later, he was Murdoch's main adviser in the notorious News of the World phone hacking scandal in the UK. It was only the industrial action of members of the Australian Education Union that secured protections that prevented the mass harvesting of My School data, thus making the creation of "league tables" much more difficult. So what are we left with? The costly NAPLAN test itself, its dishonest data still published on My School, increased levels of student and teacher stress, the curriculum narrowed, coaching clinics hothousing children, schools colour-coded into winners and losers, student privacy compromised, children labelled as failures from an early age, education treated as a market, ignorant public commentary, and individual schools and principals named and shamed. Teachers are tired of the argument that governments need the test data in order to set long-term policy directions and to direct the resources to where they are needed. The reality is, despite the evidence that Australia has one of the most socially segregated school education systems in the world, and despite knowing exactly which schools need additional resources, the Federal Government has entrenched a schools funding regime that shifts billions of recurrent and capital dollars to advantaged children in rich over-resourced private schools while deliberately underfunding the public schools that have the highest concentrations of disadvantage. Let's be clear: no child fails NAPLAN, but NAPLAN fails all children. ď Ž Maurie Mulheron is the recently retired President of the NSW Teachers Federation.


EVERYONE LOSES WHEN SCHOOLS ARE SEGREGATED... BUT SOME MORE THAN OTHERS T he story of how governments began providing ‘state aid’ to non-government schools usually starts in 1962 in the New South Wales country town of Goulburn. When school inspectors ordered a parish primary school to build an “additional sanitary convenience” or else face closure, church authorities, unable to afford the new toilet, closed all seven Goulburn Catholic schools in protest, forcing their students to descend on government schools ill-equipped to cope. After a week of national headlines, the argument that governments had an obligation to help church schools stay open and a strong financial interest in doing so - had been well made. Soon enough the Menzies Government initiated a program of capital funding to church and government schools alike.

A couple of years later, a co-educational public school opened next door. Side-by-side, separated by only a few gum trees and a footpath, and but a short journey from Parliament House, the two schools represented in microcosm the hybrid education system that had been established by Menzies, with its two distinct kinds of government-funded schools. As this system expanded under Menzies’ successors (not least Whitlam, who introduced recurrent Commonwealth funding to nongovernment schools), the two schools also grew. Today, Marr Street in Pearce becomes clogged every weekday morning with school buses and SUVs as nearly two and a half thousand students arrive to attend either one of the two schools.

At least, that’s how the origin story usually goes. In reality, state aid had already started flowing to some church schools years before the ‘Goulburn strike’. On the 10th of July, 1956, The Canberra Times reported the announcement by the Acting Prime Minister, Arthur Fadden, of a plan to subsidise capital works in church schools in the national capital. The news was welcomed by Canberra’s bishops, but others argued that there was a more urgent need for the money at existing public schools. They pointed to the dire state of Telopea Park High School where there were "eight classes without classrooms, a final examination class housed on a verandah-end,” and “four teachers teaching 300 girls home management in one small, ill-equipped room.”

Over half a century later these two schools, so closely connected with the origins of state aid, provide a revealing insight into the long-term consequences of Menzies’ innovation.

The condition of public schools notwithstanding, the subsidy for church schools was justified as a way of guaranteeing public servants, then relocating to the national capital in significant numbers, the same amenities they were used to in their home states. As the historian Michael Hogan has observed, Prime Minister Menzies also appreciated the power of establishing a precedent for the role of the Commonwealth in financing non-government schools. So, with support from the Menzies Government, numerous new church schools sprang up in Canberra in the late 50s and, when the Woden Valley opened up in the 60s, Menzies’ program helped fund the building of a Catholic boys school on Marr Street in the new suburb of Pearce.


Four Canberra schools, only fifteen minutes from Parliament House, reveal a picture of growing segregation in Australian education - and how government policy is at the heart of the problem, writes TOM GREENWELL. A picture of Australian schools

On the south side of the footpath, the public school enjoys a strong reputation in the local community, and people try and buy into the surrounding suburbs to enrol their kids there. In recent years, the front of the school has been painted, new roofing has been put in and the oval, long renowned as an anklebreaker, has been reseeded. But even to motorists speeding along nearby Athllon Drive, the contrast with the neighbouring school is clearly visible. Expanding across some 15 hectares, the school north of the footpath features an Australian Rules football oval, a rugby union pitch overlooked by a state-ofthe-art stadium and numerous soccer fields. “Visitors typically comment on the lawns, gardens, trees and landscaping which give the school an atmosphere of orderliness, beauty and peace,” as well as the “impressive collection of sculpture and other artworks,” the school’s website boasts. Recent development has been rather more elaborate than at the school next door. Earlier this year, the Jubilee Building was officially opened, with Industrial Arts workshops, Visual Arts studios, renovated prayer space, a senior common room and a new grandstand overlooking one of the many ovals. And this is not the only major new building erected in recent years either.

If the visual contrast between the two schools is immediately striking, other differences may matter more. Some 58% of students at the non-government school come from the most privileged quarter of Australian families. When the ACT’s then Senators, Zed Seselja and David Smith, attended the opening of the school’s new Jubilee Building at the beginning of this year, the college magazine proudly noted that they both did so as parents of boys at the school. Next door at the public school, the proportion of similarly privileged students is less than half (28%). At the public school, 16% of students come from the most disadvantaged quarter of Australian families, while only 1% of students fit this description next door at the Catholic school. The difference between the kids at these two schools, occupying the same block of land, is pronounced, but the gap between both these schools and the schools in neighbouring suburbs is even more revealing. From the back of Pearce, it’s possible to climb Mount Taylor and, at the summit, turn back and look in a northerly direction to Parliament House and beyond. Turn to the south, and you are looking over the district of Tuggeranong - or ‘God’s country’ to the locals. At the southern foot of the mountain are the suburbs of Kambah and Wanniassa, each of which are home to public schools that begin in preschool and go through to Year 10. While they are only a few kilometres away from the two schools in Pearce, these two schools serve a very different group of children. At both schools, a third or more of their students come from the most disadvantaged quarter of Australian families. Over ten per cent of their students are Indigenous (where the figure is only one per cent at the Catholic boys school in Pearce), and the Tuggeranong schools have, proportionally, almost three times more students from language backgrounds other than English. There is more social disadvantage at these schools than at the average Australian school, let alone the average Canberra school. On the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) - the policy makers’ measure of our luck, or lack of it, in the social circumstances we were born into the average Australian school gets a score of 1000.


The scores assigned to the public schools in Kambah and Wanniassa are 980 and 983 respectively. In Pearce, the government schools ICSEA is 1049 and at the nongovernment school it is 1132. Does Mount Taylor mark a major socio-economic divide in Canberra, such that the schools are simply reflections of the respective suburbs? Not really. Kambah and Wanniassa are not quite as affluent as Pearce, but the difference is only one of degree. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Index of Relative Social Advantage and Disadvantage places Pearce in the top decile of Australian postcodes, but Kambah and Wanniassa are in the second highest decile, not far behind. The differences between the suburbs are nowhere near great enough to explain the differences between the schools. In fact, if the students at these four schools represented a cross section of their local communities, they would look pretty much like each other. Instead, they exemplify how Australia’s hybrid system of government-funded schools, with its Independent, Catholic and public sectors, effectively sorts children into different schools on the basis of their social background, dramatically exacerbating variations in social geography. In 2011, 32% of children at public schools came from the most disadvantaged quarter of Australian families. By 2018, that figure had grown to 36%, more than double the proportion of similar students at Catholic schools (17%), and Independent Schools (14%). It turns out that the hills and footpaths separating the four schools in Canberra wind their way through our country’s education system, increasingly separating young Australians into schools characterised by either concentrated privilege or concentrated disadvantage. So to understand why there are such marked variations between the backgrounds of kids on either side of Mount Taylor - and on either side of the footpath in Pearce - is to gain an insight into a pattern that repeats itself again and again across the country, from Western Sydney to Wagga Wagga, and Alice Springs to Albany.

And, once again, the two schools encapsulate what is happening across the country. While we were supposed to be entering an era of needs-based funding - and even though we know there are more disadvantaged students in public schools than ever - the nongovernment sectors have enjoyed much greater increases in government funding. Between 2011 and 2017, combined Commonwealth and state government funding increased by 33% to Catholic schools across the country; to Independent Schools by 29%; but by just 18% to public schools. When the Morrison Government cut another special deal with the nongovernment sectors in September last year, it labelled the largesse the Choice and Affordability Fund. The reality is that our current policy settings are delivering neither. Just as it has become harder for poor Catholics - and others - to attend the Catholic school in Pearce, the concentration of disadvantaged children in public schools across the country has only increased.

Our hybrid system, in which some schools receive public funding but are permitted to charge fees at whatever rate the market will bear, drives the segregation of Australian school students.

Levers of segregation

Why are there such different groups of kids at these four Canberra schools? The first clue is that the problem is getting worse. As the fees at the Catholic school in Pearce increased by a hefty 40% between 2011 and 2017, the divergence between the student populations at the two schools on Marr Street sharpened appreciably. As the proportion of disadvantaged children at the Catholic school fell from 5% to 1%, the proportion of similar students grew from 11% to 16% next door. In effect, a bunch of kids from challenging backgrounds was transferred from one side of the footpath to the other. It vividly illustrates how our hybrid system, in which some schools receive public funding but are permitted to charge fees at whatever rate the market will bear, drives the segregation of Australian school students. Revealingly, the steep fee increases at the Catholic school occurred despite a significant and growing tax-payer contribution. In fact, this decade it has enjoyed faster growth in government funding than the government school next door. 14

At the same time as the fees at the Catholic school have become increasingly prohibitive for low-income families, the school has been able to marshal more resources than ever to attract those who can afford them. On its website, the school claims that it is “fortunate in having facilities which are second to none,” but also observes, in sage manner, that “the climate, tone and spirit of a school are far more important than any of its physical aspects.” But buildings matter, not least because, as the education commentator, Trevor Cobbold, pointed out following revelations in August that four exclusive private schools spent more on renovations and new facilities than Australia’s poorest 1,800 schools combined, “the lavish facilities… serve as status markers in marketing strategies to attract enrolments from rich families.” And successfully recruiting students from well-educated, high-income families in turn makes establishing the climate, tone and spirit of a school an awful lot easier. In addition to its impressive facilities, the nongovernment school on Marr Street also enjoys a significant advantage in recurrent revenue over the public school next door. By 2017, it received a public subsidy of $10,100 per student, over one-and-a-half times the needs-based resourcing allocation it’s entitled to. Combined with revenue from fees and other sources of income, this meant it had $3200 more to spend on each of its students annually than the school on the other side of the footpath.

Better positioned than ever to offer the diversity of curriculum and rich array of extra-curricular activities that are critical in competition for enrolments, the Catholic school’s share of students from the most advantaged quarter of Australian families jumped from 47% to 58% between 2011 and 2018. At the Pearce public school, there was a corresponding decline in this group of students over the same period. While resource advantages help some schools pull privileged students in, and high fees push children from low-income families away, the increasingly segmented character of Australian schooling is also attributable to the power of non-government schools to pick and choose who they enrol. When an elite Sydney private school expelled eight boys for smoking dope in 2014, then New South Wales education minister, Adrian Piccoli, condemned the decision as simply shifting the problem to another school. Controversial cases attract attention, but less noticeable and more pervasive forms of problem-shifting are embedded in the structures of Australian schooling. Numerous parents and educators in Tuggeranong told me about incidents where a child’s Year 3 NAPLAN results were considered as part of their application to attend a non-government school. In some cases, the child’s test results were deemed acceptable and they were admitted; in other cases, the enrolment was rejected or delayed. The use of NAPLAN as a tool for entry to non-government schools was documented in the recent national NAPLAN reporting review, and government research also made it clear that parents expect schools to use NAPLAN results for marketing purposes. It is in this atmosphere that NAPLAN morphs from a diagnostic test, that can enable a candid conversation between parent and school about student progress, into a de facto external entrance examination, used by non-government schools to skim the cream. Long before teenagers are ejected from certain schools over an illicit puff, primary schoolers can be rejected for slipping up on a NAPLAN test. As Adrian Piccoli told the ABC in August, “It is the ability of schools to select their students that creates inequity which is one of the structural weaknesses of Australian education.” We tend to view the performance of schools in isolation but, in reality, schools exist in delicate relation to each other, like the elements of an ecosystem, and decisions at one school profoundly impact on the life of another school. This was vividly portrayed to me by a principal in a highly disadvantaged school, in which there was a dearth of natural role models amongst the student group. The principal and his staff laboured like Sisyphus to build kids up to be leaders amongst their peers, only to eventually find that they would lose those very kids to better-resourced, more exclusive schools.

The children left behind

In English football it’s more like the law of the jungle: salary budgets are uncapped, and clubs that finish higher up the ladder receive more of the earnings from TV rights. Strong Premier League clubs get even stronger, so it is a much more uneven competition than the AFL and it’s a lot easier to predict the clubs that will end the season at the top of the ladder. But imagine a sporting competition in which some clubs were regulated like AFL clubs while others were treated like Premier League teams; in which, every week, teams made up of star talent lured from around the world by enormously lucrative contracts trounced clubs constrained by salary caps and restricted to recruiting from their local area. This, in essence, is the structural imbalance at the heart of Australia’s education system, in which some schools are fee-charging and selective (in numerous ways) while others are free and comprehensive. In practice, school choice in Australia means that some schools choose their students, while the others are dominated by social disadvantage. If only 1% of students at the Pearce Catholic school are from tough backgrounds, then there has to be very high proportions of these kids at the other schools in the area. The result is not one-sided football matches, but educational outcomes that, almost a decade after the Gonski report, are increasingly “the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions," meaning that young Australians are getting less and less out of the education we are providing them than they did five, ten or fifteen years ago. For this story, I spoke to numerous parents and educators in school communities where a disproportionate number of children come from families with experiences of unemployment, unstable and transient housing and social dysfunction, and they told me of any number of innovations to address children’s learning needs, from introducing the Cambridge international curriculum to developing a Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden. One educator spoke of the joy of working with a student with an intellectual disability who swore volubly and uncontrollably but, with weeks of patient guidance and goal-setting, learnt to control his language and more effectively manage friendships. Another referred to the alacrity with which colleagues dig into their own pockets to meet resource shortfalls. But no matter how good the teachers or inspiring the school’s leaders, the educational task facing schools with concentrated social disadvantage is incredibly challenging. It is not only the intense demands on teacher time posed by high numbers of students with significant learning difficulties and behavioural issues, the absence of necessary parental support, the inevitable impacts on teacher morale and the flow-on effects on staff recruitment and retention. When there are a significant number of children with troubling behaviours in the same school or classroom, the risk is that they will dictate the culture and set the patterns of behaviour for their peers.

In his book about inequality in Australia, Battlers and Billionaires, the economist and Labor Member of Parliament, Andrew Leigh, compares the Australian Football League and the English Premier League. The AFL shares out television revenue evenly amongst its clubs; lower ranked teams have first pick when new talent is drafted; and salary bills are capped. 15

Educational researchers call the impact of classmates on an individual students’ educational outcomes ‘peer effects’. Peer effects make a big difference. In fact, in its analysis of the performance of Australian school students in the OECD’s PISA tests, the Australian Council for Educational Research found that, “the social composition of schools had just as strong an impact on the likelihood of being a low achiever as a student’s own family background… Disadvantaged students in average socioeconomic level schools, for example, are almost a year of schooling higher than those in disadvantaged schools.”

Government funding to nongovernment schools might once have served to facilitate choice, but it no longer does today. In the face of the structural imbalance which entails that some schools will have inordinately high concentrations of social disadvantage, something we know materially affects educational outcomes, those parents who are in a position to choose schools do so in a perfectly predictable (and understandable) manner. Our dual system of fee-charging selective schools and free comprehensive schools catalyses a self-perpetuating process: it engenders schools with a disproportionate number of disadvantaged kids; and that, in itself, is likely to cause the concentration of disadvantage to grow over time, a process fuelled by an often simplistic debate about variations in school ‘quality’ and a tendency for the reputation of schools to long outlast any basis in reality.

Parents are placed in an invidious position. Many want their children to be part of the local community and to be able to play and learn with kids from diverse backgrounds. But they also understand that it is very difficult to provide a rich educational experience when there isn’t a critical mass of children with the disposition and know-how to learn, and they recognise when a school is confronted with a preponderance of challenging behaviours with which it struggles to cope. Sometimes a decision is finally made for them when their child comes home one day and tells them they can no longer cope with the behaviour issues and the disruption. Over time, children, particularly from middle-class families, trickle away from disadvantaged school communities. In Tuggeranong, this movement manifests itself as a desire to get up the valley, over Mount Taylor into Woden and the leafy suburbs of Canberra’s inner south, mirroring the centripetal energy flowing through all our major cities, reflecting an aspiration that is much bigger than any single school. In addition to exclusive nongovernment schools, the destination is the sought-after public schools in the affluent parts of town that often have a long queue of out-of-area applicants, affording them a degree of discretion over who they enrol. The end result of this process was described to me by a Tuggeranong parent. Flicking through the Year 6 yearbook at her son’s primary school, she took in the photo of each student in the graduating class, accompanied by their personal stories, including the high school they were heading to the following year. From a capacity Year 6 class, about half the students were proceeding to non-government schools. The other half were going to out-of-area public schools. Only one student was continuing on to the local public high school.

The children left behind in the school choice race overwhelmingly come from disadvantaged backgrounds, they are surrounded by others in the same boat, and more often than not their school is under-resourced for the educational task it faces. The consequence is that educational achievement in Australia is more closely related to a student’s social background, and the background of their peers, than ever. My School has now been publishing data on schools for a decade, and what’s clear is that there is a very close relationship between NAPLAN results and social background. Our governments are failing to address educational inequality, and in many ways, the structure of our school system is making it worse. As Pasi Sahlberg, the Finnish education expert who recently relocated to Australia, put it simply, “Segregating children based on their social background is a bad idea, a world-class education system doesn’t happen like this.”

Today, the Canberra schools where state aid actually started symbolise how little the truths of the Goulburn strike continue to apply. Public funding does not keep the Catholic school on Marr Street open, or buy it toilets it could not otherwise afford, or induce it to lower the fees it charges parents. Indeed, it symbolises how non-government schools, at the same time as enjoying funding increases that have far outstripped those to public schools, have become more exclusive than ever. Just as kids from poor Catholic families can’t access the Catholic school in Pearce, the majority of poor Catholics in Australia do not attend Catholic schools - they attend public schools. Government funding to non-government schools might once have served to facilitate choice, but it no longer does today. Instead, by compounding the resource and marketing advantage that some schools enjoy over others, government funding is complicit in the growing segregation of Australian schools.

Then and now

Far from being sector-blind or a cost-saver, government funding to non-government schools has grown to the extent that many receive more public funding than comparable government schools, and if all Goulburn’s Catholic schools closed today and the students were forced to attend public schools, governments would actually save money. While massive taxpayer support is provided to nongovernment schools they continue to be able to enrol, expel and charge fees as they please — and our schools have become more and more characterised by either privilege or poverty. 

As an origin story, the tale of the ‘Goulburn strike’ conveys a number of morals that continue to underpin the way we think about our schools today. When Catholic parents and educators in Goulburn demanded that their children no longer be relegated to second-class schools, they asserted both the right to educate their children by their own lights and a claim to sector-blind government resourcing. Their success was critical to improving the marginalised status of Catholics in Australia and ending the nasty sectarian bigotry that accompanied it. It also helped establish a de facto consensus that, when it comes to the role of religion in education, parents should be able to decide what they believe is right for their children - but all schools deserve public support. After all, as the school closures in Goulburn in 1962 graphically illustrated, fee-paying parents helped reduce pressure on the public purse…at least at the time.

Tom Greenwell is an ACT teacher, writer and AEU member.



ALAN REID Professor Emeritus of Education, University of South Australia


he education debate in Australia becomes tangled when the same key concepts are used by various groups and individuals to mean very different things. Take the concept of “personalised learning”. It can describe a flexible approach to learning which starts with each student’s individual strengths and capabilities, and encourages a wide range of learning activities. Or it can be used to justify a program of rigid and scripted individual learning progressions. In the past few years the idea of “learning progressions” has garnered a lot of attention in curriculum debates and reviews. Invariably it is argued learning progressions promote “personalised learning”. It is important therefore to subject this claim to some scrutiny and try to understand the version of “personalised learning” being promoted in policy circles.

From year levels to learning progressions

There is always a danger removing year levels will result in a return to streaming if teachers group students according to perceived ability levels rather than age, but this is not an automatic outcome and can be guarded against. However, the question of removing year-level structures can’t be separated from the issue of what is taught and how. And it is here that it seems the report has taken a progressive idea like personalisation and colonised it with an instrumental purpose.

Gonski’s version of personalised learning There are different approaches to personalising learning. Some enable teachers and students to negotiate learning programs based on students’ interests and learning needs.

In 2017 the then Turnbull government appointed David Gonski to lead a review into how to improve Australian schools. The idea was that if the amount of Commonwealth money going to schools was to be increased – as recommended by the earlier Gonski review in 2011 – then we needed guidance as to what the money should be spent on.

For instance, in the Big Picture schools in Australia and the US, students investigate topics or issues individually or in groups and report on their findings.​The key to this kind of learning is skilled teachers helping students make connections across the curriculum, because key concepts are understood through negotiation and collaboration.

A central proposal in the subsequent 2018 report, dubbed as Gonski 2.0, relates to “personalised learning”. Using the well-rehearsed argument that all students should be able to demonstrate a year’s learning growth every year, the report’s first recommendation is that schools move from a year-based curriculum to a curriculum expressed as learning progressions independent of year or age.

This approach prizes student agency and group as well as individual activities. It recognises learning is not a linear and scripted activity.

It claims this move will enable schools to better meet the individual learning needs of students than does the organisation of schools by year levels. The latter, the report says, is a remnant of the industrial era and must change if schools are to come into the 21st century. Certainly, the idea of scrapping year levels potentially creates greater flexibility for students and teachers. Rather than aiming curriculum at the average of a cohort of students at a particular age, teachers can “personalise” the curriculum by making an individual student’s readiness for learning the key criterion for curriculum planning. 18

Of course, a number of schools already do this, and in many other schools where year levels are still used, teachers use adaptive or differentiated teaching to cater for individual interests.

There are many approaches to personalised learning, some of which include individual and group activities. But that is not the version of personalised learning proposed in the 2018 Gonski report. This report recommends an approach where content and skills across every area of the curriculum are atomised into bite-sized chunks of knowledge, and then sequenced into progression levels. Students work on their own and, at regular points, use online assessment tools to test their readiness for the next chunk of knowledge. Once one level is mastered, they move onto the next.

The report recommends that, over the next five years, the recently developed and implemented Australian Curriculum should be rewritten so every learning area and general capability is written up as a number of progression levels. It offers an example of “spelling” being broken into a 16-level progression, with students mastering each step before moving lock-step onto the next level. The Gonski version of personalised learning bears an uncanny resemblance to the model of direct instruction​developed in the US in the 1960s. This is a tightly scripted, step-by-step approach that follows a predetermined sequence through packaged resource materials. Assessment follows each instruction phase with tests aligned to the behavioural goals of the program. The results are fed back to the teacher and student, and the stage is then set for the next phase.

Online assessment tools make students automatons

The National Education Policy Centre in the United States recently reviewed a number of personalised learning programs in the country that have adopted similar characteristics to those Gonski prescribes. The report concludes that they reflect a hyper-rational approach to curriculum and pedagogy that limits students’ agency, narrows what they can learn in school, and limits schools’ ability to respond effectively to a diverse student body. The manifestation of this model in the US has been a financial bonanza for private technology companies such as Summit, owned by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. These companies have developed online tests and learning resources capable of tracking the progress of, and devising programs for, individual students.

Similarly, Gonski suggests students advance incrementally through progression levels. At regular intervals they should be assessed by an online assessment tool against the learning progressions that measure student attainment and growth in attainment levels over time.

With such programs, students become individual automatons moving through standardised progression levels. Creativity and critical thinking are stifled as students are steered down an already determined path. And teachers are increasingly excluded from the process, as planning and decision-making is done by algorithms.

The tool could also suggest, for consideration by the teacher, potential interventions to build further progress.

The result is a narrow and highly individualised learning experience that is unlikely to prepare students adequately for the challenges of the 21st century.

Although there is an apparent nod in the direction of teacher decision making, it is inevitable the tightly scripted nature of the process will result in a reliance on the use of online resources.

The point is that “personalised learning” can take many forms. Some approaches will liberate learners, some will tightly constrain them. The model proposed by Gonski is more likely to do the latter. Far from moving schools away from an industrial model, Gonski’s model would entrench it. Rather than immediately adopting a model such as “progression levels”, surely it would be better to clarify our understanding about personalised learning, including the theories and assumptions on which various versions are based. Then, if personalised learning is the goal, why not evaluate a number of different models of personalised learning? The version of personalised learning Australia promotes should be one that nurtures a love and a passion for learning, not one that reduces it to a checklist.  This is an edited extract from Alan Reid’s book, Changing Australian Education: How policy is taking us backwards and what can be done about it, (Allen and Unwin: Sydney), available from October 1, 2019.

This article was originally published on The Conversation





ith Enterprise Agreement (EA) Implementation Plans being negotiated in schools this term, it's an opportune time to outline what happens when agreement is not reached, and a matter becomes a dispute. Obviously, emphasis should be placed on avoidance of disputes. Training has been rolled out from the AEU for sub-branch leaders and school leaders, designed to assist all parties in reaching a win-win agreement that allows for the smooth running of schools across the ACT. It cannot be stressed enough that a process of dispute resolution in line with the EA is a remedy of last resort, and this option should only be progressed with the assistance of the AEU industrial team and in line with their advice. However, despite our best intentions and efforts, there is a chance that some matters will give rise to unavoidable disputes. So, what happens then?

What is a dispute?

It is best to define dispute in terms of our current agreement. Under the provisions of dispute avoidance and settlement in Section G6 of the enterprise agreement, a dispute is: G6.1.1 Matters arising in the workplace, including disputes about the interpretation and implementation of [the] agreement; and G6.1.2 the application of the National Employment Standards (NES). The NES is a set of minimum standards that are provided to all National Systems Employees. The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) defines all the NES provisions. They relate to things like leave entitlements and flexibility entitlements, to name a few, and they provide the minimum rights and entitlements for employees covered by the Fair Work Act. In many cases, the related provisions in the current enterprise agreement go above and beyond these minimum standards and provide for stronger entitlements.


What is a matter arising in the workplace?

The provision that will most often be used to raise a matter to the level of dispute is around ‘matters arising in the workplace’. This is a broad concept, which can encompass varied issues and matters. Most commonly, however, a dispute arises around a difference in interpretation of the effect clauses and sections in the EA have. The wording of EA clauses and sections rely on the intention of the parties. This concept is challenging to understand, as it can mean the words of the clause or section may not be as clear as they first appear. In the context of matters arising in the workplace, interpretation and implementation are key concepts in the application of the EA. They also form the basis of the majority of disputes.

I am in dispute or think I am in dispute. What now?

Our EA sets out a number of procedural steps, which must be undertaken in the order prescribed:

Step 1

In the first instance, parties to the arising dispute are required to access all avenues available internally. This includes raising the matter with the immediate supervisor or accessing subbranch and AEU assistance. The EA also requires genuine attempts to explore all avenues to reach resolution. This is where negotiation and ensuring a process of good faith is entered into. In most matters, these actions will resolve the matter at this level. The aim should always be to reach agreement. If the matter remains unresolved...

Step 2

The matter is raised in an official notice of dispute to the manager and copied to the Education Directorate's (EDU) HR. This occurs through the AEU. Once a notice of dispute is issued, the employee raising the dispute, the AEU representative and the EDU HR representative will arrange to have a discussion with the relevant managers and supervisors.

Despite our best intentions and efforts, there is a chance that some matters will give rise to unavoidable disputes. Our industrial team explains what happens then... This is undertaken with the view to negotiate a resolution of the matter without the need for escalation. The AEU office industrial staff will always seek a mutually agreeable outcome. It is essential members raise these matters through the AEU office for advice, guidance and assistance. At this stage it is important that the advice of the industrial staff is followed. If the matter still cannot be resolved and the AEU industrial staff advice is to progress to the matter, then...

Step 3

This step is an escalation of the dispute in question. As the matter is unresolved, the next level of management is contacted. This is normally the Executive Branch Managers in EDU HR areas or, in the case of CIT, the Office of the CEO. At this level, the emphasis is still on negotiation and mutual resolution. Escalating the matter allows higher level managers to make decisions and find a way forward that others below them cannot. It is also the final internal step of the dispute avoidance and settlement procedures.

This is the industrial landscape we operate in. An approach of mutual resolution assists to preserve relationships, which is particularly important as in many disputes the parties will be required to continue working together into the future. However, despite this emphasis, the Fair Work Commission has full discretion to determine the best way to mange a dispute. This means that the Fair Work Commission can determine that arbitrating the dispute will provide the best outcome for all parties involved. Fair Work Commission decisions are final. However, the Fair Work Act allows decisions of a single commission member to be appealed. This would have to be in line with the provisions of the Act and can only be raised for the very specific appealable grounds.

How often does this happen?

Referral is made to the Fair Work Commission to assist in the resolution of the dispute. This step requires an objective assessment of the issue or issues in dispute. The focus is on the benefit and risk of pursuing the matter to a point where an independent arbiter can bind parties to a position.

In recent years, no AEU-raised dispute has reached the point where an application has been made to the Fair Work Commission and resulted in a hearing. In keeping with the procedures, the AEU office places emphasis on the conciliatory process. We work hard to keep our skills up in negotiation and conflict resolution. We work to make connections with the employer at all levels to ensure that good outcomes are achieved for all our members. In the past, we have raised a matter to the level of dispute under the above provisions, however we do this as part of a broader strategy and in order to put forward serious concerns in a way that conforms to a well established and agreed process.

At this stage, the AEU office industrial staff undertake a risk analysis of the dispute. It is important to look at the strength of the position and argument, the likelihood of success, the impacts of a successful outcome, the impacts of a negative outcome and how pursuing the matter will affect the relationship with EDU moving forward.

As we enter 2020 and the start of on-site negotiation for EA implementation Plans, our first advice to you is to aim to reach a win-win agreement. Raising a dispute is a time consuming process that should only be entered into if there is no other way that an agreement can be reached. If this occurs, contact the AEU office and seek advice and assistance from the industrial team. ď Ž

If agreement cannot be reached at this level, a decision to pursue the matter must be made.

Step 4

The Fair Work Commission will firstly attempt to conciliate a dispute. As is evident from the above process, there is a significant emphasis on maintaining relationships and for the parties to the dispute to have agency and ownership of outcomes. 21



s the long and growing list of outrageous cases of wage theft shows, young workers are being exploited by adult bosses. More than half of young workers surveyed by UnionsACT in early 2019 reporting having had wages stolen in the previous twelve months. For young workers under the age of 25, wage theft is in epidemic proportions. Young workers are also being hurt or injured at work at an alarming rate. More than 40% of respondents to our survey aged under 18 reported being injured at work in the previous 12 months. For both wage theft and workplace injuries, official reporting of incidents is very low. Young workers tell us they feel like they can’t report or speak up for fear of getting in trouble and losing work, and 63% of young workers between the ages of 14 and 18 report feeling worried or stressed about what happens at work.


As part of the 2019 Summer Casuals rights education campaign, aimed at educating first time job seekers about their rights and the services available to help them, we asked young workers about their experiences at work. The stories they shared made for sobering reading. One young worker spoke about underpayment in their workplace, saying, “When I was 17 up to 18 I would constantly work overtime and count my hours that I would work, but they would never want to pay me for it so they would end up taking up to 2-3 hours off of my pay constantly.”

Another young worker spoke about the treatment many young people receive when they start work. “The youngest person who worked while I was there was a 12-13 year old, and the manager created a fearful environment to prevent people from speaking out, regularly bag checking us when we left at the end of a night and coming in to criticise our work in front of customers while trying to serve, to then yell at us or threaten our positions later out the back.” Many young people shared with us their experiences of wage-theft, saying that they had not being paid superannuation, penalty rates, overtime or even minimum wage, while others spoke to the culture of work for young people which often entails threats, intimidation and bullying and harassment. Altogether, their stories painted a disturbing picture of the kinds of exploitation that await young people when they start work. There are a range of factors contributing to the vulnerability of young workers, including lack of understanding of rights, and the almost universally casual and precarious nature of employment for young workers, as well as low rates of union membership. It’s hard to stand up for yourself when you’re likely to not get any more shifts – and there’s nothing you can do about it. And it’s especially hard when you are younger, potentially

Without the skills and knowledge to enforce their rights, young workers are vulnerable to exploitation by adult bosses. That's where UnionsACT's Young Workers Centre comes in, writes ARIAN McVEIGH. in your first job, and unsure about your rights. Young workers, like all workers, need the skills and the knowledge to organize collectively and enforce their rights. That’s why UnionsACT has established the Young Workers Centre (YWC) for young workers under the age of 25 in the ACT. Young workers can learn about their workplace rights and how to enforce them as well as building the skills and collective power to fight back, in union, against wage theft and exploitation. Knowing your rights at work is a great start, but it’s not enough. By working with young workers through the leadership development program of the YWC, we are equipping young workers with the skills they need to stand up for their rights, and the rights of others – and those are essential life skills for all young people. The YWC runs workplace rights training and leadership development programs and assists young workers to organise and campaign for their rights. UnionsACT also runs the Young Workers Advice Service (YWAS) – a free and confidential service, supported by the ACT Government, which provides basic workplace rights information, advice and referrals for further assistance to young people in the ACT between the ages of 14 and 25. Young workers (and their parents, teachers and carers) can access information, ask questions and make appointments to speak with an industrial adviser through or by phone on (02) 6225 8104.

The Young Workers Advice Service Outreach Program includes educational classroom-based sessions for high school and college students, webinars for parents, carers and teachers, and information stalls and pop-up clinics on university and CIT campuses and at festivals, markets and other public events. The classroom sessions for high school and college students cover essential workplace rights and responsibilities – ranging from pay rates and superannuation to when you should get paid, pay slips and contracts – and what questions to ask when starting a job. The sessions have been developed in consultation with the ACT Education Directorate and run for approximately fifty minutes. To book a session for your class or school, or to find out more, email or call 02 6225 8104. The YWAS can also run information sessions and briefings for teachers and P&Cs. Get in touch to find out more. Do you know a young worker and think there’s something not quite right at work? Are you a parent, carer or teacher of a young worker and want to learn more about young workers’ workplace rights? Ask us! Check out our interactive website with fact sheets and ask us a question online or sign up to be part of the Young Workers Centre programs. The Young Workers Centre is online at And the Young Workers Advice Service be contacted through Or call us on 02 6225 8104.  Arian McVeigh is the manager of UnionsACT's Young Workers Centre.



WHEN UNITY MATTERS What we learned about ourselves in 1982

Former AEU ACT Secretary CLIVE HAGGAR is compiling a history of our branch in the leadup to its 50th anniversary. Although reference is made hereunder to the AEU as a teacher union, members will know that since 2007 the AEU has also represented school assistants. School psychologists are also our members.


n 2020, many would count the AEU ACT as a successful — and still evolving — professional and industrial organisation. But how should a teacher union measure its ‘success’? And how can a history of the union help us reflect both on our strengths and on the hard lessons learned over half a century?

Taking the measure of a teacher union’s success

In September 2018, writing in the global investment magazine Forbes, Peter Greene posed the question: ‘Why do teachers join the union?’ His answer is complex, and reflects the diversity of teacher union membership, both here and in other countries:

Our 50-year report card — how are we doing? These teacher responses therefore tell us a lot about what ‘success’ should look like for a teacher union; that a strong report card should include the following strengths (as well as an ability to continue learning from past successes and failures):

Voice and agency     

I want to be a teacher, and I want to be treated fairly, professionally and respectfully. I want to be a teacher, and I want to work for someone who provides the support or resources to help me do the job. I want to be a teacher, and I need to provide my family with a decent standard of living. I want to be a teacher, and I can’t do well when I have to constantly watch my back because I could be fired at any moment for any reason. I want to be a teacher, and I don’t want to risk my family’s livelihood every time I stand up against injustice or stand up for my students. I want to be a teacher, and because I cannot negotiate any of these conditions successfully as just one person, I’m joining a union so that we can work for these conditions for all of us, together. For Greene, this last reason is linked to the challenges we face in keeping the best and brightest young teachers beyond 5 years. As teachers have been given more responsibility and have faced funding constraints and constant change agendas handed down from state, territory and federal decision-makers, we may increasingly face the ‘spreading slow-motion walkout’ that many American states are experiencing. In this context, writes Greene, ‘the union is like the oxygen supply in a submarine—critical to completing the mission’. 24

My union provides a forum where I can have a voice. My union provides opportunities for different groups to gain confidence and skill and to play leadership roles. Union involvement provides me with an opportunity to gain system experience. Industrial and professional pathways Our union has moved from the industrial platform of its early years to become a teacher professional organisation with real influence.


Our employer (and state/territory and federal governments) know that we have a high level of union membership and solidarity—and that we are a force to be reckoned with.  Our opinion is sought on key policy and structural issues, locally and nationally. 

Powerful partnerships

Parents and parent organisations increasingly see us as professionals committed to educational outcomes — and the important role that class sizes, professional development, resources, pay and working conditions play in ensuring this.  Our union works strategically with local and national media to improve the way our story is told — and members often contribute their perspectives.  The ACT Government is comfortable working with our union, and recognises that the AEU is an important forum for teachers to raise issues, gain a sense of agency and solve problems. 

What do you think? Write in to the AEU ACT History Project with your thoughts on the ways we can measure the success of the AEU ACT. Email

A test of mettle in 1982: 2,800 teachers suspended and schools locked down The solidarity of members of the union was severely tested in March 1982, when some 2,800 ACT public school teachers were suspended from duty by the federal government and forbidden to enter their workplaces.

The basis for this action was the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Act — known derisively as the ‘CEEP Act’ — which had been enacted under the Fraser Coalition government in 1977. (As ACT teachers were then directly employed by the federal government, they came under this federal Act.) Under Section 4 of the CE(EP) Act, 'Commonwealth employees engaged in industrial action may be suspended: (4) Where persons who are Commonwealth employees … are engaged in industrial action, the employing authority may … declare that [these] employees … are suspended … ‘ More than that, if industrial action by some employees meant that other Commonwealth employees couldn’t do any meaningful work, they could be stood down too: ‘(5) Where, by reason of the existence of any industrial action (including industrial action in which Commonwealth employees are not engaged): (a) persons who are Commonwealth employees in relation to an employing authority cannot be usefully employed; or (b) there is serious disruption to the performance of a function by an employing authority … the employing authority may, by instrument in writing, declare that Commonwealth employees … but not being engaged in the industrial action, are stood down during the [same] period.’

The industrial action that prompted the stand-down

Since September 1981, ACT Teachers’ Federation members had been pursuing salary and conditions claims while the employer repeatedly promised that an offer was ‘about to be made’ — but in February 1982, soon after the start of the school year, the offer that came down was a ‘0%’ increase. In response to this, the ACT Teachers’ Federation decided to implement ‘rolling’ strikes (an industrial strategy that impacts students and parents in only one part of the territory on each day, while keeping the industrial action in the news over a more sustained period). Over the following days, the Fraser Coalition government threatened to cancel the deduction of union dues from teachers’ fortnightly pay packets—and then threatened to use the CE(EP) Act to suspend teachers from duty without pay if they continued the action. The axe fell on the third day of rolling strikes, Thursday 11 March 1982, with the suspension of 400 teachers during their rolling stoppage in Belconnen. The action was seen as a heavy-handed and politically motivated act by the federal government—and such was the emotion at the time that an immediate stoppage of the full membership was held the next day. Members present at the AIS arena voted overwhelmingly to take strike action across the ACT in support of their colleagues. This act of solidarity meant that the government could not target just 400 teachers in one ACT school region: it was faced with having to suspend without pay almost its entire teaching workforce.


Picture: ACTTF Liaison Officer Joan Corbett with then General Secretary Cathy Robertson and President Keith Lawler.

The government’s response

The government went ahead with cancellation of the membership deductions facility—a move designed to cripple the union financially—and also attempted to keep a handful of schools open. Relying on a small number of (what were described at the time as) ‘scabs’, this strategy could offer little more than an insecure temporary child-minding service for a small number of children. In another attempt to undermine union members’ solidarity, the government offered to reinstate any teacher who was prepared to ‘disassociate’ themselves from the industrial action by signing a personal pledge to that effect. (It is not known if any member actually signed a pledge.)

Union members’ solidarity

Members continued to support the union financially by paying their union dues in advance in cash, by cheque and alternative deduction schemes. Commonwealth Teaching Service Christmas Island members of the ACT Teachers’ Federation also donated wages in support of the Teacher Welfare Fund. Meanwhile, the Teachers’ Federation determined the next steps through debate at Executive, Council and stop-work meetings. The original union action had been in defence of legitimate salary and conditions claims. But once the CE(EP) act was employed by the government to intimidate and punish members and their union, each individual teacher then took what can only be described as courageous personal action by joining strike action.


There was a lot at stake: had the solidarity of members been shaken by the government’s actions and threats, the government would be likely to act in an even more punitive manner in the future. In many schools, school principals encouraged members to support each other in industrial solidarity: as one said, ‘When this is all over, I don’t want to come back to find a school that’s bitterly divided between those who did and did not take action in support of their colleagues.’

Support from all quarters

ACT Teachers’ Federation President Keith Lawler and General Secretary Cathy Robertson, who led the campaign, received the strong support of members and, in their interviews and written contributions for the AEU ACT history project, both Keith and Cathy have emphasised the importance of union member solidarity in defeating the CE(EP) Act and its anti-union and antiworker provisions. Public opinion also supported the union’s action: while parents and members of the public expressed some concern over the industrial action, their letters to the Canberra Times blamed the government and Public Service Commission for inciting and worsening the dispute. The Australian Industrial Relations Commission intervened, with Commissioner Justice Judith Cohen’s judgement favouring the union — leading to a substantial interim salary increase for both the school sector and TAFE, awarded to get teachers to return to work with their suspensions lifted. Further salary increases were awarded subsequently by the Commission, despite the opposition of the Fraser Coalition government and of the Public Service Board.

The provisions of the CE(EP) Act were never used again to intimidate employees. A year later Bob Hawke replaced Malcolm Fraser as Prime Minister and introduced the Accord process, Enterprise Bargaining and eventually ACT selfgovernment — which eventually rewrote the process of wage determination for Canberra’s employees.

Were you CE(EP)ed in 1982? Write in to the AEU ACT History Project at with your memories. Read more about the events of 1981 and 1982 in the National Library of Australia’s Trove collection of ACTTF journals and Canberra Times articles of the period. The ACT Branch website will also carry the interview transcripts of key figures.

Could it happen again? How would we respond?

The past fifty years have seen a series of federal measures by conservative governments that aim to undermine the collective strength of unions, both in Australia and in other countries. The union has faced challenges of this nature in the past with the Howard Government’s discredited Work Choices legislation, the 2006 salaries and conditions campaign.

In 2019 there has been a renewed assault on the union movement by the federal government in the form of the so-called Ensuring Integrity Bill — unmatched by any comparable bill focussing on the actions of employers. The bill failed in the Senate in 2019 by the single vote of Senator Jacqui Lambie, but is to be relisted in 2020. Writing in the online journal Yahoo Voice, Dr Jim Stanford of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work put the Bill in context: Australia’s very restrictive labour laws have criminalised normal union activity that is perfectly legal in most other countries….This Bill will… decrease their opportunities just a little more to build bargaining power and win better wages from their employers. …Already in the private sector, just 11% of workers have the benefit of an enterprise agreement to win them higher wages and some decent protection… That’s precisely because of the restrictions on union activity, and the demonisation of unions. This bill is a little more of the same. The AEU ACT hopes that this slice of its history encourages branch members and other groups of teachers to dig deeper into some of the key moments in our past 50 years—and to reflect together on the challenges to come. 


Congratulations to our recently joined and re-joined members! By joining our union, you're standing in solidarity with more than 3800 of your colleagues to fight for the best conditions for ACT

public educators.

Susan Campbell; Sheridan McLeod; Natalie Ivanoff; Megumi Richardson; Ahmed Jalloh; Sean Gourlay; Sofia Ritman; Anshi Reddy; Will Scott; Rebecca Hurrell; Ruth McTaggart; Emma Bebendorf; Anita Cope; Susan Lance; Michael Aspden; Julie Williams; Fiona Game; Stephanie Nott; Emma Wright; ;Jessica Bell; Mark Adams; Thulasee Gunawardana; Sarah Burke; Melanie Bezear; Justine Bruce; Naomh Barrie; Rebecca Palethorpe; Ellen Smith; Susan Calvert; Georgina Kelley; Jonathan Hall; Aaron Flynn; Tracey Croucher; Tamazin McGrath; Angie Mosely; Julie Gnjec; Amanda Cooke; Finely Bock; Shane Spellman; Karen McLachlan; Jordana Schmidt; Naomi Brooks; Helen Casey; Natalie O'Toole; Janet Kilsby; Lily Marlin; Kingsley Vance; Fiona Dean; Monica Gadd; Andrea Cruwys; Farhat Azad; Elise Watson; Luke Young; Shu Ying Justina Li; Natalie Dickie; David Greenwood; Tobias Hartley; Catherine Nash; Camille Landy; Megan Altenburg; Dawn Hallett; Rachel Dunlop; Graeme Meredith; Tracy Donnellan; Jaime Smith; Julia Mayer; Steven Landman; Lael Burke; Catherine Cantwell; Samantha Doré; Andrew Rowe; Karen Irvine; Gavin Smith; Andrew Taylor; Thomas Schwartz; Kalpana Jayashankar; Clare Callahan; James Buik; Julia Cunningham; Michelle Duffie; Evan Winterburn; Merryn Brown; Allison Lawrie; Joanne Mitchell; Clare Incher; Glen Stretton; Melanie Peterson-Navin; Paul Dorsett; Nichola Perry; Melinda Jenkins; Lucinda Cooper; Deirdre Herrmann; Richard Hudson; Jo-anne Jefferson; Tammi Beardmore; Caitlin Thomas; Kirsty Arnold; Ivonne Nathan; Brent Greer; Christine Pilgrim



Branch Secretary




Senior Industrial Officer

Business Manager

Lead Organiser




Industrial Officer

Communications Officer

Southside Organiser



SEAN van der HEIDE

Case Support Officer

Membership Coordinator

Northside Organiser




Industrial Support Officer

Administration Assistant


Administration Assistant

CIT Organiser



Organiser Support Officer