Education and Training Reform Amendment (Registration of Early Childhood Teachers and Victorian Institute of Teaching) Bill 201

I rise to speak on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Registration of Early Childhood Teachers and Victorian Institute of Teaching) Bill 2014. Whilst we on this side of the house do not oppose the bill, we seek to take it to committee in the Legislative Council due to our concerns over the effect of changes to governance of the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) and over double dipping on fees for early childhood workers.

I would like to take a step back and talk about the initial establishment of the VIT and its role in regulating the teaching profession in Victoria. First established in 2001, it has been a part of Labor’s long legacy of commitment to education within Victoria.

It is a vital part of the relevant legislation, the Education and Training Reform Act 2006, which established it and set out the standards for the teaching profession across Victoria. The influence of that flows on to students, and the standard of training they get from teachers in this state has really been remarkable.

The VIT registers teachers working in the Victorian government, Catholic and independent sectors. All practising Victorian teachers must be registered by the institute. As we have heard other speakers on this side refer to in earlier speeches, the institute is governed by 12 council members, the majority of whom are practising teachers from all of the sectors mentioned.

The institute registers all teachers to ensure that only qualified people are employed in Victorian schools, works with teachers to develop standards of professional practice, supports teachers in their first year of teaching with a structured induction program and approves and accredits pre-service teacher education courses that prepare teachers — all extremely important systems that have now been in place for some time and have operated successfully.

This bill looks at putting in place four main outcomes in relation to the VIT: firstly, it clarifies the process for criminal record checks for teachers; secondly, it establishes a register of disciplinary action, referred to as RODA, for teachers; thirdly, it introduces a scheme for the registration of early childhood teachers by the VIT; and fourthly, and sadly, it changes the governance of the VIT and challenges the independence in practice of how it has been governed since its establishment in 2001.

Jumping back, the first main change this bill implements is in regard to criminal record checks. It clarifies the meaning of ‘criminal record check’ to encompass national and state criminal record checks, which is an extremely important step forward. It also specifies that registration of a teacher will be suspended if consent to the check or the fee is not provided, and obviously prevents those who need to be scrutinised by the system from escaping scrutiny. The other change is the introduction of a register for disciplinary action, a database to specifically record any disciplinary action applied to a teacher, as distinct from the VIT list of registered teachers. The Victorian Institute of Teaching can already make exceptions if it believes there is no benefit in publishing the name of an individual, and this will continue to be the case. The information is currently available to employers via the VIT, but the bill will change the way it is accessed and is intended to make it more efficient.

The third area of change is the establishment of a scheme for registration of early childhood teachers by VIT, which is well supported on this side of the house. It will bring early childhood teachers into line with their primary and secondary teaching colleagues — as they should be. Given the amount of study required to qualify and the standard of teaching and care that early childhood teachers bring to preschools, and in some cases primary schools, it is about time they were recognised and registered. Registration also puts the same onus on early childhood teachers to mandatorily report concerns of child abuse and neglect as is required for schoolteachers and is in line with the recommendations of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children inquiry. It also leads to further professionalisation of the workforce, and I will return to this topic in a minute.

The final area of change in this legislation concerns the governance of the VIT council, which is where we on this side of the house have some real problems.

Whilst the costs and impracticalities of using the Victorian Electoral Commission to conduct elections were addressed in the 2008 review by FJ and JM King and Associates, we feel that the new appointment procedures will fail to provide an adequate cross-section of representative bodies, particularly active service teachers. At the moment the current make-up of the 12-member council that oversees and governs the VIT provides a good cross-section of council members, with six male and six female members. We can only dream of having that 50-50 balance here in this house one day.

An honourable member interjected.

Just watch this space. I will touch on some of the people who are already on the committee, like Allen McAuliffe, an experienced teacher and principal class member who has worked across various regions, in high schools, technical schools and secondary colleges. He has had experience at Sandringham College and has previously been a principal of Brimbank Secondary College. Leonie Sheehy is a council member who has worked as the literacy and student services leader at St Joseph’s Primary School in Boronia. Leonie has enjoyed many years as a classroom teacher, a teacher librarian and a Reading Recovery teacher. The amount of experience in those two committee members alone is amazing, and I raise concerns about the move from having an independent 12-member panel to one where the remaining six members are appointed by the minister according to the first chairperson who is a teacher or a principal.

The VIT is being stripped of its independence, and that is a real shame.

These changes mean that the recommendation to have representatives from government, Catholic and independent schools would only need to be considered, with no requirement on the minister to meet those recommendations. It becomes doubtful whether we will continue to get the mix, the experience and the independence of the current members of the VIT council. We all know that when principals or teachers speak out about the education system they quite often get heavy-handed phone calls from the regional office or from a ministerial adviser. Certainly anyone who does not say the right thing by the minister will not be nominated for the council. That is the reality and that is where we see issues arising around the ongoing independence of the VIT. Clearly there are parts of this legislation that Labor supports, but this is not one of them.

We need to put VIT into the context of what the government has or has not been prioritising in education in its annual budget.

Certainly many a review over the last few years has talked about how education funding has decreased and its effect on the maintenance of many of our schools. Many promises have been broken by the current government in relation to rebuilding or updating many of the schools across Victoria, and this comes on top of the government’s $600 million cut to public education in Victoria.

There are many preschools in my electorate that have suffered because of the government’s lack of any commitment to spend on infrastructure in the preschool sector, and they have had to rely heavily on trying to access funds through the federal government. I have to say the preschool education — —

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Blackwood) — Order! The member’s time has expired.