Begun in 2008, it's unlikely that I'll regularly make entries to this blog, so do check my main site at www.fourhares.com

This blog is more likely to include posts of a political nature - and one that requires sisu on the part of many!

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VIT - Victorian Insult to Teaching

The above titular expansion of the acronym I have increasingly heard used by teachers (retired and active) and other educators…

Once upon a time, Victoria (Australia) had a simple register that provided an easy means for schools to ascertain whether or not a teacher had appropriate qualifications. Actually, there were a number of such registers: one for state schools, another for independent schools, and a third for Catholic schools.

In the 1990s, the then Victorian government considered that the register for state schools was redundant, as the same information was being collected by the Department of Education as part of employment. I’m not sure what happened to the Catholic register.

The independent register remained intact.

The registration bodies were efficient and straightforward for most of teachers: if a person had graduated with an appropriate teaching qualification from a university, it was pretty much a straightforward process of providing copies of the same, paying a processing fee and, subject to no court order effectively prohibiting one from teaching, the qualified individual would remain on the register. After all, one doesn’t suddenly become less qualified with time.

For people that did not have a degree from an Australian university, the registration body provided a means by which to ascertain and determine parity or, in the case where there was no exact equivalent, in consultation and given the needs of various schools, provided a provisional or ‘reduced’ (for ease of this blog entry) registration – reduced in that certain constraints of time or levels or subjects were specified.

A quite sensible system, really.

When that government was voted out, I do not think that anyone could have foreseen the draconian system that was to be introduced in its place.

Orwellian educational doublethink newspeak

Part of the rationale was a twisted thinking that incorrectly claims that teachers wanted such a body: some teachers had been surveyed about whether or not they thought a registration body was an idea they would support. Having previously (or contemporaneously) had the experience of the registration bodies mentioned above, there was of course an overwhelming support for the same. Then what can only be surmised to be extreme left-wing bureaucrats came into the picture.

Firstly, a ‘two-fold’ aspect was being promulgated by the then proposed Victorian Institute of Teaching: on the one hand to ‘promote’ teaching; on the other to ‘regulate’ it. Only here a quick twist came from its organising committee once the legislation had been passed, and a claim that ‘the best way to promote teaching is by regulation’ (I was there at the time of the meeting in which this was spoken, and could not that believe such explicit Orwellian Newspeak Doublethink could be so easily spoken in educational circles!).

added tax with no value

If that was not bad enough, an ANNUAL FEE for registration was now required – effectively an indirect tax collected by the state of Victoria, rather than the Federal government.

At that time, the Federal Government had passed anti-compulsory membership legislation (section 180 of the [Federal] Workplace Relations Act 1996), which allowed for Conscientious Objection to Membership of an Organisation. Unfortunately, the Industrial Relations body considered (without further evidence at that time – something that neither I nor other teachers had the time or money to argue) that the VIT ‘is not a ‘registered organisation of employees’ (given that only teachers employed by schools require to be registered with the VIT, I personally, of course, disagree, and there MAY have been a lost window of opportunity).

retirement

Effectively, and in practice, this has had a number of ramifications. The first is that a number of teachers opted for early retirement rather than have to engage in such nonsense… with unexpected consequences:

In the past, when a school (especially, I suspect, independent schools) had an experienced teacher take leave (whether long service, sick, or visiting interstate or overseas for ‘short’ or expended periods), it would be able to call in a relatively recently retired teacher to fill in the gap. This provided part income for the willing teacher, as well as providing the school with a teacher who had experience and was already quite familiar with the tone of the school. Needless to say, this was now an impossible option: a retired teacher living in the same street as I last year described to me the impossibility of doing such without having to begin a process for re-registration with the VIT; other examples of immediate experience also include another recently retired teacher who’s book is used for VCE classes in the subject being in the same situation with regards to the school at which he had previously taught for decades.

teachers – not nurses, architects nor doctors

One of the arguments for the VIT that has been repeated by some of its employees are that it is comparable to the ‘equivalent’ body for architects, nurses or medical doctors. I cannot (nor will I) comment on whether or not there is a need for registration bodies in those professions: they are best situated to make such assessment.

One clear distinction, however, is that unlike in each of those professions where dangerous materials are used, teaching (except in very specific circumstances in some of the sciences) does not. Also, unlike, for example, doctors or psychologists who often work on a one-to-one situations with patients, teachers generally work with healthy groups (classes). And finally and most importantly, unlike those professions, teachers, working as teachers registered with the VIT, are employees of a school (if they were not, they would not need to be registered with the VIT). Therefore, there are rather significant differences.

This does not mean that I do not favour a sensible registration body as described in the opening section of this blog entry.

cart before the horse

Part of the claims of the VIT is the ‘valuing of education’. Frankly, their actions have shown the opposite.

It is not up to the bureaucrats in that body to determine whether or not an Australian University has an adequate teaching degree. Rather, a fundamental respect for the integrity of tertiary institutions needs to be maintained: by all means it is acceptable for the registration body to request of universities curricula outlines for their education degrees and graduate diplomas – but this to enable the body to ascertain parity with someone’s presentation of a foreign ‘equivalent’, NOT to ‘approve’ or not something that the University has already internally approved!

The way it is at the moment, it’s simply a further insult to education in general.

If a person has completed appropriate teaching qualifications, then they have. To have to effectively re-submit to similar criteria to the VIT in their first (and/or second) year of teaching is nonsense and undervalues tertiary education. If a person does not seem to be adequately prepared, then it is certainly the role of supervising teachers (during a teaching round by a student) to so inform the tertiary institution. Similarly, if a course provided by a tertiary institution is not quite sufficient for the expectation of a school, then there needs to be appropriate feedback mechanisms put in place (by the tertiary institution, not the VIT) whereby adequate communication of the type is possible and welcome.

As it is, the VIT tertiary ‘involvement’ is just another insult to education in general, and teachers in particular.

qualified… then less so???

Part of the problem with making inappropriate comparisons with other professions is that what may indeed be appropriate for them (and that’s really for those professions to decide) is taken on by the VIT and ‘adapted’ to teaching. A case in point is the recent (as of last year) further requirement that a teacher undertakes a certain number of hours of ‘professional development’ within a 5-year period.

In other words, what the VIT is effectively stating is that a teacher who is currently qualified (and who may be a very experienced and highly effective teacher) and registered as such will be deemed unqualified five years hence.

This also takes no account of the different needs for different individuals: some, in their early teaching career, may be better focussing on their classes and familiarising themselves with their school; others, in their 30s and 40s (for example), may highly benefit from ‘professional development courses’ (all teachers involve themselves in professional development by the mere fact of teaching!); finally, for those nearing retirement, it may be that their acquired wisdom is best cherished by their peers – and such may in fact be of best value. To require of any group to undertake so-called professional development hours is senseless.

How can a qualified teacher, currently teaching and further developing their teaching by teaching, suddenly be less qualified to teach!?

The VIT’s requirements are becoming oxymoronic.

above the law

A sensitive issue (because of both its destruction on lives and its emotive impact) is whether or not the VIT should be able to require a police profile provided to them.

This is rather quite unacceptable, and moves Victoria ever closer to a closed police state (and inadvertently decreases public view of the profession). Having both my grandfather and a cousin in the police force (the first a former Commissioner of Police in Europe), I am certainly aware of the types of information that can be collected and stored in both formal and informal files.

There is something else at stake here.

IF a court decides that a convicted person is to have a life-long exclusion from some forms of participation (such as teaching), then it is of course for the courts to make that determination (and they should have the power, for some crimes, to so do). However, there is another side to this, and that if a person has been convicted and served their sentence for the same, then the VIT has no business in requesting past records.

The slow increased usage of ‘police checks’ in a whole range of employment is something that is likely to have ramifications for society as a whole that really needs to be carefully held in check.

Of concern is also, of course, the close contact between the VIT and law-makers: it seems that when the VIT wants something that it considers is a good idea (even when it’s terrible), direct access to the Minister’s office, and amendments to the legislation, follows all too quickly.

fine on tax

This year, yet another development has occurred: charging a 43% fee on payments made ‘late’!

As if it’s not insulting enough to have to pay an annual $70, SOME who have paid late are being charged an additional $30 for a computer generated invoice.

To be frank, there’s not much I can add to this…

The requirement to have to pay by December in the year prior to teaching is already not right: for some teachers, it may not be until January or even February whether then know whether or not they’ll have a teaching contract. Additionally, December is normally rather busy with the writing of student reports.

What would be the problem with making March the due date for what is, in any case, an inappropriate registration charge?

only do what you have permission to do

There’s an old joke that goes something like the following:

In the UK, you’re allowed to do it unless a law prevents you from doing so;
In Germany, you’re NOT allowed to do it unless you’re permitted to do so;
In France, you’re allowed to do it even if you’re not permitted;
in Russia, you’re NOT allowed to do it even if you’re permitted to.

It seems that we’re increasingly moving from the UK model to the German, and all too rapidly to the Russian one.

If a person has appropriate tertiary qualifications or experience, a school should be able to employ them to teach. It should be obvious that no school would want to keep someone on staff who is inappropriate.

In terms of teaching, as for most things, the move to ‘permission to do x’ rather than ‘prohibited to do x’ demonstrates how a major shift has occurred since the 1960s: one that radically shifts from the struggles from liberty towards one with an over-riding concern reflecting inherent fear.

register yes, VIT no

Over the years, I have had numerous occasions to discuss various aspects of education with teachers in the State, Catholic and Independent sectors. I have yet to meet a single teacher who supports the VIT. Of the thousands of teachers registered, there probably are quite a few who do… but frankly doubt it’s even a small minority: it’s more likely to be, at most, an insignificant minority.

I look forward to the day when the State Government alters the legislation and makes VIT an option (or simply makes it obsolete). If an option, I’m certain that voting with our feet will quickly show the support the VIT has amongst the teaching profession.

communication

On a personal note, when I received the invoice for registration at the end of last year, I simply (and without noticing the threat of a FINE set at 43% of the invoice amount) left it in my pigeon hole. After all, that is what I have done over the past few years, and something that I look at on my return a few days prior to teaching the ensuing year… except that this year, a FINE was issued for ‘late payment’.

Not everyone who paid in January had to pay that fine, incidentally.

As soon as I received the invoice for the fine, I looked up on the VIT’s website information about how to contact them. Being repeatedly placed in a queue on hold (and not being able to hold, of course, as I have classes to teach), I instead sent them a facsimile (16th Feb). A few days later, not having heard from them, I called, the person I spoke with not having a copy of my facs, I again sent it.

Again no response.

Over a week later (1st March), I again call, and as the person to whom I spoke did not work on that day, and again my letter not being available to the person on the other end of the phone, and with threats from them to suspend my registration (even though I paid the necessary annual amount), I opted to simply pay the fine.

But really – enough is enough, and this will be but my first entry into the public realm to reflect what are (not only my own) frustrations with the VIT’s insulting existence.

I note, of late, that the VIT advertised for a few days for a ‘Communications Officer’. Personally, I remain sceptical as to what this means: one would HOPE that this position will be someone who is willing to LISTEN to what teachers are saying (communication includes, after all, listening). Frankly, however, I rather suspect that the position would have been better titled ‘Propaganda Officer’.

Only time will tell…

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