2003: Class Size Counts

The “Class Size Counts” campaign was a significant working conditions component of the 2003 Enterprise Bargaining negotiations. 

As part of the EB4 claim prior to that time, the QTU had:

  • sponsored a visit to Queensland by Professor Charles Achilles , a leading class size expert from the US
  • featured class size reduction as a priority area in the QTU’s state budget submission
  • conducted extensive research into class sizes in Queensland schools. 

At that point in time, very little emphasis was put on class sizes by governments of both political persuasions, and the “targets” in place (with very little notice taken by the department) were a leftover from the 1979 Ahern parliamentary committee report on education enacted in 1983. 

Some respite had resulted from EB3, during which a strong member-led campaign won the employment of an additional 800 teachers (over four years).

The tactics used were many and varied but featured strong membership action which succeeded in gaining much public support on class sizes. The government approach, as usual, was to draw out the dispute as long as it could and force it into arbitration with the then IR Minister, Gordon Nuttall, leading the fray. His now infamous outburst about teachers using their students as “punching bags” outraged everyone in the community, even those who perhaps were not as supportive of teachers taking industrial action. His lack of understanding of this particular issue only reinforced the view in the community that class sizes really did count.

As a result of day 8 decision making (or lack thereof) by the department, early in 2003 the community of Chatsworth SS in Gympie, ably led by QTU Rep Peter Quinn, became the first of many that sought directives from the QTU, thus proving that unity and commitment can overturn poor bureaucratic decisions. Students, parents and teachers in this instance came down to Parliament House in Brisbane and highlighted the class size issue in a very public way. Many other schools took industrial action during the course of the EB4 campaign, thus highlighting the issue literally on a daily basis. 

The Maryborough by-election which occurred in April of that year became a window of opportunity, prompting the QTU to launch a TV advertising campaign on class sizes. It was said by many at the time that the class size issue overshadowed the many local issues generally raised in the course of a by-election campaign. 

By June 2003 EB negotiations were breaking down, and all 250 delegates at the QTU State Conference, adorned in their splendid red and white T-shirts and shouting out “class size counts”, marched from the convention centre to the Executive Building, thus ensuring maximum TV coverage of the class size issue on all news bulletins that day and evening.

QTU President Julie-Anne McCullough had said all through the campaign that if the government wanted to resolve the EB conflict, all they had to do was deliver on class size reduction. By 14 August the government had had enough, and the breakthrough came. Not only did teachers receive salary justice, but $38 million was agreed upon by the Beattie government to reduce class sizes, securing  a class size reduction from 30 to 28 in years 4 to 10. 

Once again QTU membership support for a strong campaign had seen justice prevail.

Steve Ryan
Life Member and Former QTU President

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 119 number 2, 125th Anniversary Special Edition, p24-25

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Past QTU campaigns