$70 mil for self-owned schools seen as unhelpful distraction
Seventy million dollars will be spent in an effort to convert 25 per cent of public schools to the Independent Public School model, with Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne now announcing a special ambassador to help make it happen.
Mr Pyne announced the plan late last week, saying he wants to take the example of state schools in WA and the ACT, allowing a “level of autonomy and independence that means that student outcomes are student-first priority,” he said.
That autonomy and independence covers a lot of ground under the independent system, with principals at the schools given greater abilities to choose their course content, funding distribution, and importantly their staffing arrangements and student populations.
“The more a principal and their leadership teams have control over the destiny of their own school the more that seems to lift that school's performance,” Mr Pyne says.
Federal Member for Deakin, Michael Sukkar MP, has accepted a role as ambassador for the Independent Public Schools initiative. Mr Pyne has asked any other members of Federal parliament to become ambassadors too.
All does not appear to be going to plan though, with the NSW government rejecting the $70 million package, contradicting claims by the federal Education Minister that the state was on board.
“We don't believe the research supports creating either charter schools or fully independent public schools,” NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said.
“We believe we have the balance right between local authority and maintaining the benefits of collaboration and efficiency that come from a strong school system. We don't support having two types of public schools in NSW.”
While announcing the initiative just days before, Mr Pyne said; “Every state and territory, including Labor states and territories, have signed on to the initiative with the exception of South Australia.”
School education program director at the Grattan Institute, Ben Jensen, says there is little evidence that more autonomous schools make better students.
“If you just look at autonomy, the evidence on school improvement is, at best, very mixed,” Mr Jensen said.
“Victoria has gone very far down the autonomous path - it was one of the first in the world to do so - while NSW has had a very centralised system and they have, essentially, the same results.”
Similarly, figures from the most recent Program for International Student Assessment indicated virtually no difference in results between NSW and Victoria.
Staff at public schools have voiced a broad range of complaints and concerns with the plan.
They say it gives undue power to principals to potentially put more pressure on teachers. Others claim that the increased ability to expel means a disproportionate amount of trouble students will end up at state schools that do not have a choice.
Some are concerned that the move is a step down the ‘charter school’ path, similar to a system in the US which has allowed rampant privatisation of school services from curricula to tuckshop menus.
State schools in some Indigenous areas have reportedly welcomed the plan, saying they prefer the increased control to localise their school and its curriculum to suit the specific surrounds.
The Australian Education Union is against the plan, with deputy president Karina Haythorpe saying; “It's worse than a ‘do nothing’ approach – he’s pulling apart our public education system altogether by creating a two-tiered public education system.”
Labor and Greens say the $70 million plan is a distraction from the destruction of the Gonski reforms, which had been set to provide billions of dollars to schools in a needs-based allocation scheme.
It does appear that the Education Minister has dispensed with the Gonski Report; a 5-year expert review by a bipartisan panel, which visited 39 schools, consulted 71 education groups and received over 7,000 submissions.
He has announced his own inquiry, dubbed by some ‘The Pyne Review’. It will be conducted by two experts over six months.
Mr Pyne says some Labor MPs are clearly in favour of the idea.
“Julia Gillard used to take credit for the WA independent public schools model, and Chris Bowen, the shadow treasurer, wrote in his book last year that he was in favour of independent public schools,” he said.