Embracing Local Schools, Local Decisions would lay the groundwork for commercial privatisation of the NSW public education system, Federation President Maurie Mulheron said.
“Structural changes from a system to individual school entities will enable the privatisation of individual institutions,” he warned.
To illustrate his point Mr Mulheron looks to the structural precursors to the privatisation of public schools in the United States and Britain: devolved staffing and resourcing to the school level and then forced structural change to permit academies in Britain and charter schools in the United States.
Mr Mulheron said that for the past three decades conservatives have stalked public education with waves of change to bring about weakened universal provision (see panel below).
“Our opposition to devolution was for sound educational, resourcing and pedagogical reasons, but the Right was breaking up school systems for a much, much more important reason: full privatisation.”
Mr Mulheron said the corporate world clearly sees education as a market place which could reap huge profits.
“Schools could very well look at what is happening to TAFE,” he said.
“The vocational education sector has now over 5000 registered training providers, many of which are huge corporations that will exist to make a profit and will be receiving government funding that used to be given to TAFE.
“Next year when contestable funding is introduced through Smart and Skilled in NSW it will get a lot worse. The wholesale privatisation of TAFE is happening at an alarming rate,” he also said.
Mr Mulheron noted that when Mark Vaile was trade minister he negotiated free trade agreements which include easier access for Australian for-profit education providers to markets in Asia and the United States. Then, as a consultant for GEMS Education, Mr Vaile foreshadowed the presence of for-profit schools for Australian students (Sydney Morning Herald, January 20, 2013).
Mr Mulheron said the world’s largest education company, Pearson, runs for-profit schools in Africa and Asia through its subsidiary called Omega and sees its future in education software and online learning.
“Pearson’s target is for 70 per cent of its sales to come from digital services by 2015,” he said.
Federation is investigating if the Department of Education and Communities has entered into a commercial relationship with Pearson. In February the Board of Studies website reported Pearson Research and Assessment was seeking expressions of interest from teachers to mark student responses for NAPLAN.
Mr Mulheron said News Corporation executive chairman Rupert Murdoch had identified a $500 billion market in the K-12 sector in the United States.
“News Corporation has consistently editorialised in support of the ‘education reform’ movement, and we should remind ourselves that the Daily Telegraph boasted that Local Schools, Local Decisions came about by constant pressure from the newspaper,” Mr Mulheron added.
Cause for optimism
While Mr Mulheron sees the policy settings to allow privatisation are here, he has cause for optimism for the future of public education.
“We have significant support across the community,” he said.
“Our Federal political system has dispersed power over education making it more difficult than has occurred in the UK.
“We have a united teacher union movement.
“Unlike our counterparts in the USA and the England, we have neutralised and quarantined the worst excesses of the testing agenda.
“There is strong community support for retaining public ownership of TAFE.
“We have slowed the pace and reduced the impact of devolution in NSW by protecting staffing levels and class sizes in the last Staffing Agreement — an extraordinary achievement.
“Gonski is the most significant setback for the Right in many years.
“But one great advantage is that we are aware of what the corporate agenda is, what instructions they have delivered to their political mouthpieces.
“We will not be ambushed so easily.
“Teachers working together are a formidable force,” he said.