Split de­ci­sion on in­de­pen­dent pub­lic school sys­tem

The Australian Education Reporter - - OPINION - LIONEL CRA­NEN­BURGH

WA’S in­de­pen­dent pub­lic schools are grow­ing rapidly amid con­tro­versy by a par­lia­men­tary in­quiry re­port that it cre­ates a “two-tier sys­tem” of ed­u­ca­tion.

The mat­ter resur­faced when for­mer Ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Peter Col­lier an­nounced an ad­di­tional 79 IPS ini­tia­tives bring­ing the to­tal to 524 in 2017.

The Ed­u­ca­tion and Health Stand­ing Com­mit­tee es­tab­lished by the Gov­ern­ment to in­quire into IPS pro­duced a con­tro­ver­sial re­port claim­ing that the ini­tia­tive “ex­ac­er­bated” ex­ist­ing in­equal­i­ties in the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem re-en­forc­ing a “two-tier sys­tem”.

The re­port said that IPS ben­e­fited by be­ing able to re­cruit the best teach­ers with non-ips forced to ac­cept teach­ers “who are less suit­able for the school en­vi­ron­ment and have less ex­pe­ri­ence”.

It said that re­mote and hard-to-staff schools are par­tic­u­larly dis­ad­van­taged as a re­sult and would fall fur­ther be­hind while high-per­form­ing schools would con­tinue to im­prove.

“It is also too early to tell whether the IPS ini­tia­tive has cre­ated the con­di­tions which will lead to im­proved stu­dent out­comes in the fu­ture,” the re­port found.

“While the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion ac­knowl­edges that teacher qual­ity is para­mount in im­prov­ing stu­dent out­comes, it is not clear to the com­mit­tee how the IPS ini­tia­tive di­rectly pro­motes im­proved teacher qual­ity.”

In a me­dia state­ment for­mer pre­mier Colin Bar­nett told prin­ci­pals that the in­crease in IPS to 524 was “a clear in­di­ca­tion of the sup­port from com­mu­ni­ties across WA for their lo­cal pub­lic schools”.

“Aus­tralia has once again looked to the West for in­no­va­tion in ed­u­ca­tion and we have de­liv­ered it through the IPS model which is be­ing adopted na­tion­ally,” Mr Bar­nett said.

Mr Bar­nett’s com­ments re­flected the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment’s Stu­dents­first In­de­pen­dent Pub­lic Schools $70 mil­lion ini­tia­tive to sup­port se­lected gov­ern­ment schools in Aus­tralia to be­come more au­ton­o­mous if they de­sired.

“The ev­i­dence shows and over­seas ex­pe­ri­ence high­lights that in­creas­ing school au­ton­omy can help lift stu­dent out­comes and help schools bet­ter meet the needs of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties,” the pro­posal said.

WA, that in­tro­duced IPS in 2009 and Queens­land lead other States with both ex­pand­ing their In­de­pen­dent Pub­lic Schools pro­grams.

How­ever, the door was open for States to ben­e­fit from mil­lions of dol­lars in fund­ing for lead­er­ship train­ing, teacher de­vel­op­ment and re­sources with Tas­ma­nia’s Com­mu­nity Em­pow­ered Schools Pro­gram and NSW Lo­cal Schools, Lo­cal De­ci­sions set to ex­pand.

For­mer Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter, Peter Col­lier, said that In­de­pen­dent Pub­lic Schools would have more con­trol over main­te­nance mak­ing it quicker and eas­ier to get work done and ben­e­fit from in­creased fund­ing.

The Stu­dents­first IPS ini­tia­tive suggested that ev­i­dence from WA showed that prin­ci­pals in par­tic­i­pat­ing schools felt more em­pow­ered with schools re­port­ing in­creased en­gage­ment from their com­mu­ni­ties.

State School Teach­ers Union pres­i­dent, Pat Byrne, ad­dressed the par­lia­men­tary in­quiry into IPS to present the union’s sub­mis­sion to air mem­bers’ con­cerns that IPS in­creased staff work­load and had is­sues re­lat­ing to re­de­ploy­ment.

“WA’S IPS model per­forms no bet­ter than any other au­ton­omy model that ex­ists around the globe,” the sub­mis­sion said.

“In the ab­sence of an in­de­pen­dent, cred­i­ble anal­y­sis of stu­dent out­comes, the cur­rent NAPLAN data and mem­ber testimony would sug­gest that stu­dent out­comes im­prove­ment can oc­cur whether the school is IPS or not.”

The SSTUWA sub­mis­sion cited mem­bers’ con­cerns that IPS was a busi­ness model rather than an ed­u­ca­tional one with the ob­jec­tive of mar­ket­ing schools’ im­age and mak­ing money.

Prin­ci­pals con­tacted said their work­load had in­creased but this was more due to is­sues of greater ac­count­abil­ity, com­mu­nity ex­pec­ta­tions, staffing, re­quire­ments for trans­parency and tech­nol­ogy that could not be put down to IPS as be­ing the only fac­tor.

Ger­ald­ton Se­nior Col­lege prin­ci­pal Greg Kelly, said it was his opinion that IPS gave prin­ci­pals an op­por­tu­nity to “hold conversations” about what they wanted for their school when re­cruit­ing staff.

“I be­lieve that what is im­por­tant, IPS or not, is the mind­set you have for be­ing pos­i­tive and creative and want­ing to make a bet­ter learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment,” Mr Kelly said.

Hed­land SHS prin­ci­pal Kelly Sum­mers said that she liked the greater choice IPS of­fered to se­lect her staff.

“IPS may make some peo­ple feel more con­fi­dent, in­no­va­tive and flex­i­ble to do things but I feel that it is a men­tal shift and that you can do very much the same things in a non-ips en­vi­ron­ment,” Ms Sum­mers said.

She found that IPS gave her a great op­por­tu­nity to use “strate­gic gov­er­nance” and found it be won­der­ful for par­ents and com­mu­nity.

She used the free­dom to be­come, per­haps, the only school in WA where, with the help of the com­mu­nity and train­ing ex­perts, her stu­dents were do­ing a Cer­tifi­cate II in Rail In­fra­struc­ture so they could in­crease their em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in a min­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

The Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion Ser­vices con­ducts an in­de­pen­dent re­view of each In­de­pen­dent Pub­lic School in the fi­nal year of the school’s three-year De­liv­ery and Per­for­mance Agree­ment with the di­rec­tor gen­eral.

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