Some Key Points

Circulated by Philip O’Carroll after the public hearings (28 August 2003)

I am writing this to ensure that certain vital points that were raised during these hearings are on record and are known to all interested parties. POC

There is a fundamental flaw in the relationship between the Department of Education and Training (DET) and Non-government Schools (NGSs). DET operates its own schools at the same time as deciding through its Registered Schools Board (RSB) who else can start or continue a school, and increasingly, how they can operate it. It is no secret that families in recent years are slowly drifting from DET schools to Independent schools – despite the disincentive funding system. No other industry in Australia involves direct control by competitors.

It follows that an independent body should exist that registers NGSs, respecting the prior right of parents to choose who shall educate their children. This body would report directly to a government Minister, not through the state school system operator. Members of such a board would be predominantly experienced educators from the Independent sector, hopefully including some variety, reflecting the diversity of such schools. This board would employ its own staff.

WHAT is the AGENDA of this Review?
The RSB Review Consultative Paper canvasses many forms of greater DET control over NGSs, even stressing the need for “direct alignment”. But it is no secret that DET’s own schools are under greater stress in respect of educational standards, behaviour problems, emotional problems, prescription-drug dependency, staff stress-leave levels, and looming staff shortages. There is even a reported unwillingness for state-system teachers to accept promotion to Principal, dreading the load involved in trying to handle local challenges while operating under departmental controls.

There is no educational justification for the proposed increased control. On many people’s minds is the common-sense question why the most troubled sector would wish to take over those who are providing the most effective service delivery.

The prevention of a new school, on the grounds that parents may prefer it to existing schools, is a form of systemic corruption. This proposal undermines the core values of a free country – free association, free trade, and the primacy of the family. It would also stifle the natural evolution of schooling methods which our society desperately needs. It is an anti-social proposal, motivated by business protection for existing operators, pure and simple.

The notion of NGSs having OBLIGATIONS to DET
This notion was canvassed and caused some confusion. It presupposes another question: “To whom should we be accountable?” In a democratic society, this is the citizens – and in the case of schooling, it is most pointedly the parents. Independent schools are the most sharply exposed to parental judgement and are therefore the sector that already best fulfils the demand for accountability. Central government can enhance this by offering useful information to citizens, such as recommended curricula and society-wide assessment services whose outcomes are revealed to parents.

In considering the establishment of prospective schools, we must not only:
(1) respect the prior right of parents to decide who shall teach their children, and
(2) allow diversity of values, beliefs and approaches so that this choice is
meaningful, but also
(3) understand the need for innovation.

Innovative schools are started by teachers with vision, and patronised by parents who are seeking something different. These schools benefit not only their own students, but the whole of society. It must be accepted that not all new schools will prosper. Some will flop. Their vision may prove unrealistic. Or they may exist before their time. Either way, the industry progresses. In many cases, of course, a new school modifies its design in response to its experiences. When an innovative school demonstrates a successful new approach, it is taken up by many other schools. This is why pioneering schools must be valued and allowed to exist.

We educators and education bureaucrats dominate the formative years of our people. Therefore we must take responsibility for the stresses our society is under, particularly those of young people. As regulators we shy away from the unknown.
But we also know that we desperately need new ideas to be tried. In short:

We must evolve in order to survive.
We must have freedom in order to evolve.