A small but vocal minority speaks

I have recently been writing about the proposals to change how suspensions and exclusions are dealt with in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW). As a result of these proposals, I wrote an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald. This has seen me draw criticism from campaigners which I have responded to on by blog (e.g. here) and has also seen a response in the Sydney Morning Herald from Louise Kuchel, a parent advocate for children with ADHD.

In Kuchel’s article, she suggests, “A small but loud minority vocally opposes these reforms.” I guess that refers to me. However, the response I have received from teachers, teachers who often disagree with me on issues such as the effectiveness of different teaching methods, has been overwhelmingly positive. I am also aware of the fact that public school teachers in NSW are effectively muzzled by restrictive media and social media policies and so I wondered whether this may contribute to campaigners feeling that those who oppose these reforms are small in number.

We now have an answer to this. On 9 October, a joint statement was released from the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations of New South Wales, the NSW Primary Principals’ Association, the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council and the NSW Teachers Federation (the total membership of the NSW Teachers Federation is around 67,000). While striking a more measured tone than my opinion piece, this statement suggests that these organisations share at least some of my concerns.

The joint statement raises concerns about rushed implementation of the new policy, particularly in the context of COVID-19 and describes the new Student Behaviour Strategy as a, “thinly veiled exercise in data suppression and blame shifting”, arguing that, “Schools use the suspension and expulsion policy as a last resort after all available options and resources have been exhausted, having implemented a range of strategies and engaged parents, carers and external agencies, necessary to maintain the safety and wellbeing of all.”

The joint statement also calls for more resources to allow for such steps as reduced class sizes. Although there is some debate about the overall effectiveness of reducing class sizes, it does make sense when campaigners call for ever more differentiated and individualised teaching as the supposed solution to the problem of poor classroom behaviour. If bureaucrats really want teachers to implement these strategies in full, then classes of about five or six may make it feasible. That would require considerable investment and I suppose that depends on the level of political commitment.

Critically, the joint statement also calls on the NSW department of education to, “ensure the health and safety of all students and staff”.

Because that is what is at stake here.

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