Teachers at Australian school shocked at no warning over redundancies, can apply before 'externals'

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This article's primary contributor, Patrick Gillett, is an alumnus of Sunshine Coast Grammar School.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sunshine Coast Grammar School will make 21 staff redundant at the beginning of 2011. Some may get other positions within the school.
Image: Patrick Gillett.

A deal between Sunshine Coast Grammar School headmaster Nigel Fairbairn and the Independent Education Union of Australia has ended a week of uncertainty for 22 of the Queensland, Australia school's staff.

Last week Wikinews obtained a list of 22 middle management teaching staff allegedly made redundant, or laid off due to restructuring. The restructuring is, apparently, designed to get teachers back into the classroom.

During the week, staff, students, alumni and parents had accused the headmaster of being dishonest and not "tak[ing] a single question" on the issue.

“At 10am there were 21 teachers with big question marks over their employment but by 1pm they had the assurance they would be able to apply for new positions before external applicants,” union secretary Terry Burke said. “Mr Fairbairn said it was clearly the school’s preference to continue the employment of existing staff. It is our view the existing staff are more than capable of taking on the new positions.”

Sunshine Coast Grammar is a private Christian school approximately 95 km (60 miles) north of the state capital, Brisbane.

Teachers' position

Teachers at Sunshine Coast Grammar school have told the Sunshine Coast Daily that they received no warning of any pending redundancies. Independent Education Union of Australia representative and school careers counselor Maria Campanini said "teacher morale is very low and people are very disappointed and disillusioned".

Ms Campanini said that staff were saddened by the handling of the situation by headmaster Nigel Fairbairn. “We got an email announcing a meeting and I thought it would just provide some feedback about the review,” Ms Campanini said. “But the 21 teachers whose jobs were directly affected were herded into a room, Mr Fairbairn read out a prepared statement, turned on his heel and left. He didn’t take a single question. We were just left sitting there in shock.”

An anonymous staff member told the Sunshine Coast Daily that, “Some teachers, who rely on the income and whose positions were abolished, were very distraught and they had to go to class. It appears we’re not valued in the school community, not to be even asked our opinion as to what might be the best outcome, to try and make it work.”

According to Ms Campanini, one of the teachers being made redundant is 30 weeks pregnant with another returning to work after maternity leave. “It’s really stressful for all the people involved,” Ms Campanini said. “People can understand the need for restructure when it’s explained, but we’re none the wiser.”

“When it all happened on Friday, it was morning tea time and a lot of us had to go back in the classroom and teach all afternoon," the anonymous staff member said.

Parents: 'Fairbairn is not interested in having parents involved'

Parents have accused Fairbairn of constantly changing his version of events, with one telling the Sunshine Coast Daily that, “The school board does not have independent parents on the board, which makes no sense at all. From what I have gathered, Mr Fairbairn is not interested in having parents involved in the decision-making processes.”

Cquote1.svg Mr Fairbairn is trying to go into damage control and his story keeps changing. He’s told parents this restructure was not financially motivated but has told teachers the complete opposite thing. This is it. The gloves are off. Cquote2.svg

—Julie Hopkins, parent

“Mr Fairbairn is trying to go into damage control and his story keeps changing,” said Julie Hopkins, another Grammar parent. “He’s told parents this restructure was not financially motivated but has told teachers the complete opposite thing. This is it. The gloves are off.”

Leaked list

Wikinews obtained a list of middle management staff allegedly made redundant, or laid off due to restructuring, by the Queensland, Australia school. Sources say that those staff have been told that they can apply for new positions that have opened up.

The list, published on the SCGS alumni Facebook page, contains the names of twenty-two staff members. Seventeen positions are reportedly being opened up, eight of which seem to significantly overlap the old ones.

Headmaster: 'We are not cutting subjects'

Cquote1.svg Mr. Fairbairn "replaced the open and welcoming culture ... with the tyrannical and oppressive one." Cquote2.svg

—Student at a school in Christchurch, New Zealand, commenting on when Nigel Fairbairn was headmaster there

The changes are, apparently, designed to get teachers back into the classroom. “We are not cutting subject choices and extracurricular activities, but retaining a student-driven curriculum that integrates with the new Australian Curriculum, in keeping with our commitment to teaching and learning opportunities,” said headmaster Nigel Fairbairn.

Wikinews understands that Fairbairn attracted criticism when he was a head teacher in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a former student claimed that Fairbairn “replaced the open and welcoming culture ... with the tyrannical and oppressive one.” Fairbairn refused to comment on the criticism.

Graduates embarrassed by lack of respect

Cquote1.svg People are angry and shocked. I am aware of at least 10 families who have said they will pull their children out of the school – it's that bad. Cquote2.svg

—Affected teachers at Sunshine Coast Grammar School

Fairbairn's statement came under attack from 2009 graduates who, in a open letter posted on Facebook, said, "It is also hugely hypocritical to attack these teachers for not spending enough time in the classroom, when from firsthand experience the only time Mr. Nigel Fairbairn was ever sighted was during assembly (which he mysteriously stopped attending), never mind in the classroom, therefore, it is honestly astounding that he could make such unjust and incorrect statements."

They also expressed embarrassment "to be associated with the name 'Sunshine Coast Grammar School' while you are at the head of the great community which Grammar once was."

Four of the affected teachers “were the backbone of the school when [controversy surrounded founding headmaster John Burgess] happened,” a former prefect (student leader) said. “They got it through that crisis and this is the thanks they get.”

“People are angry and shocked,” they continued. “I am aware of at least 10 families who have said they will pull their children out of the school – it's that bad.”

The student body has not ruled out protesting the schools plans. “It's getting to that stage,” the former prefect said. “People are trying to look at it in an intelligent way but there is so much anger out there.”


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Sources

Wikinews
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