Pyne's 'independent public schools' ploy

Gary Zadkovich
Deputy President

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s promotion of “independent public schools” should be seen for what it is — another attempt to divert attention from his government’s refusal to commit to fully implementing the Gonski school funding reforms.

Having already tried this tactic with his much-criticised review of the national curriculum, Pyne now hopes a $70 million spend on increasing school autonomy will shift public attention from the failure to pledge $2095 million to pay the Commonwealth’s contribution to the fifth and sixth years of the NSW Gonski agreement.

Pyne’s actions underscore the deceit of the Coalition during last year’s federal election campaign. Rather than a genuine commitment to implementing the fairer, needs-based Gonski funding system, the federal Liberals and Nationals cynically sought to neutralise schools funding as a political issue by saying they would match Labor “dollar for dollar” on Gonski. The deceit is that this pledge was for four years only, not the full six years of the NSW agreement.

Pyne’s push on ‘independent public schools’ has been roundly rejected by education unions, principal groups and education experts.

Gonski panel member Ken Boston said in The Australian (November 1, 2013) that this issue was “a peripheral distraction with no real bearing on student outcomes”.

Glenn Savage from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, wrote: “a recent evaluation of the WA [independent public schools] model by researchers at the University of Melbourne found that the reforms produced ‘little evidence of changes to student outcomes’ and ‘no substantive increase in student achievement’.” (The Conversation, February 4)

Savage also exposes Pyne’s misuse of an OECD Program for International Student Achievement (PISA) 2009 finding that “in countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better”.

Savage said: “This is a very misleading use of the OECD’s data, as this quote refers specifically to the relationship between student performance and curricular autonomy. Independent public schools, however, will have very little autonomy over what is taught, as all Australian schools are now required to deliver the Australian Curriculum in core subjects.”

Pyne’s push to break up the public school system into stand-alone, school-business entities reinforces the importance of Federation’s opposition to devolution and the continuing campaign against attempts to cash-in or trade off teaching positions to pay for some other resource or program that should be funded centrally by government.

Whether it is implemented as the self-managing public school of the Kennett Government era in Victoria, the Independent Public Schools of Western Australia and Queensland, the 47 school trial that led to the NSW Local Schools, Local Decisions policy, or the current 229 school pilot of the Empowering Local Schools policy in NSW, the intent is the same.

Devolution is designed by Treasury and government to cut investment in public schooling.

Pyne’s sophistry won’t change that.