The Latest Public Education Crisis

“I want to have a direct relationship with the non-government sector…Having talked to the Prime Minister about this matter many times, it is his view that we have a particular responsibility for non-government schooling that we don’t have for government schooling.”
-Christopher Pyne, Education and Training Minister

Recently I wrote a series of articles regarding inituial teacher education (ITE) (the first of which can be viewed here), which included an article discussing the public perception of education and teachers and the relationship that education and the teaching profession have with the current Education and Training Minister, Christopher Pyne ( which can be viewed here). This series generated some insightful discussion around ITE and the public perception of education, and I had intended for this article to be a continuation of that conversation, based on themes which emerged from responses I received.

However a newspaper article has emerged overnight which has created a storm of controversy all over social media which requires discussion. My Twitter and Facebook feeds were inundated with postings of the article and comments regarding the decision which the government is considering adoption as to Commonwealth funding for education. If you have not yet read the article, here are the key points (in my opinion) of contention that have emerged:

  • The Federal Government has circulated a Green Paper to state and territory governments to consider the following four education funding reform options:
    • giving the states and territories full responsibility for all schools;
    • making states and territories fully responsible for funding public schools while the federal government funds non-government schools;
    • reducing Commonwealth involvement in schools, but without significant structural change; or
    • making the federal government the dominant funder of all schools.
  • Education and Training Minister Christopher Pyne has said that the government has a responsibility to independent education that it does not have to public eductaion.
  • Wealthier families will be required to pay more for their child’s education which means introducing means-testing to public education.

It must be pointed out that the government has indicated that this is only a green paper. My understanding, and I am happy to be corrected, is that a green paper is an introductory discussion paper used to test the waters on a concept. It must also be noted that it is a green paper on Federation Reform generally, not education specifically. Even with that in mind, given the four options that have emerged from this green paper in regards to education, there is certainly cause for concern.  This article will make a start on unpacking the potential ramifications for each of the emergent themes. 

  1. Give the states and territories full responsibility for all schools
    This is not, necessarily, a negative outcome for education, but is dependent on the conditions attached to such a delegation of responsibility. For this option to be successful, the states and territories will require greater support, financially, from the Commonwealth. Being completely realistic, the states and territories would require the amount of funding currently utilised by the Commonwealth to fund education, which would, in fact, result in a change-by-technicality rather than a true change in funding.

    If the Commonwealth opted not to provide additional funding to assist the states and territories in providing a high quality education, that is an essential and critical service for the ongoing success and growth of Australia, there would be some severe, negative repercussions. The most obvious result of this, to my eyes at least, is that there would be greater pressure on parents to pay the, currently, voluntary contributions. I would go so far as to suggest that it would result in those contributions becoming mandatory, which would place a greater burden on families who are already burdened from many different angles.

    Additionally,  a lack of additional funding to the states and territories in order to supplement their ability to fund education adequately would result in a quite obvious reduction in funding to schools. I highly doubt that there would be any steps taken at the top to reduce bureaucratic bloating, and that the reduced funding would be leveled on those most in need; our students, via our schools receiving less funding. Teachers would continue to be expected to achieve more with less; less resources, less time for continuing professional development, and less support for this students with additional learning needs. The end result of this is an exacerbation of a popular teaching meme
    teaching memeThe alternative, which has just occurred to me, and leaves me feeling sick at the thought of it, is that public education will become corporatised, with the various companies purporting to offer high quality education resources competing to gain the right to supply a school with its resources from textbooks to uniforms to workbooks to technology. Some may see this as a boon, however you only need to look to the US where this is happening to a degree, to see tht it can be highly negative.

  2. Make states and territories fully responsible for funding public schools while the federal government funds non-government schools;
    The arguments against this proposition are similar to the first suggestion. With the additional note that it will result in a complete financial apartheid in education. The scions of wealthy families will no longer be required to consort with the plebeian masses, as the families who can afford to do so, will rapidly remove their child from the crumbling public education system, where funding is drying up as the states and territories are not financially equipped to fully-fund such a large and ongoing expense, and join the wealthy and exclusive private education system.
  3. Reducing Commonwealth involvement in schools, but without significant structural change
    We have not been given any real information at this point about what this actually means which makes it difficult to determine the impacts of this proposition on education. My personal prediction is that this option is merely a re-wording of the previous options; a divestment of responsibility for education to the state and territory governments.
  4. Making the federal government the dominant funder of all schools.
    This may not sound particularly negative on the surface. However given that there is a reported A$30b shortfall in education for 2018 according to the budget, I cannot see this being an option that is given any serious consideration.

Ultimately, this latest political uproar raises further questions about what kind of society the Abbot-led government wants. They were thwarted in their attempt to push through a user-pays fee for our universal healthcare system last year, touted as a GP co-payment, the deregulation of tertiary education fees is ongoing, and now this. My interpretation is that Abbot and co are attempting to return us to a time of aristocracy, with more distinct upper and lower classes defined by economic standing and education. It is an erosion of the basic principles of democracy as well; I highly doubt you will find many people who believe that withdrawing Commonwealth funding for our students education is a positive decision.

This is a critical time to be involved in the education discussion. It is incumbent upon us all to be involved, and to be informed. Allowing the government to roughshod over the needs of the public in this case will have critical and dire affects on our country’s future, economically and socially.

I implore everyone to contact their Member for Parliament (if you are not sure who your member is, click here and scroll down to the search box) and question them as to how removing Commonwealth funding, which seems to be the ultimate goal, can be beneficial for the country. Let them know that you want your child to have access to the same thing that we all did – free public education. To send a message via the GetUp campaign, click here. If you want to read a different perspective, I would suggest this article by Glenn Savage or this article by Stewart Riddle (re-posted by Corinne Campbell)

Let your voice be heard.

Musings on Initial Teacher Education provoked by a Twitter conversation (Part 3)

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
– Attributed to Henry Adams

This is the third part in a series of reflections on initial teacher education (ITE). The opening article in this series focused on options to change the way that pre-service teachers are brought into their ITE programs with a view to lifting the quality of teachers. This is, of course, a difficult task and furthermore is a very contentious topic. The follow-up article was an examination of my own ITE program and ways in which it could have been strengthened with the view to improving the quality of graduates by making it a more rigorous program, and by better preparing graduates for the real world of the teaching profession. Today’s article will combine two of the topics originally listed in my opening article as they are heavily intertwined; the value of teachers and teaching as perceived in the public sphere and the role of the Education minister and his/her (currently his) stance towards education and teachers and the way the Education Minister is perceived by teachers.

I have been told that the position of Education Minister has not always been the popular and visible that it currently is, and that education as a topic of social discussion has not always been the ‘hot-button’ topic that it has been in the last ten to fifteen years. A brief Google search with the terms improve teacher quality brings up these results. A quick perusal of the search results reveals that there is a general call to improve the quality of teachers. Searching within a variety of topics within the sphere of education allows you to see the discourse of dissatisfaction emerging. This can be seen in educational topics such as NAPLAN results, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and the creative arts.

It is my belief that the news industry is responsible, in large part, for shaping public perception around the value and quality of education and teachers. Personally, I believe they do a reprehensible job of representing the teaching profession and the education industry through the continual publication of articles that decry the effort, the worth, the value, the training and quality of teachers.

The other side of it is the now high-profile portfolio of Education and Training Minister, currently held by The Honourable Christopher Pyne MP, also wields a great deal of influence in the shaping of public perception in regards to the education sector. There has been an increasing interest and importance attached to the annual NAPLAN testing as a supposed measure of teacher and school quality. I am unsure whether this has been socially driven by parents concerned about the education their child is receiving, or whether it has been as a result of ongoing politically determined importance. Wherever the impetus for the increased misplaced focus on NAPLAN testing comes from, it does seem to have originated, at least initially, with the (then) Education Minister Julia Gillard’s unveiling of the MySchool website in 2010. In 2009, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) was established to oversee the implementation of the planned Australian Curriculum.

The rationale behind this appeared logical; to allow greater consistency in skills and concepts taught nationally, thereby simplifying the process for students and teachers to move interstate. There was an underlying issue with this premise. It is not a truly national curriculum. I am unsure as to other states, but the current curriculum documents here in NSW are not the Australian Curriculum. According to the NSW BOSTES site, “New South Wales joined with the Australian Government and all other states and territories to develop an Australian curriculum…[t]hat incorporate agreed Australian curriculum content.”  

This Australian Curriculum, as of today (June 16, 2015) has not yet been fully endorsed or rolled out. Yet in January of 2014, Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced a review of the Australian Curriculum. At that point in time, not all curriculum documents had been written, endorse or rolled out. The results of such a far-reaching review would realistically not be expected for perhaps eighteen months after the announcement, to allow time for a proper establishment of the frame of reference, receipt of submissions from stakeholders, analysis of the data, synthesis of results and formulation of the resulting Review Paper. You would be incorrect in expecting that, as the Mr Pyne released the final report in October 2014

The Twitter conversation that sparked this series of articles included a comment from myself that “…we need an Education Minister who genuinely cares.” This was perhaps rather harsh on my part. I do not doubt that the Mr Pyne cares about his portfolio. The response I received was that “…I would like an Ed Minister (and this is fantasy) who relentlessly and publicly supported the teaching profession.” My immediate thought and my subsequent response to this comment was “…excuse me while I laugh at the absurdity of that ever happening.”

It is sad that the Education Minister is not perceived as being supportive of teachers. It is sad that the immediate response to an expressed desire such as that which was expressed to me is immediately met with sarcastic derision, as that is the perception that successive Education Ministers have fostered about their regard for education and teachers. I am unable to take seriously an Education Minister who instigates a review of a curriculum which has not been fully rolled out, let alone been in place for at least one full calendar year.

I do not know how to repair the relationship between the Education Minister and the teaching profession. I suspect that the views held by Mr Pyne are binary to those held by many teachers. What does need to happen though, is a cessation of Education being used as a political football to score points with the voters with disregard for the impact on the education sector, on students and on teachers.

I would very much like to hear any suggestions as to steps that can be taken to help repair the relationship between the Education Minister and the teaching profession specifically and the education sector in general. Thank you for reading this article, and sticking with me after the mammoth article yesterday. Tomorrow