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The benefits of being a big player in education

Being a voice for the state’s teachers has given Maurie Mulheron an insight into the value of being part of a massive education system.

Maurie Mulheron

Maurie Mulheron plays guitar alongside a Year 12 student while principal at Keira High School.

NSW Teachers Federation President Maurie Mulheron always knew he wanted to be an educator, crediting his “many eccentric” teachers for the passion.

A former public primary and high school student, Mr Mulheron now leads the union which represents 67,000 teachers across the state.

He joined Secretary Mark Scott for the latest episode of the Every Student Podcast.

High school transition and recruitment processes were topics for discussion, as Mr Mulheron told Mr Scott he had noticed common challenges in schools across the state in his time as federation president.

“When Year 6 kids come into Year 7 secondary teachers have a tendency to baby them,” Mr Mulheron said.

“They were the leaders, they were the kids making the Anzac Day speeches.”

Mr Mulheron and Mr Scott agreed schools needed to leverage the benefits of belonging to one of the world’s largest education systems to smooth out this transition and help students maximise their learning.

“Someone said to me ‘trying to change the department must be like trying to turn around a battleship’,” Mr Scott said.

“I think more of the armada; there are 2200 schools, 2200 principals … all trying to do their best to improve the quality of teaching, improve learning outcomes, lifting the life opportunities for kids and if in fact if you can create an environment where enough schools are doing that, you are lifting the system.

“Part of the challenge is supporting infrastructure that you wrap around so that a principal … can get the expertise, can get the support. I think you have been a bit critical of the supporting infrastructure hasn’t been as strong as you feel that it needs to be.”

“We really have got to have a mental picture that it is not the principal as the hero model that brings about systemic reform or even school-based reform,” Mr Mulheron said.

“It may work for a finite period but it isn’t sustainable and that is why I have always been a fan of systemic reform.

“We need to create that support, the big system priorities need to be there, build a framework around it and in that secure environment then you can get innovation.

“We have got to find ways to form those vital connections between schools so that we are not reinventing the wheel or having to choose your own adventure kind of approach.”

Mr Mulheron said no one should be frightened “of the word ‘bureaucracy’”.

“We have got 2200 sites … we bring about 800,000 young people onto our sites each and every day. Why should we be apologising for saying we need a fairly large bureaucracy out there supporting this thing?” he said.

“Sure, innovation is important and mavericks are important but we can’t reform a system on just the certain individual who happened to stumble into a principal’s position.”

Mr Mulheron reflected on his “extraordinary” music teacher and his love of music that continued long after high school.

In addition to playing banjo, guitar and mandolin, he tried his hand at songwriting and playwriting, penning a musical, One Word...WE!, on the life of folk singer and activist Pete Seeger.

The former principal met the folk singer before his death in 2014, and said the experience was “very confronting”.

“I took some leave from teaching, my long service leave and went over and visited him in the States with my script where he took a red pen out ... and he wrote things like ‘far too melodramatic leave it out, leave it out’, I was being schooled.”

Listen to the full episode now:

Read the transcript of Every Student Podcast: Maurie Mulheron.

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