But NSW Teachers Federation boss Angelo Gavrielatos said the government was the one failing to fulfil its responsibilities to students.
Ms Mitchell’s comments come as Professor Geoff Gallop, author of an independent, federation-commissioned inquiry into teachers’ work, said working conditions were preventing teachers from working as effectively as they could.
Late last year, Ms Mitchell announced achievement, attendance and wellbeing targets would be set for each school. If they failed to meet them, the NSW Department of Education would intervene with extra support.
Many within the sector criticised the policy. The NSW Teachers Federation said it blamed schools and teachers for failures, even though they were not given the help they needed and were over-burdened by administrative tasks.
Principals also said it was a cynical attempt to shift blame.
But Ms Mitchell said those who opposed the School Success Model did so because the targets might be offensive to educators, and principals and bureaucrats would be criticised for consistent underperformance.
“Such a position is an abdication of responsibility to provide the best for our students,” she said. “Schools failing to meet their SSM targets will not be made pariahs. They will be provided wraparound additional support.
“We must be brutal when looking at the evidence base. We must, without fear, reject approaches that have been shown not to work – even if we have committed years of our lives to such approaches.”
Ms Mitchell said her ethos was that policy should be evidence-based, and have students at the centre. “Not media personalities, not politicians, not political parties, not interest groups or unions – not even education bureaucrats, principals or teachers,” she said. “It must be students.
“We know that there is much more still to do. And we will never achieve it if we continue to allow some areas of education to remain taboo.”
Mr Gavrielatos said teachers and principals took their responsibilities seriously. “What we hope for is for governments and their departments to take their obligations seriously,” he said.
“What we’ve seen over recent times is an abrogation of those responsibilities of governments necessary to ensure that every child has the opportunity to achieve their very best. Who’s held accountable when thousands of students are being denied their right to be taught by a qualified teacher?
“We are seeing some serious issues before us, yet the fingers continue to be pointed at teachers and principals rather than government accepting and fulfilling their obligations.”
Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald