Teachers, principals and parents should get behind major school reforms announced over the weekend by New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell and Education Minister Adrian Piccoli.
With the implementation of these reforms, principals in New South Wales will have greater autonomy to ensure the skills and attributes of their teaching staff are the best fit for the particular needs of their school community.
Greater principal autonomy has been identified by the Business Council of Australia as one of the most important reforms needed to restore Australia’s competitive edge through the quality of our education system and teacher talent.
Australia must pull out all stops to lift productivity and competitiveness so we can continue to raise our living standards, and world-class schools are critical in achieving this.
It is also vital to ensure that our schools provide a pathway to greater economic opportunity for children from less advantaged backgrounds.
The reforms announced by the O’Farrell Government are particularly encouraging because, according to OECD comparisons, Australia’s most populous state has some ground to make up on education performance.
With the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores for 15-year-old students in the state declining significantly between 2000 and 2009, reforms to lift the quality of teaching and learning outcomes in the state are necessary and welcome.
Strong school leadership, high-quality teaching and an ability to use school resources flexibly in response to local needs are the key ingredients to lifting school performance – and these are front and centre in the New South Wales reform package.
Under the reforms, greater control over staffing decisions and incentive payments will give principals the tools they need to recruit and reward the best-performing teachers and to get the mix of staff that best suits their needs of their communities.
Streamlining school budgets and reporting requirements will also free principals from red tape so that they can focus on school leadership.
While these reforms to school governance will bring New South Wales into line with other states, the state appears now to be taking the lead in better aligning teacher remuneration with performance.
The proposal to base salary progression on the attainment of professional standards rather than years of service, and the ability for schools to offer local incentives, represent two important steps towards delivering COAG commitments on improving teacher quality.
The proof of the pudding, as always, will be in the implementation.
Premier O’Farrell and Minister Piccoli have set out a clear roadmap for how these reforms are to be achieved. It is up to the broader school community now to ensure that the benefits of these reforms are realised as soon as possible.