Under our Australian Federalist constitution, the States take responsibility for public education. And in recent times, the Right has taken firm control of the States and they are bringing their agenda to the fore – and are making a “future mess” of it.
To cover up their inadequate policies, they seek to blame teachers for “failing” to educate their students. Given the huge number of changes that occur to education every time there is a change of government, is it any wonder that schools cannot provide a consistent approach to education. The latest raft of changes is in Queensland, where they have introduced “Independent Public Schools.”
As I understand it, the State provided funding for the school and it is up to the school to make best use of those funds. This generates a number of serious issues that threaten to blow up in the face of a future government – however that is of no consequence. “It is going to be their problem, not one for the present” seems to be the attitude. No matter what it is called, it is introducing business models of management into schools.
This strikes me as doing a Pontius Pilate; the State is trying to wash its hands of education in the most cowardly way. Hand it over to the schools, then we can really bash the teachers, their union, the public servants when it all goes wrong. Why is it that I think it will go wrong though? Simple, but bear with me while I digress.
The US Air Force introduced the F-117 Stealth fighter-bomber, and it flew with distinction but then the wings started falling off. Investigations found that whenever new planes were introduced, highly skilled technicians would be transferred to the new planes and they would bring their skills with them. This is a “transference of expertise”; the trouble was that the F-117 had a completely different kind of wing fixing structure. The technicians had no real training in using it, so made a mess of it. Further investigations revealed that this had been going on for decades.
A new plane was introduced and in the beginning, maintenance times would be horrendously long. Simple issues would take months to fix. The reason was exactly the same. The Enquiry learned there was an expectation that a skilled technician could easily adapt to an entirely new system seamlessly. This is “transferring expertise”. Unfortunately, skills in one system do not necessarily apply to different systems, unless there was adequate training. And this is why we are going to see some huge problems around some schools in the future. Do good educators make good business managers?
Consider this, public schools in Australia have run on a centrally controlled system. The Minister, the Director of Education and the Departments of Education would implement policies when needed, would develop funding stream and a range of other activities. By and large, these were the business operations of education. This left the Principals and other administration staff free to ensure the main product of their school, education, occurred. Introducing business models to education is just not going to do anyone any favours.
The “transfer of expertise” is a fallacy, we can see this, but education is not in the same league as a stealth plane, it is considerably more important. If principals, without any former business experience, take over schools to run them as a business, then what is going to happen? Principals are appointed from the cadre of people who fit the old centrally controlled model, not the business-centric model. They have minimal training in financial management, no formal training in HR, some in WHS, rarely any qualification in business management and they are running multi-million dollar enterprises. What a recipe for disaster.
I know we learn more from our failures than our successes, but this does not seem to apply to the Right. In government, the conservatives will persist, even if evidence of failure is all around them. A prediction: a very expensive future for the public purse around education.