NSW education at a critical point - principals

Principals are warning that removing their state’s education minister in the near-term would drastically shake up the schooling system, and not for the best.

NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, is expected to be removed from the NSW ministry, along with Roads Minister, Duncan Gay, following the National Party’s disastrous performance in the recent Orange by-election.

However, principals say that such a change – at a time when the state’s education system is about to undergo sweeping reforms – could be grossly destabilising.

NSW Secondary Principals Council (NSWSPC) president, Chris Presland, told The Educator that uncertainty over whether Piccoli keeps the education portfolio means that crucial changes to the HSC, teacher standards and school governance are in doubt, prompting anxiety among school leaders.

“The thing that everyone is very nervous about right now is that in terms of the reform agenda, we are at the stage where we can start to consolidate the change process of bringing these reforms in,” he said.

“We’ve come a long way, and gotten through the hardest part, so we’re at the point now where we can start to consolidate and reap the benefits.”

Presland said he was particularly concerned about what a new education minister would mean for the state’s schools, given that they may have different designs for NSW education.

“The last thing in the world that we need is for someone to come in who has a completely different view, and a completely different understanding of what these reforms are about,” he said.

World-class education system at stake

Presland said the reform agenda had been “one of the most significant events” in NSW education over the last five years, saying Piccoli’s attentiveness to principals’ needs had driven improved teaching and learning across the state.

“The cornerstone of the reform agenda was focusing decision making at the local level and empowering principals and their local school communities to make the decisions that are most important for that particular context,” he said.

“In order to do that, there has been a significant focus on professional learning for principals because there’s quite a shift in that reform agenda, and that has required a lot of additional learning for principals.”

Presland pointed out that there has been a positive reaction from all stakeholders to the reform agenda, as well as an awareness from principals that “we can’t keep doing what we’ve always been doing”.

“The second area of the reform agenda is the Great Teaching, Inspired Learning [GTIL] initiative, which cuts across all levels of the profession. It not only aims to improve school leadership, but also raises the bar in terms of the standard of people coming into the profession of teaching and what is expected of them,” he said.

“There is a real determination from everybody to raise the status of the profession, and to do that through much higher levels of professionalism, particularly in terms of the strategic approach we take to professional learning.”