Julia Gillard will not rule out issuing fines or docking the pay of teachers who boycott the national tests that feed data into the controversial MySchool website.
The admission came as the Gillard, the Federal Education Minister, was grilled for a third day on the MySchool website that launches next week. MySchool will publish online the grades and performances of schools across the country.
She all but issued a challenge to the Australian Education Union to back down over its threats to boycott national tests if the Government didn’t take steps to prevent MySchool being used as a league table to name and shame underperforming schools.
She had held meetings with the union in the past over the issue to make it clear that the Government would push ahead with its plans.
Her comments were criticised by the union's federal president Angelo Gavrielatos, who accused Gillard of "ignoring expert advice" and an "overwhelming body of research" on the damage that league tables caused schools.
"We have said that the course of action we've announced [to boycott national tests] can be averted and will certainly not be necessary if the Government introduces measures to stop the further creation and publication of league tables," Gavrielatos told iTnews.
"Unfortunately, rather than answering our concerns, Julia Gillard wants to go down the path of exploring legal options and the like."
Gillard yesterday dodged a question on whether she thought the union’s threats were a stunt.
“I’ll allow the AEU to speak to its own motivations,” Gillard said.
“I do note today that some of the spokespeople on behalf of the AEU are saying that they’re not opposed to national testing. Well if they’re not opposed to national testing, then they shouldn’t be boycotting, ensuring national testing goes ahead.”
She took steps to quell the row this morning by revealing that schools would receive a “comprehensive support package” before the website launched.
It included fact sheets and frequently asked questions.
Shadow Education Minister Christopher Pyne had earlier this week taken a swipe at the Government for not giving schools any information they could use to answer questions from concerned parents.
“The truth is that while Ms Gillard has adopted the Coalition’s policy to increase transparency within schools, her push to launch the Myschool website without giving principals the tools to address the inevitable concerns parents will raise is like asking a boxer to fight with one arm tied behind his back,” Pyne said.
But the time given to principals to review their report card before it was published on MySchool and Gillard leaving open the possibility of legal action against recalcitrant schools could escalate the row.
Gillard said today that “principals will have the opportunity to preview their school’s report card the day before the MySchool website goes live" next Thursday.
Although he welcomed the release of information to help schools and parents navigate MySchool, Gavrielatos said parents needed to be aware of MySchool's limitations.
He said that some of the information on the MySchool website was "inaccurate and misleading".
"While information will be available for parents on how to navigate the website, it's important for parents to understand there will be inaccuracies [in the information available] due to significant margins of error," Gavrielatos said.