The NSW education sector has thrown its unanimous support behind beleaguered Education Minister Adrian Piccoli as he comes under increasing pressure ahead of a cabinet reshuffle following the election of new NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro.
The Catholic, independent and public sectors, NSW Primary Principals Association, NSW Teachers Federation and prominent education experts have all spoken out in favour of Mr Piccoli while Mr Barilaro considers whether to keep Mr Piccoli on as the state’s Education Minister as he begins negotiations on a future coalition cabinet with Premier Mike Baird.
President of the NSW Primary Principals Association Phil Seymour said any move to cut Mr Piccoli from the educational portfolio would be a “travesty”.
“I am in my 40th year of teaching. I have never met a minister like Mr Piccoli before. He gets it, he gets education,” he said. “It would be a travesty if he didn’t continue the work he is doing.”
The fallout has been triggered by a disastrous Nationals showing at the November 12 Orange by-election, dominated by the greyhound racing ban that plagued the Coalition this year.
On Monday, a recount handed the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party their first lower house seat by the razor-thin margin of 50 votes.
The poor return resulted in the resignation of Troy Grant as leader of the NSW Nationals, while Mr Piccoli did not recontest his position as deputy leader.
Now Mr Piccoli is under pressure to keep his spot in cabinet despite being held in widespread regard throughout the sector, as Liberal members eye a possible return to the coveted education portfolio historically held by the party.
“Adrian Piccoli is a good Minister for Education and we’d hate to see him go, particularly over matters that seem to have little to do with his portfolio,” a spokesman for the NSW Catholic Education Commission said.
Dr Geoff Newcombe, the Chief Executive of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, said under Mr Piccoli the three school sectors were working more closely to improve education outcomes than he could remember.
“Mr Piccoli is an excellent minister who has successfully introduced many significant reforms,” he said.
Dr Newcombe highlighted Mr Piccoli’s role in introducing the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, improving the governance of non-government schools and driving higher entry standards for teachers.
While Mr Piccoli has remained popular among parents and teachers he has also presided over a growing school maintenance backlog that swelled by 36 per cent last year to $732 million and a troubled overhaul of the state’s education IT system – a reform that is now three years behind schedule and costing taxpayers an extra $270 million.
He has also been accused of being too close to the teachers’ union, which threw its weight behind him on Monday.
“I don’t think you would find anyone in the sector who would say they want a change of Minister,” said the President of the NSW Teachers Federation Maurie Mulheron. “He consults with everyone, but is captured by no one. We have our differences, but he’s got our broad support.”
Former Productivity Commission economist, Trevor Cobbold, who now runs public education advocacy group Save Our Schools, said if Mr Piccoli was to leave the NSW education portfolio it would have national implications for education funding reform.
“It would be a disaster,” he said. “Piccoli is the best education minister we have had in 30 years, and I don’t mean just in NSW – Australia wide.”
Mr Piccoli has won most of his support across the sector for his continuous pursuit of the federal Coalition for billions of dollars in needs-based Gonski funding.
His consistent public lobbying has opened up a fractious relationship with Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham but proved popular among his NSW constituents and among other state education ministers.
“Canberra would be happy to see him go,” Mr Cobbold said.