Education and Training Reform Amendment (Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership) Bill 2021

It gives me great pleasure to contribute to the debate on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership)
Bill 2021. As the founding principal of a non-government secondary school for nearly 29 years, a recent recipient of a masters degree in educational leadership and someone who at my old age is still passionate about education, my contention is that amongst the bill’s many benefits it will generate greatly improved standards and go a long way towards elevating the public’s regard for the teaching profession.

I would like to begin by referring to just a few things there from the opposition. The opening speaker spoke very warmly in favour of this bill and cautioned, though, to make sure that it just does not stay there as something on the statute books and so on but that in fact it is really put into action and that there is a continuing monitoring of the development of that particular academy. I think that makes sense, and I think that is perfectly reasonable.

He also spoke about the teacher career structures and the problems about the division between classroom and administration. I would just like to make one small personal reflection. It is quite personal. I have always been amused by the way people will say, ‘Oh, well, look, that person is a born a teacher, is an excellent person in the classroom and really it’s a waste to have them in administration or formal leadership’, and so on. My experience, I am afraid, has been—with exceptions—more often than not that the good teachers are also the good administrators, because they are well organised, they do their homework and they do the follow-up. There are so many things. I think in some ways it is misleading—and you hear it all the time, from all walks of life—that somehow or other they are two completely different things. Unfortunately they are quite related. Often a really good principal or deputy principal or year coordinator is in fact also an excellent classroom teacher. And that is a decision that leaders have to make—between taking someone out of the classroom into more leadership and denying the children in that particular way.

The member for Eildon really took me back to my past. I used to have the odd skirmish with maths teachers, and the member for Eildon identified herself as such. I used to feel that the maths teachers spent far too much time looking for X and that we would be better off looking for other things as well, and the member for Eildon did not disappoint. She is obviously a very strong advocate for maths and science, and we certainly would not want to deny the importance of maths and science.

Also—just a small indulgence—I have always had a bit of a problem about Eildon. For one year I was the acting principal of Trinity Anglican College in Albury-Wodonga. I used to come back to Melbourne every Friday night, and for some reason out at Tullamarine there was always this enormous hold-up and we would be forever circling Lake Eildon. It is still something that haunts me, I must say, that constant circling of Lake Eildon, which I just cannot get out of my system. Anyway, onwards from there.

I also noticed that the member for South-West Coast was very keen to point out the great work being done by all schools, government and non-government. Certainly my whole life has been in non-government schools, but since becoming the member for Hawthorn I have had the privilege and honour of visiting government schools and recognising the great quality of their contribution and the importance of their contribution. So I am delighted to see that we are recognising the importance of, if you like, both brands of schooling.

Just moving along, then, to a couple of things, what we are trying to do here is improve outcomes for students by providing specialised teaching and leadership excellence programs for high-achieving teachers and school leaders. That is the first one. The second one is lifting the quality of teaching across Victoria by increasing equity of access to professional learning. The third one is providing a dedicated pathway for established exceptional teachers to contribute to school and system improvement. And the fourth one which I have put down here is improving the quality of school leadership. This is something that is really very, very important, because I think often leaders—and I speak for myself here—often fly by the seat of our pants or by dint of personality or dint of circumstance and who you might have working with you and so on and so forth.

So I think it is kind of recognising, if you like, that leadership is a mixture of an art and a science, and I think you ignore the other side of it at your peril. That is my experience anyway. Understanding the importance of how recognition is given, for example, to effort, how things are best organised and how people are best acknowledged, there are just so many things that have teachers feeling good about their work that can be traced to leadership. It is not just a matter of pandering to ego, but there is a whole string of things, including, for example, the good location of, say, in-service education. Sometimes that will be served by a day, but sometimes it would be served by something like the academy, which is being envisaged here, over a good length of period. Many years ago there was such a program in Geelong, as I recall, and it was a residential course and so on. It was highly successful. I still do not really know to this day why it was ever discontinued, because the outcomes were really good. So I think that idea of improving school leadership is very, very important.

And the fifth one here is raising public awareness of the capability and status of teachers and school leaders in the science, practice and the profession of teaching. The proposed academy will be an independent statutory entity with the task of delivering teaching and school leadership excellence and raising the calibre and status of the profession through the design and delivery of high-quality professional learning. And I think it is really important that it be an independent statutory authority so that we do not just run the risk of repeating the lessons of the past or a mentality that says, ‘Oh, this is the way we’ve always done it’, but rather ask, ‘Why do we do it this way? Why don’t we take a different approach?’ and so on. If you make it an independent authority, you do not have people just arguing the case of the Department of Education and Training or the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria or Independent Schools Victoria or whatever it might be, you have an opportunity for some freshness of approach. So not only will the academy provide impartial expert advice to the minister, it will also partner with organisations, professional associations and others to maximise the impact of teaching practice on student outcomes and evaluate the impact of its own programs.

The work of the academy will be overseen by an independent seven-member board with both advisory and decision-making responsibilities, supported by a chief executive officer employed by the secretary of the department. The board will be directly accountable to the minister for the academy’s performance and functions. The bill provides broad powers to the academy to fulfil its principal objects after enactment, including the ability to raise fees and other revenue and to commercialise its services
and intellectual property. And it will be starting on or before 1 January 2022, so that is a good start. We are not just putting that one on the long finger.

The government recognises that the most important way for Victorian kids to have the very best education is having the best teachers. That is why this will be achieved partly through the academy, which will develop high-quality teachers and work to ensure the professional development opportunities are widely available in school. Some of this is about making sure that the principal has the right degree of authority to make sure that teachers are teaching the right grades, the right age group, the right subjects and so on, and a lot of that ability of a principal to be able to do that with some confidence and knowledge will come from further study. Whether it is in the masters degree I did in Ed. Leadership or whether it is at the academy, so be it, but I think it is very important that the principal have, probably in many ways, greater authority. I know I am biased, a bit like the maths teacher there before, but nonetheless I think that would serve education best of all.