Teachers, Education Assistants and parents are fighting back against the Liberal’s cuts to education in Western Australia.
Over a thousand education assistants rallied outside state parliament on 3 September, just days after the cuts were announced. Then on the morning of 19 September, teachers and education assistants went on a half day strike, closing 62 schools across the state. In Perth, 15,000 rallied, and another 5000 rallied in regional centres.
While WA Treasurer Troy Buswell has downplayed the cuts, calling them “minor changes to the education budget” education staff have seen them for what they really are: rolling cuts that will cap teacher numbers, slash 500 education assistant positions and usher in school amalgamations and closures.
Funding for special needs programs in literacy, numeracy and behavioural problems will be cut by a third. Schools will also be forced to pay a levy when staff members take long service leave. The cuts will see some large high schools lose half a million dollars, and a number of primary schools face up to $200,000 in cuts.
Education assistants, predominantly women and already among the lowest paid workers in the country, do vital work, supporting teachers and students, particularly early childhood and special needs students.
These cuts come as the Education department anticipates an extra 9000 students in our state schools next year.
State School Teachers Union president Anne Gisbourne told the crowd in Perth, “This is just the first step in our activity to turn back the budget cuts.” The teachers’ union will need to deliver on its threat of more strikes if the government is to be forced back.
The government is stubbornly refusing to budge, with Buswell calling the Perth rally “a test of our political will”. This struggle will also test the will of education staff and their supporters, who are determined to fight the cuts.
It is a taste of the austerity measures we may see from Tony Abbott, who is on the record saying that the WA government is “the kind of government that I wish to run in Canberra”.
Strike action like that of education assistants, teachers and support staff is the kind of action that will be needed to beat back these attacks.
By Anita Creasey