Lara Watson argues the case for the importance of a Yes vote in the Voice to Parliament referendum. . .
After more than 65,000 years of continuous culture, it’s time Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are recognised in our 122-year-old Constitution. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want recognition in a practical form by having a say on issues and policies that impact their lives.
It’s not complicated or confusing, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are asking Australians to say ‘YES’ if they agree that we should be able to give feedback to the Federal Government when they are making laws and policies for us.
When the Constitution was being drafted, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were still being murdered, along with other atrocities and the view was we would die out with so few of us left. So, there was no thought or reason to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the document that sets out the rules for Australia.
I know many people are anxious and don’t want to silence any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ voices, but it’s curious that some people feel that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must have a 100% consensus to move forward and create a better Australia for all. We are just as diverse as any other group, we need opposition in our ranks, so we can have the robust conversations that deliver best practice and outcomes for our people.
Yes23 shared with us their polling which shows that 83% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people support being recognised in the Constitution (in the practical form of a Voice to Parliament). Further to this, there are numerous surveys and polls online that put this support at between 80% to 87%.
It is important to listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, when they talk about Sovereignty and Treaty before Voice, to understand their position isn’t against Constitutional recognition, but a continued fight against broken promises, oppression, systemic racism, exclusion and entrenched poverty. We all fight to better the lives and create opportunities for our families and our communities, we just choose a different path to get there.
Not only have government, but laws also and policies made for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples failed for centuries, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been blamed for this failure. This has contributed to stereotyping and misconceptions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
When I went to school, I learned about Captain Cook, the First Fleet and how the British ‘civilised’ the savage Natives. I was told not to identify as Aboriginal because I could get away with being white and I was asked why I was hanging around with ‘those’ people referring to my friends who were darker than me. I became disengaged from school; school became more of a social experience instead of a learning one. Educational disengagement is still relevant to many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Indeed, many remote communities do not have high schools, so at 12 years old many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are put on a plane and sent away for school, away from everything they know, their family, community, culture, language and Country. There is little to no support, they are scared living in such a foreign environment and of course they don’t want to go back to that.
Our children deserve access to education in the community in which they live, they deserve to have their culture recognised and their history told to build understanding and to break down those misconceptions. They deserve opportunities that lead to employment and careers, they should be our hope for the future. This is just one reason why a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous Voice to Parliament is so important.
Governments have taken a generic approach to issues in our communities, and this doesn’t get to the heart of the cause of those issues. Each of our communities have different priorities and needs, and they have their own answers on how best to fix them. With a Voice to Parliament, we can share all this information, give our input on how to address them in a culturally safe way and really get to the core of the issue.
We have had representative bodies before, but when there is a change of government, they are de-funded and collapse. The vital work done fades into obscurity. We are continually having to start the work from scratch, time and time again: the same emotional and cultural labour.
We have sent petitions, asked to be seen and heard, rallied, lobbied, campaigned, we have gone to governments, and we have gone to the monarchs, yet our issues are still the same. Governments continue to create policies that are expensive with no meaningful outcome, and which are often more harmful than productive.
This time, in 2023, we are inviting the Australian people (through the Uluru Statement from the Heart) to walk with us, to help heal our Nation and to create a fairer, inclusive and better Australia for all.
We are asking you to say YES to recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as the First Peoples, and to enshrine a Voice, so we can have meaningful input on the issues affecting us (our peoples and our communities).
Lara Watson is a Birri Gubba woman from Central Queensland.
Lara worked on the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ (ACTU’s) successful campaign to deliver working rights for Community Development Program workers.
She is currently the ACTU’s Indigenous Officer and is leading their Unions For Yes campaign. She also created the artwork for this campaign. The symbol she used in it means ‘wadja gathering’. ‘Wadja’ in Wiri language means ‘speech’ or ‘word’ (the closest word to ‘voice’); gathering because the campaign is a community one)
Jack Galvin Waight delves into the reasons why it is essential to make our public schools secular havens . . .
As educators we know that in the classroom, and in modern society, time is crucial. Workloads are excessive and the curriculum is crowded. As outlined in my Eric Pearson 2021 Report: Teaching not preaching: Making our public schools secular Special Religious Education (SRE) is a massive waste of valuable learning time. The equivalent of the loss of a full term for a primary school graduate.
It is also an administrative burden for schools and causes our students to both sit out and miss out. SRE, even contradicts the Department’s own Schools Success Model that “requires a focus on teaching and learning” and the 2020 NSW Curriculum Review which recommended as a priority that the Government reduce the impact of extra-curricular issues and topics. (NSW Education Standard Authority [NESA], 2020)
Compounding this loss of valuable time is the weekly battle to keep our schools secular havens. Programs like Hardcore Christians, Jesus Car Racing, andHillsong’s Shine are considered, by academia, as the exact opposite of what is appropriate and required for our students and society. Like the discredited $61million a year taxpayer funded chaplaincy program, there is a consensus that SRE is outdated, devalues the profession, potentially promotes extremism and is simply not appropriate for 21st Century learning.
My report (Galvin Waight, 2022), which was released in July 2022, analyses this research, examines special legal advice pertaining to legislation, and contains structured interviews with academics, activists, labour theorists, and union leaders. The paper provides key campaign recommendations to ensure that our NSW public education system is secular, inclusive and appropriately reflects multicultural and pluralistic contemporary society.
The findings highlight that, as a profession, it is time for us take this time back. Our students need education not indoctrination.
A profession united
This important work has started. For the first time ever in NSW, and as an outcome of my report there is a unified educational alliance — Primary Principals’ Association (PPA), Secondary Principals’ Council (SPC), the NSW Teachers Federation and the NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations (P&C) — arguing that SRE/Special Education in Ethics (SEE) simply must go, or at the very least, not interfere with curriculum time.
These peak groups are calling on both sides of politics to implement an independent review of SRE/SEE.1
It should be noted that there has not been an independent review of SRE since the 1980 Rawlinson report. The 2015 ARTD Consultancy2 terms of reference examined only the implementation of SRE and SEE in NSW Government schools – it was not an independent review into SRE/SEE.
All peak educational groups are unified in their view that not interrupting curriculum time is essential. Noting that SRE/SEE could take place in schools at lunch/ recess or before and after school. A precedent for this was created in 2015, when the incoming Victorian Labor Government introduced a ministerial direction, removing Scripture from formal class time, virtually eliminating the program (Galvin Waight, 2022), Providers and any other religious or community groups could still apply to use public schools, outside of curriculum time, as part of the Department’s Sharing of School Facilities policy (NSW Department of Education, 2021)
If it can happen in Victoria: it can happen in NSW. Both the Primary Principals Association (PPA), 2022, and the Secondary Principals Council (SPC) 2017 have published position papers on the issues which they have identified around SRE/SEE. They can be accessed via: https://nswppa.org.au/position-papers & https://www.nswspc.org.au/position-papers/. Federation also has a long-standing policy position that SRE has no place in NSW public schools and that any education (religious or not) should be done in line with an approved curriculum and by a qualified teacher. This includes Ethics which as highlighted in my research paper, started out with good intentions but has become a distraction, helped to legitimise SRE, and is now part of the problem.
Parental and community support
Surveys and census data continues to reveal a growing community consensus and groundswell of public opinion for secular education and society.As part of my report Federation commissioned a Quantitative Survey of the NSW public and in April 2022 an online survey of 1,467 adults was conducted. Results showed that most parents want religion to be taught after school hoursand that most support is for secular values to be taught.
Of note, interviews revealed that when parents find out what is actually occurring in their children’s SRE lesson, they often become the greatest activists for change. Fairness in Religion in Schools (FIRIS) is one of these parent and community groups that continues to hold the Department, Providers and Government to account. FIRIS is most concerned that SRE is a self-regulating system with no oversight, and calls for the legislation to change and the time be given back to the professionals.
This community activism, survey data and international research comparisons (Galvin Waight, 2022)show that Australia, and NSW in particular, is completely out of step with the rest of the world. Most developed countries have recognised the dangers of extremism and have shifted to a world view General Religious Education (GRE) approach.3
This is highlighted by Dr Jennifer Bleazby’s 2022 study showing that religious instruction (SRE) can indoctrinate students by encouraging them to uncritically accept beliefs that are not well supported by evidence. Including conspiracy thinking, science denialism and extremist thinking. Her report concluded that it is time to seriously revaluate the place of religious instruction in our schools.
Alarmingly, even the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in international legal cases has criticised and likened countries that still have a segregated, partial exemption process such as NSW to a ‘ghetto approach’ (Evans, 2008b, p. 470). (Galvin Waight, 2022)
Our Unfair funding system
Australia is also an international outlier when it comes to schools funding by continuing to maintain one of the highest concentrations of religious schools compared with other OECD countries. Approximately 30 per cent of all schools in Australia are affiliated with a religion and 94 per cent of private schools.(Centre for Public Education Research (CPER), 2022) This system of segregating children along lines of class, wealth, and religion, with large government subsidies to private schools and little accountability, is unprecedented internationally.
The media has largely focused on the proportion of public money going to elite and well-endowed private schools, but my report examines what Jennifer Buckingham, from the Centre for Independent Studies, describes as “‘fundamentalist’ Christian schools.”(Galvin Waight, 2022),
As religious education author Marion Maddox outlines, in my interview with her, ‘Some of the philosophies underpinning these schools are far from benign yet many are receiving substantially more government funding than public schools’.(Galvin Waight, 2022)
In December 2022 ABC Four Corners rang me with questions about my report. Most significantly, they asked who is regulating and evaluating these schools? The programs excellent investigative report aired in January 2023 and investigates the disturbing practices of Opus Dei schooling and its influence in the NSW Liberal Party.
Reporter Louise Milligan reveals in some cases the schools are not following state curriculum. They are accused of persistent attempts to recruit teenagers to Opus Dei and of teaching misinformation about sexual health, including discouraging girls from getting the HPV cervical cancer vaccine. Former students at the elite schools reflect on the practices they say have scarred them for life, going as far as to call the schools “hell on earth.” (ABC Four Corners, 2023)
This is why Australia’s unfair and unsecular education system must continue to be challenged. This is why Federation continues to campaign for a funding system that prioritises public schools. This is why the School Chaplaincy Program (which remains unfettered by statute and oversight and that the High Court in 2014 ruled was of no benefit to students under the law) (Galvin Waight, 2022) must also be scrapped.
Recommendation 3 of my report calls on Federation and the AEU to reinvigorate a national campaign to replace chaplains with qualified school counsellors. For as Ron Williams (the dad who took on the government and Scripture Union QLD in the High Court and won twice), said in my interview: “Qualified school counsellors are exactly what is required we just need more of them.” (Galvin Waight, 2022)
Making History – a secular revolution
In the early 19th century, Australians did something very special. We put aside our sectarian division, came together and created the world’s first legislated secular education system. At that time, we abolished state aid to religious schools and cemented the NSW public education system as one of the best in the world. We did this by embracing the secular.4
Australia, once leading the world in secular education and academic results, is now falling behind on the international stage. It is no coincidence that this has occurred in the time of a sustained period of de-secularisation. A small, but organised, religious lobby has influenced our public life, institutions, and policy. This lobby has taken an active interest in public education. It is time that we, as a nation and union, take a respectful interest in religion in schools too.
This does not mean we need to halt teaching of General Religious Education, values and world views. Yet a fear of backlash has left many politicians, teachers and members of the general public scared to come out and say what they believe. We can no longer afford to be silent and need to be ‘loud and proud’ of our secular beliefs. The groundswell of public opinion against SRE, government-funded chaplaincy and religious schools needs to become a people-power movement. For, as Australia becomes more polarised and divided on political and religious lines, embracing the secular has never been so important.
Federation is starting this process and later this year (2023) will host an inaugural secular conference. The aim of the conference will be to raise awareness, build key alliances, highlight key campaigns and begin the secular narrative. This is important because secularism has the potential to be a unifying political and social force and a movement for social justice.
Australia can once more lead the world in secular education and learning outcomes. Reclaiming the secular represents an opportunity on all sides of politics to unite and embrace inclusion. It represents an opportunity to create a society in which people of all religions, and of none, can live together fairly and peacefully.
Imagine a country where all religions are treated equally with the freedom to practise without fear of discrimination. A country where education is free of vested interests and teachers are treated and respected as the professionals that we are.
Imagine a state:
• that doesn’t compromise on secular legislation where schools have the appropriate time and resources to meet all students’ needs
• where school children are taught about world religions by a qualified teacher as part of an inclusive, authorised curriculum
• where the educational focus is on student outcomes and creating a vibrant, cohesive society.
This can easily be us again. It’s time that we, as a profession, take the secular lead in NSW. Our students and society need education not indoctrination, teachers not preachers.
1 This review should examine:
The quality, and efficacy of the lessons, instructors and providers.
The effects of missed teaching and learning on students and schools.
Departmental policy and procedures,
Australian Bureau of statistics (ABS) data and
the collection and release of participation data on SRE/SEE, which has not occurred, despite this being a recommendation of the:
1980 Rawlinson Religion in Education in NSW Government Schools Report
2011 NSW Legislative Council inquiry into the Education Amendment (Ethics Classes Repeal) Bill
2015 ARTD (consultancy) review of SRE and Special Ethics Education.
2 ARTD Consultancy are a consultancy firm commissioned to review SRE in 2015
3 General Religious Education is “education about the world’s major religions, what people believe and how those beliefs affect their lives”. It is taught by qualified teachers employed by the Department of Education in a safe, respectful and inclusive classroom setting..
Jack Galvin Waight is author of the 2021 Eric Pearson Study Report entitled Teaching Not Preaching: Making Our Public Schools Secular. He is a Federation Country Organiser in the Hunter/Newcastle area, Vice President of Hunter Workers, Federation’s Representative on the Department’s Consultative Committee for Special Religious Education (SRE)/Special Education in Ethics (SEE) and DoE Excellence in Teaching and involvement in broader educational issues Award recipient.
This course offers exciting new details about convict Australia and will allow participants to develop an understanding of the role played in Australian history by the 3,600 political prisoners transported to Australia between 1788 and 1868, and to apply this understanding to NSW syllabuses.
Participants will investigate changing interpretations of the role played by convicts in Australian history and identify the historical links that existed in the colonial era between the treatment of convicts and Indigenous people.
On completing the course participants will have an awareness of the depth of evidence available regarding working class lives in colonial Australia, and an understanding of the role played by convicts in the formation of Australian political and social democracy and the birth of the trade union movement.
Face to face
Day one – Thursday, 23 November
Federation House, 23-33 Mary Street, Surry Hills, NSW 2010
Online via zoom
A half day follow up session will take place over Zoom following the face-to-face session. This date to be confirmed in consultation with attendees.
Tony Moore is Associate Professor of Communications and Media Studies, Monash University and Lead Chief Investigator of ARC Linkage project Conviction Politics: the convict routes of Australian democracy. He is author of Dancing with Empty Pockets: Australia’s Bohemians since 1860 (2012), and Death or Liberty: rebels and radicals transported to Australia 1788-1868 (2010), adapted as an ABC television documentary of the same name (2015). Tony had previous careers as a documentary maker at the ABC, commissioning editor at Pluto Press (publishing the Vinson Report into public schools with the Federation) and in policy research for government and community sectors, including the NSW Education Commission. He has served as a member of the ABC National Advisory Council on the NSW Steering Committee for International Youth Year (1985) and served as President of NSW Fabians, and on the executive of the Evatt Foundation. He has been an active member of the CPSU, MEAA and NTEU.
Steve Thomas is a filmmaker and Creative Director at Hobart-based production company Roar Film, with extensive expertise in documentary, multimedia, and interactive digital storytelling. Steve produced and directed the musical and drama-led documentary Death or Liberty about the transported political prisoners, with Ireland’s Tile Films and recently Looky, Looky Here comes Cookie, an Indigenous take on Captain Cook. He has contributed to over 30 award-winning film and television projects since 1995. Steve’s work at Roar has been broadcast on ABC, SBS, NITV, ZDF Germany, TG4 Ireland, S4C Wales, and the Discovery Channel. He has also collaborated with institutions such as the Australian National Maritime Museum, the National Trust of Australia, and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
Secondary HSIE teachers
Face to face in Surry Hills, with a half day follow-up session online.
In this wide-ranging interview, Kate Ambrose, Director of the Centre for Professional Learning and Maurie Mulheron, past NSW Teachers Federation President, go deep into the history of Local Schools, Local Decisions. This policy has defined the past decade of the NSW public school system, devolving the structure of the state-wide system with detrimental effects on every school and classroom in the state. Kate and Maurie discuss the policy decisions that led to the implementation of Local Schools, Local Decisions and the ongoing ramifications on the public school system in NSW.
Mercurius Goldstein offers some reflections on why our students have become activists for the fight against climate change. He explains why teachers must ensure that our curriculum always includes discussions into such issues which directly affect the future of our students. . .
Here be activists
Conservative and reactionary political forces maintain, as an article of faith, that teachers, and public school teachers in particular, are subversive agents ever ready to imbue activism and revolutionary spirit among “impressionable” young minds. This is a frequently-pushed panic button for right-wing culture warriors, accompanied by broad-scale accusations of ‘indoctrination’, ‘brainwashing’ and, in recent years, the perverse and sinister charge of ‘grooming’.
A comprehensive corpus analysis of over 65,000 print media articles on education published between 1996-2020 provides a compelling survey of Australia’s unofficial national sport of ‘teacher-bashing’(Mockler, 2022), and is available from the Federation Library.
But what most media, and politically-driven portrayals of education, tend to ignore or downplay is the mere, but crucial, fact that teaching is a profession and that teachers are professionals charged with the delivery of a government-approved curriculum and its accompanying syllabuses, (which are in turn devised by qualified experts and authorities with specialist understanding grounded in an epistemology of realism). Such truths are not to be found in the rhetorical projections and shibboleths of the reactionary right.
If anything, the state institutional framework that resources and maintains public education (with greater degrees of care or neglect as governmental policies come and go, and defended most strongly by teacher unions) is the great counterweight to the panicked fantasies of conservative forces. For the countervailing charge has been made for decades among academia that education is not institutionally oriented to be a social-critical endeavour, and that the broad project of education affirms and maintains much if not all of the status quo (Zeigler, 1970; Connell, Ashenden, Kessler & Dowsett, 1982). From this we face a giant j’accuse that even as the project of public education aims for broader equality and fairness among the population, it offers no systemic critique of imperialist, colonialist, classist, racist, sexist, nor nationalist foundations of modern society.
Media and political portrayals also tend to overlook the sustained experience across many decades that teachers as a group evidence only slight variation in political voting patterns compared with the broader Australian electorate, and that a steady one-third or so of the profession tend to vote with conservative parties in state and federal elections – and overwhelmingly so when one includes the centre-right and what passes for the centre-left in Australia.
A recent key finding, from arch-conservative US think-tank the Heritage Foundation, is that a plurality of teachers would be categorised as political ‘moderates’, and that “[t]he average teacher response was consistently more moderate than that of the average liberal in the nationally representative sample. We find little evidence that a large percentage of teachers are systemically imposing a radical political agenda in K–12 classrooms” (Greene & Paul, 2021). Relatedly, a UK study of the longer-term political effects of schooling concluded that as an individual student spent more years in late high school, this correlated to a significantly higher likelihood that they would vote for the Conservative party later in life (Marshall, 2016).
Even so, there is a kind of poetic justice to conclude that the right may yet be half-right after all. For there remain still activists and subversives to be found in many classrooms – located among the young people sitting at their desks – also known as students.
There be unionists
In a recent Eric Pearson study grant report The #ClimateStrike movement and the future of unionism, I had the opportunity to research the key experiences and learnings of student activists in the #Climatestrike movement, their notions of collective action, participation, and organisation to achieve their goals. I also looked at the strategies through which the union movement, in general, and education unions, in particular, might remain visible, viable and prominent in the cause of climate justice for a stable and viable future for working people and the cause of public education (Goldstein, 2021, pp.10-11).
My research on this topic found that among young people engaged in climate activism there is a convergence of experiences with earlier protest movements – a commitment to collectivism over individualism, and a capacity for intergenerational partnership, within an emerging mass movement largely comprised of, and led by, women (ibid. pp.42-45).
In 2018, global media attention was drawn to Greta Thunberg, the 15-year-old Swedish student activist protesting on the steps of her country’s parliament house with her Skolstrejk för klimatet sign when she was supposed to be in school. It is worth noting, however, that the student-led climate activist movement began to form as early as 2006, in our very own country, with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition developing school-based action templates among and between student activists (www.aycc.org.au). This cue was in turn picked up in the USA by the Rethinking Schools student movement who launched their own climate activist school-based organising kit in Portland, Oregon in 2016 (Goldstein, 2021, pp.17,39).
Focussing as it did on the implications of the emerging #Climatestrike events for the broader union movement, the report posed the question “whether our movement has a future without #ClimateStrike activists choosing to join our ranks as they begin their working lives over the years to come”. The report concluded that “[w]hen young people can experience the union movement as being tangibly linked to their future wellbeing and pursuit of a safe, stable global climate, they have a vector through which they can perceive purpose and relevance to joining and becoming active members of their union…” (Goldstein., 2021, pp.20,52).
Where be teachers?
But the #ClimateStrike report also offers a professional challenge to classroom practitioners and non-school based teachers 0alike: how should we properly and ethically undertake our professional duties in the context of a student population whose literal future survivability is at stake? For the world heads for global average temperatures in their lifetime most likely to exceed the 1.5°C above pre-industrial averages, and well into a perilous global range of 2°C+ by 2100 according to accepted international climate projections (IPCC, 2022).
My suggestion is that teachers as always should return to our curriculum and syllabus documents for guidance on how best to proceed. In doing so, we should remain mindful that curriculum is an ever-contested space that itself is subject to attempts at political interference which it is our collective professional duty to guard against.
On 24 December 2021, the then federal Education Minister Stuart Robert vetoed an Australian Research Council (ARC) recommendation for academic study into the very topic of my own report – climate activism amongst students (Hurst, 2021). A private member’s bill in the Senate (Faruqi, 2018) to amend the Act to remove ministerial veto of ARC grants was referred to a Senate Inquiry which reported on March 2022 and recommended that the Act not be so amended but called for an independent review of the ARC including its governance and research funding processes (EELC, 2022). As of July 2022, those powers still remain in the Australian Research Council Act of 2001.
Supporters of academic freedom and enquiry in education would be well advised to remain vigilant on government intervention in research grants and urge for repeal/replacement of ministerial “discretion” which amounts to political interference in the academic grants process.
All that said, it is…
“…hardly a new phenomenon whereby politicians have attempted to suppress topics of great importance to future generations by denying their teaching in schools. Across the decades whether the topic is evolution, civil rights, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education, health education including sexuality, contraception, drugs, and communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, one rarely has to look far for a politician insisting that such matters are not to be brought to the attention of students…
…It is sadly all too easy to imagine a world in which children are denied education about their own physical and psychosocial development, their gender, cultural needs, health needs, and the health of the planet. What greater threat to children’s freedom could be the denial of knowledge on such critical matters to their future?
(Education Quarterly, Issue 1, 2022, pp.26, 27)
Thus, I argue that it falls to educators – teachers and principals – to ensure that the curriculum remains an edifice which promotes understanding, engagement, and enlightened criticism on matters of great consequence for children’s life trajectories, the whole of society, and for the ecosphere of which we are all part (ibid. p.27).
For these reasons, I urge specialists in all Key Learning Areas to scrutinise our respective syllabuses, to perceive the ways and means in which our pedagogical content knowledge (Gudmundsdottir & Shulman, 1987) relates to the climate activist projects that students themselves have undertaken on their own initiative.
For whether the realm is scientific, mathematical, geographical, historical, sociological, whether in literature, artistic, agricultural, industrial, health, and even sporting pursuits, there is much to be learned and taught from our current syllabuses to equip students with the knowledge they need to pursue a safe, stable global climate.
In doing so, teachers are supported by the cross-curriculum priority area of Sustainability embedded in the Australian Curriculum, which includes statements that cover the applicability of environmental content for every learning area (ACARA, 2022).
And for the many teachers whose educational careers and aspirations include dipping our professional toes into the pond of curriculum consultation and development for future syllabuses, there is considerable scope for ensuring the needs of the global biosphere and its concomitant role in sustaining our students, whose very lives and futures depend upon it, are given due priority.
The extent of economic and societal reorganisation that might be required to achieve all this remains where it has always been – in the hands of the rising generation. But their capacity to do so depends crucially on the readiness and willingness of those charged with their education to teach them that which will make it possible for them to assess their world and society, and to undertake such repairs as they find necessary.
The status quo is one that delivers our students a distinct prospect of environmental, and thus societal, collapse in their lifetime. Against that prospect, we must conclude that some enlightened subversion is warranted after all.
IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, R. Slade, A. Al Khourdajie, R. van Diemen, D. McCollum, M. Pathak, S. Some, P. Vyas, R. Fradera, M. Belkacemi, A. Hasija, G. Lisboa, S. Luz, J. Malley, (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA. doi: 10.1017/9781009157926
Marshall, J. (2016) Education and Voting Conservative: Evidence from a Major Schooling Reform in Great Britain. The Journal of Politics, 78(2), 382-395.
Mockler, N. (2022). Constructing Teacher Identities: How the Print Media Define and Represent Teachers and Their Work. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Mercurius Goldstein holds a Master of Education (Research) and Bachelor of Education (Hons I) from The University of Sydney, and a Diploma of Government from TAFE NSW. Mercurius is a high school teacher of languages (Japanese, Korean) and EAL/D who commenced teaching in 2007. Mercurius undertook a variety of roles in the Glen Innes Teachers Association between 2011-2018 including President, Secretary, Councillor, and Fed Rep at Glen Innes High School. Mercurius was elected a Country Organiser for NSW Teachers Federation in 2019 and has since worked in the Dubbo, Tamworth, and Newcastle regions.
Mercurius is author of the 2020 Eric Pearson Report entitled ‘Whose world? Our world! The #ClimateStrike movement and the future of unionism’.
Maurie Mulheron gives us all an insight into the effects that Local Schools, Local Decisions has had on education in NSW. . .
In a choreographed media conference outside a public high school in western Sydney on Sunday 11 March 2012, the NSW Government announced Local Schools, Local Decisions (LSLD) with the Premier and Minister for Education flanked by representatives of two principal groups. It was a plan purporting to ‘empower’ schools. But the evidence is that a far more sinister ulterior purpose, which had been some years in the planning, was driving the policy.
The issue of ‘school autonomy’ is hardly new. It has been an article of faith for many conservative politicians and some economists around the world since the 1970s. It has its origins in a neo-liberal economic theory that public provision is wasteful and ineffective, government expenditure should be reduced, taxation should be lowered and that the more competitive the environment in which government services operate the more efficient they will become. It is a theory that is applied to all aspects of public sector management. ‘School autonomy’ is not an idea relating to teaching and learning that was developed by teachers or education theorists. Its origins and purpose are based in economics and finance.
This is why two international management consultant and accountancy corporations were engaged by the NSW Treasury between October 2009 and January 2010 to conduct a detailed financial audit of the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET), the first NSW government agency to submit to the process. In time this would provide Treasury with the economic rationale for LSLD.
The overarching work was undertaken by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) which was contracted “…to undertake a scan of DET expenditure and to develop a methodology that will allow Treasury to undertake future scans of other agencies.” Its purpose was to achieve significant financial savings. The January 2010 BCG document was called Expenditure Review of the Department of Education and Training (DET) – Initial Scan.i
The second corporation engaged at the time to undertake complementary work was Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC). Its December 2009 report, DET School-based employee related costs review – Interim Report was also prepared for the NSW Cabinet. While the BCG scan dealt with all the operations of the Department, the PWC report dealt specifically with staffing costs. As stated in its objectives, the report was to “…review areas of expenditure relating to DET’s School-based employees where there is scope for change and recommend actions to reduce DET’s expenditure in these areas.”ii
SECRET CABINET DOCUMENTS LEAKED
Both of these Cabinet-in-Confidence documents were never meant to be seen by the community or the teaching profession. However, in the lead-up to the March 2011 state election they came into the possession of the NSW Teachers Federation which, in response, reiterated the union’s concerns that ‘school autonomy’ models had seriously weakened public provision of education. The evidence for this had been mounting overseas for many years. In Australia, during the 1990s the Victorian Liberal Government instigated a dramatic experiment in devolution through the passing of the Education (Self-Governing Schools) Act (1998). It was later repealed by an incoming Labor Government but not before it had seen Victoria’s performance on governments’ benchmarks for achievement, the international PISA testing program, fall below the Australian average in all tested areas – reading, mathematics, and science.iii
In the week leading up to the 2011 NSW state election, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) revealed the intent of the secret BCG and PWC reports.iv “The shock comes not so much from the report’s far-reaching findings – which cut deep – but in the way it has been kept secret for so long. The deception used to get hard-working principals and teachers to, in effect, do the dirty work, will strike them as a betrayal.”v
And the betrayal was clearly articulated in the BCG report, “We have identified some quick wins, but have focused mostly on identifying the major opportunities to drive significant savings over time.”
To achieve this the BCG, throughout the review, argued the merits of the devolved school autonomy model of Victoria and, indeed, used Victoria as the benchmark. It noted that “NSW appears to have approximately 9000 more ‘in-school’ staff than Victoria”, also arguing that “NSW appears to have 13% more school related staff than Victoria”, and that “NSW appears to have 12% more non-teaching staff than Victoria.” The review goes on to argue that once the model of devolution similar to Victoria is adopted, “DET should aim to capture as much of this gap [in staffing levels] as possible.”vi
In essence, the BCG review argued that cost cutting through devolution could provide, “opportunities … worth $500-$700 million in recurrent costs and $800-$1000 million in one-off benefits.” The BCG review even advised how the devolved model could be sold to the public, “Possible to position these initiatives as part of a broader school regeneration or schools for the future program.”vii
What was becoming clear was that the NSW Treasury was determined to reduce the number of employees across the NSW public education system, and this was the focus of the second scan undertaken by PWC. The strategy was to ensure principals delivered the savings. Indeed, one section was labelled, “Empower Principals to act” where the report states, “We believe that increasing Principal accountability for managing School-based costs should be focused on driving a positive financial impact in the short to medium term while also maintaining educational outcomes.”viii
REPORTS REJECTED THEN DUSTED OFF
These two reports could easily be dismissed, as they were provided to the NSW Cabinet in the final months of the Labor administration, with an impending March 2011 state election. It should be noted that the extreme nature of the reports’ recommendations led the then Labor Education Minister to shelve both of them. However, they cannot be so easily ignored as both reports by these two corporations were to inform, and were referenced in, the incoming NSW Coalition Government’s Commission of Audits, one released as an Interim Report into Public Sector Managementix in late January 2012 and the Final Report: Government Expenditurex published in May 2012. Indeed, in the latter paper, there are 64 references to the benefits of devolution as a means of achieving efficiencies across the whole of government.
The NSW Commission of Audit Final Report of May 2012 stated,
“For many years financial management in NSW has been confusing, lacking in transparency and below the standards expected of efficient and effective government. This situation is not sustainable.”
The answer, it argued, is that,
“The devolution of authority and accountability, specifically in the areas of education and health, means expenditure (and power) must move from the centre to more local units.”
“The Commission is generally of the view that devolution should not increase expenditure in aggregate though capabilities and systems will need attention at the start. Expenditure in local units should however increase and be offset by reductions at the centre. These are exciting reforms that offer a new era for TAFE, more power and responsibility to school principals, and more community and clinician input and responsibility within Health.”xi
THE 47 SCHOOL TRIAL
Running parallel to the work that BCG and PWC was undertaking from October 2009 until January 2010, was a devolution trial involving 47 schools called the School-Based Management Pilot which was to test some of the key BCG and PWC concepts, notably as to whether local decision-making could produce savings similar to those captured in Victorian schools. This trial, which also began in late 2009, had originally been planned to end in 2010, but continued through to late 2011. Just a few weeks later in January 2012, the Final Report of the Evaluation of the School-Based Management Pilot was released.xii
Even though the justification for the 47 schools trial model was that it would bring about a lift in student achievement, in the final report evaluating the trial the entire section on student results was a mere 85 words in length in a document that ran to 92 pages. However, this should not have been of any surprise as there was no baseline academic data collected at the beginning of the trial, nor any other key data such as that regarding student suspensions, behaviour referrals, attendance, staff turnover. In fact, the only data collected by the NSW Department of Education related to student enrolments, data that is collected from every school annually. This revealed that, for the duration of the trial, 21 of the 47 schools lost enrolments. But this data was excluded from the final report. Instead, the evaluation based its positive findings on scant empirical evidence relying on anecdotal and subjective observations which included supposed comments of four different principals who all uttered almost identical phrases: “This has created a positive buzz in the school”; “[There’s] a buzz about the school in the town”; “Another principal reports ‘a buzz around the school in the community’”; “and there is a buzz about the school in town.” Four different principals all commenting on a perceived “buzz”. However, this woefully inadequate evaluation did not prevent the new Coalition Education Minister mentioning the trial’s “success” as a key justification for the introduction of LSLD.
The true purpose of the 47 schools trial was made clear in the earlier BCG report which revealed that the quarantined devolution model had led to savings of $15-25 million.xiii Later in the BCG report it was argued, “To capture savings from devolution requires more than the current rollout of the current [47 schools] trial. Current trial involves additional costs that will need to be phased out (e.g., to cover higher than average staff costs in some schools) and does not yet address staffing implications at the State and Regional Office.”xiv The “additional costs” were the significant additional funding each of the 47 schools received from the Department, in effect a temporary financial sweetener that would ensure a positive evaluation. It was only the BCG report that exposed that there was no intention to maintain this level of funding support beyond the trial. Towards the end of the BCG report the strategic thinking behind the trial was exposed: “[Must] test and measure impact and risk of devolved model(s) to prove concept. Assess risks and put in place any mitigation strategies to manage them.”xv
When LSLD was announced in March 2012, it was marketed as an education policy. This was the first of many falsehoods promulgated by the Government. There was no mention of the Boston Consulting Group report of 2010; no mention of the Price Waterhouse Coopers report; and no mention of the NSW Commission of Audit Reports of 2012 either. Nor did the Government ever reveal the real purpose of the 47 schools trial.
In fact, it was not the Minister for Education who was first to announce the LSLD policy. Instead, it was the NSW Treasurer who, in September 2011 when delivering his first budget, revealed “[The] Government plans to reform government schools by giving them more authority to make local decisions that better meet the needs of their students and communities.” This announcement could be found in the budget papers under the section “Delivering on structural fiscal and economic reform.”xvi
In reality, LSLD was always going to be about expenditure and the efficiency savings that could be secured, “There is considerable scope in NSW to reallocate expenditure in education and training to improve outcomes, through greater devolution of resource allocation decisions to principals and TAFE Institute Directors. This can occur within existing expenditure budgets.”xvii It is worth noting that the findings of the BCG report regarding the savings that could be accrued through devolution were referenced in the 2012 NSW Commission of Audit report.
So, what did the NSW Commission of Audit’s recommended ‘reductions at the centre’, a critical feature of Local Schools, Local Decisions, mean in practice? It is important to revisit the NSW Treasury’s demand on the Department of Education at the time.
Savings measures had to be identified by the Department in the 2011-2012 NSW budget to cover the four-year budget period up to 2015-2016. These measures were implemented as “general expenses in the education and communities portfolio have still outstripped the growth in government revenue”.xviii
The Department needed to find $201 million in savings from the 2012-2013 budget and $1.7 billion over the four year forward estimates period. The measures also included the 2.5 per cent labour expense cap, as detailed in the NSW Public Sector Wages Policy which had been reinforced by changes to the NSW Industrial Relations Act.
The savings demanded of the Department were introduced at the same time that Local Schools, Local Decisions was rolled out. In reality the ‘reductions at the centre’ resulted in a significant and unprecedented loss of positions from the Department, both public servant and non-school based teaching positions. And this, not a lift in student outcomes, was the primary objective of Local Schools, Local Decisions.
Ken Dixon, the general manager of finance and administration within the NSW Department of Education at the time, later described the policy to give principals more autonomy over school budgets as being driven by cost savings. In public comments he argued, “The Local Schools, Local Decisions policy is just a formula to pull funding from schools over time.” Mr Dixon, in a key senior Departmental position at the time the policy of Local Schools, Local Decisions was being developed, also revealed that the loss of at least 1600 jobs in the Department was factored into the business case. xix
The ‘reductions at the centre’ included the loss of hundreds of non-school based teachers and support staff from programs throughout NSW including from curriculum support, professional development, staffing, drug and alcohol education, student welfare, student behaviour, community liaison, staff welfare, the equity unit, rural education, assessment and reporting, special education, and multicultural education. In essence, the capacity for the Department to initiate and fund system-wide support for teachers was decimated. To this day, the Department of Education has not been able to rebuild any significant systemic support.
6 MONTHS ON: THE CUTS ARE CONFIRMED
From the day that LSLD had been announced, the NSW Teachers Federation had opposed it, providing the evidence to members and the public that had been revealed to the union in the leaked BCG and PWC reports. An intense state-wide campaign was instigated. The union had been researching ‘school autonomy’ from at least 1988, prompted by the Metherell crisis. It had also studied closely the impact of devolution in other jurisdictions including Victoria, New Zealand and the UK. And there had been more recent experiences of ‘school autonomy’ policies that had been imposed in NSW.
Just a few years earlier in 2008, the Federation had been involved in a bitter and protracted industrial dispute with the NSW government over staffing including the loss of service transfer rights for teachers. The concern was the dramatic negative consequences for difficult to staff schools in outer metropolitan and rural areas. In a fax sent to all schools by the Federation at the time in the lead up to a 24-hour strike, the union showed remarkable prescience in sounding a warning that, “[The Government’s procedures will] establish the preconditions for the full deregulation agenda as in Victoria. Federation is in no doubt that if the NSW government succeeds in destroying the state-wide teacher transfer system that the next step is to introduce devolved staffing budgets to schools which include teacher and non-teacher salaries.”xx Just four years later this was now a fundamental element of the LSLD model.
It was also in the area of special education that the NSW government had instigated a devolved funding model which had been trialled in the Illawarra in 2011 and implemented across the state in 2012. This new method of allocating funding had been foreshadowed in the BCG report which stated that there was potential savings of up to $100 million from the “fast growing special education area”. Once again, comparing NSW to Victoria, the BCG report argued, “Victoria introduced reform initiatives in 2005 which stemmed growth of special education and suggests a broad opportunity exists to streamline NSW special education/equity programs”.xxi The scheme was promoted to the community as Every Student, Every School but it was clear that not every student in every school would receive the support they needed. The reduction in centralised support, for instance, led to funding cuts for thousands of students with autism and mental health concerns who were excluded from the Integration Funding Support program.xxii
It was not until 11 September of 2012, six months after the LSLD announcement, that the intention to dramatically cut funding to the school system and TAFE was finally revealed by the then NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell – a decision he described as “difficult but necessary”. The total amount of education funding to be cut amounted to $1.7 billion, almost the exact figure to the dollar that the BCG and PWC reports had recommended could be achieved through devolving budgets to local principals and TAFE institute managers. Also confirmed in the announcement was the loss of a total of 1800 non-school based teaching and support staff positions from Department offices – from the centre and from regional offices. This was a similar number to the total that Ken Dixon had explained had been factored into the LSLD “business case”.xxiii
For months following the March 2012 public release of the LSLD policy, the Federation had been attacked by the Government which accused the union of lying to the profession about the intention to cut funding. But even though it was now vindicated, the Federation still found the news of the $1.7 billion cuts grim. Earlier, in response to the LSLD announcement, it had called all members out on strike, firstly in May 2012 for a two-hour stoppage, and later in June for a 24-hour strike.
While not preventing the full impact of the cuts to education, the strikes did achieve some important protections, at least for public school teachers. In response to the industrial action, the Department withdrew the plan to provide all schools with an actual staffing budget, making it notional instead. A school’s staffing entitlement, which was to be replaced by an unregulated principal’s choice of the ‘mix and number’ of staff, was also protected.
The Commission of Audit had declared that all staff ratios were to be removed from industrial agreements, citing NSW public school class sizes as the first example. “The Commission of Audit agrees that some workforce management policies and input controls are managerial prerogatives and should not be incorporated into awards…Examples are: teacher to pupil ratios…”xxiv
A public campaign in the lead-up to the strikes led to references to class sizes reconfirmed in subsequent industrial agreements. Finally, the plan to abolish the incremental pay scale was also withdrawn.
GONSKI – A POLITICAL LIFELINE
Following a long campaign led by the Australian Education Union, and strongly supported by the NSW Teachers Federation, a Federal Labor Government announced a comprehensive inquiry into schools funding in April 2010. The inquiry team was chaired by David Gonski whose name would become synonymous with the subsequent report delivered to government in November 2011. But it was not until 20 February 2012 that the report was released publicly. By April the following year, the Federal Government announced a new national $14.5 billion schools funding model. The funding was to be delivered over a six-year transition period from 2014 to 2019 with two-thirds of the funding to be provided in the final two years.
At its heart was the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS), effectively the minimum level of funding a school needed to have the vast majority of its students meet national outcomes. In essence, the more complex a school’s student profile, the greater level of funding it would attract, noting in the case of NSW public schools, the additional funding would be provided to the system to distribute on a needs basis.
On 23 April 2013, NSW became the first state to sign a bilateral agreement with the Commonwealth, less than seven months after the announcement of the $1.7 billion cuts at the state level. In reality, the Gonski funding model was seen by the then NSW Education Minister as a political lifeline. The NSW Department of Education was faced with a serious contradiction. On the one hand, it had built a financial model to implement LSLD, but which was designed to de-fund the system in order to deliver $1.7 billion in savings. From 2014, however, there would be additional money provided to schools. But it soon became a case of a wasted opportunity. None of the additional recurrent funding could be used for any significant and much needed whole of system improvement. Improvements such as reduced class sizes, which for junior primary and lower secondary schools had not been reduced in many decades, nor for a reduction in face-to-face loads which also had not improved in decades. Indeed, there was little funding retained by the Department at the centre to rebuild the programs that had been decimated back in 2012. In other words, the government had squandered the opportunity to capitalise on a key advantage of the public education system which is its capacity to achieve massive economies of scale.
In a crude attempt to engender support for LSLD, the Department deliberately attempted to link LSLD with the additional Gonski funding in schools, as though the BCG and PWC audits, the Commission of Audit reports, the Public Sector Wages Policy, and the demand of the NSW government for departments to reduce labour expenses every year had not occurred. This re-writing of the history led to the Department’s Centre for Educational Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) developing a survey instrument that linked the two disparate variables — LSLD and additional funding. But neither of these variables, the system wide change to governance and the increase in Commonwealth and State funding, was dependent on the other. So, to conflate them in the first evaluation question where each variable is portrayed as being interdependent was a serious error, offending a basic tenet of research methodology. In response, the Federation raised the fundamental question as to exactly what was being evaluated: a change to the governance model of the public school system announced in March 2012 or the additional funding achieved two years later in 2014 through the National Education Reform Agreement (NERA).
The additional funding had been allocated to individual schools untied, with little guidelines, minimal accountability and almost no programmatic system-wide support. Little wonder that even CESE’s Local Schools, Local Decisions Evaluation – Interim Report stated “…we were unable to determine…what each school’s [Resource Allocation Model] RAM equity loading allocation was spent on.”xxv
Firstly, the devolution model was never designed to make funding information transparent. Indeed, it was designed to do the exact opposite, make funding matters more opaque. This was because the devolution model was expressly designed for twin purposes: deliver savings back to central government and allow governments to shift the responsibility for these savings to local managers. It was only ever intended to give local schools the illusion of control.
Secondly, the model was never designed to distribute and manage significant increases in funding. There now existed no comprehensive systemic and state-wide programmes designed to lift student outcomes across all schools: “In terms of differential change over time, we found no relationship between changes over time in these engagement measures and levels of need, with the notable exception that students in higher-need schools typically showed less positive change over time in levels of social engagement than students in lower-need schools. In other words, the gap in this measure between higher-need and lower-need schools increased over time, rather than decreased.” [Author’s emphasis]xxvi
CRITICAL VOICES IGNORED
Over the years, there has been a tendency for government departments, like the NSW Department of Education, to declare that policies are developed from ‘evidence-based decision-making’. Yet, in the case of Local Schools, Local Decisions, this assertion must be contested. Moreover, it may actually be a case that the declaration of ‘evidence’ is a strategy to shut down debate, noting that very little in education policy, practice and theory exists without competing points of view.
The extreme Local Schools, Local Decisions policy was implemented dishonestly. Its true intentions were hidden from the profession with critical voices and available research ignored. In relation to ‘school autonomy’ models John Smyth believes, “Sometimes an educational idea is inexplicably adopted around the world with remarkable speed and consistency and in the absence of a proper evidence base or with little regard or respect for teachers, students or learning.”xxvii
In his essay, The disaster of the ‘self-managing school’ – genesis, trajectory, undisclosed agenda, and effects, Professor Smyth went on to argue that ‘school autonomy’ in reality is government “…steering at a distance, while increasing control through a range of outcomes-driven performance indicators.”
Further he said, “The argument was that schools would be freed up from the more burdensome aspects of bureaucratic control, and in the process allowed to be more flexible and responsive, with decisions being able to be made closer to the point of learning. Many of these claims have proven to be illusory, fictitious, and laughable to most practising school educators.”
Dr Ken Boston, one of the members of the Review of Funding for Schoolingpanel chaired by David Gonski, expressed frustration at the continuing promotion of devolution, arguing that “. . . school autonomy is an irrelevant distraction. I worked in England for nine years, where every government school . . . has the autonomy of the independent public schools in WA – governing boards that can hire and fire head teachers and staff, determine salaries and promotions, and so on. Yet school performance in England varies enormously from school to school, and from region to region, essentially related to aggregated social advantage in the south of the country and disadvantage in the north.”xxviii
Plank and Smith in their paper, Autonomous Schools: Theory, Evidence and Policy, argued, “Placing schools at the centre of the policy frame, freeing them from bureaucracy and exhorting them to do better has not by itself generated many of the systemic improvements, innovation, or productivity gains that policy makers hoped for.”xxix
Professor Steven Dinham from the University of Melbourne acknowledged the lack of evidence for ‘school autonomy’ models: “The theory that greater school autonomy will lead to greater flexibility, innovation and therefore student attainment is intuitively appealing and pervasive. School autonomy has become something of an article of faith. However, establishing correlation and causation is not so easy.” Dinham says, “What is needed above all however, is clear research evidence that the initiative works, and under what conditions, rather than blind enthusiasm for the concept.”xxx
‘School autonomy’ was responsible for a “lost decade” in education according to one of New Zealand’s leading education researchers Dr Cathy Wylie formerly of the New Zealand Council of Educational Research (NZCER). In her book, Vital Connections: Why We Need More Than Self-Managing Schoolsxxxi, Wylie argued that schools in NZ needed more central support, and that devolution had caused the loss of ‘vital connections’ between schools.
Even the OECD was ignored. In its 2009 PISA cross-country correlation analysis, PISA 2009 Results: What Makes a School Successful? – Resources, Policies and Practices (Volume IV) the OECD authors argued that “. . . greater responsibility in managing resources appears to be unrelated to a school system’s overall student performance” and that “… school autonomy in resource allocation is not related to performance at the system level.”xxxii
And yet, this OECD report was released three years before the 2012 NSW Commission of Audit argued enthusiastically for a devolution model (sold later as Local Schools, Local Decisions).
A decade on, the catastrophic policy failure of Local Schools, Local Decisions is clear. The findings of the Department’s own research body, CESE, amplify this:
“To date, LSLD appears to have had little impact on preliminary outcome measures.”
“These results suggest that LSLD has not had a meaningful impact on attendance or suspensions.”
“However, the direction of the relationship was not as we expected: students in higher-need schools showed less growth in social engagement than students in lower-need schools.”xxxiii
So, what has occurred after this lost decade? No lift in student outcomes, the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged widening, a massive increase in casual and temporary positions in schools, no improvements in attendance, no improvement in suspension rates, no lessening of ‘red-tape’, a dramatic increase in workload, growing teacher shortages, and the salary cap still in place. The paradox is, of course, that the more localised the decision-making, the more onerous, punitive and centrally controlled are the accountability measures.
The Local Schools, Local Decisions policy has left the NSW Department with no levers; no capacity to develop, fund and implement systemic improvements to lift all schools or to achieve massive economies of scale. Purportedly, the bulk of funding is in school bank accounts with the Department unable to determine what it is being spent on. Instead, we are left with policy by anecdote as revealed in the comments quoted within the CESE evaluation.
The tragedy of Local Schools, Local Decisions is that its structure remains in place, even if its name has changed. By 2021, the NSW Department had realised that LSLD had failed public schools, their teachers, and their students. It had also failed the community of NSW. Addicted to policy by alliteration, the Department rebadged it as the School Success Model (SSM). But this title reveals the continuing mind-set of both the Government and the Department. If we have learnt anything from the last decade it is that schemes like LSLD are essentially a cover for a government to abrogate its obligation to all children, all teachers, and all public schools. Instead, what is needed is for the NSW government, through its department, to accept it has an onus to provide systemic programmatic support rather than devolve the risk and responsibilities onto individual schools. Finally, the time to listen to and accept the advice of the teaching profession, and for the powerful, politically connected accountancy firms to be dismissed, is long overdue.
i Boston Consulting Group (BCG) Expenditure Review of the Department of Education and Training (DET) – Initial Scan (2010) pp 188-193
ii PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PWC) DET School-based employee related costs review – Interim Report (2009) p2
iii AEU (VIC) Submission to the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission Inquiry into School Devolution and Accountability (2012) p2
iv Anna Patty SMH Secret cuts to schools (19 March 2011)
v Anna Patty SMH Secret report administers a shock to the system (19 March 2011)
vi BCG op.cit. pp 188-193
vii BCG op. cit. p92
viii PWC op. cit. p18
ix NSW Commission of Audit Interim Report into Public Sector Management (January 2012)
x NSW Commission of Audit Final Report: Government Expenditure (May 2012)
xi NSW Commission of Audit op. cit. p10
xii NSW DET Final Report of the Evaluation of the School-Based Management Pilot (2012)
xiii BCG op. cit. p13
xiv BCG op. cit. p34
xv BCG op. cit. p146
xvi NSW State Budget Papers 2. 1- 14-15
xvii NSW Commission of Audit Op. cit. p71
xviii NSW Department of Education and Communities Saving measures to meet our budget (2011)
xix Anna Patty SMH Tip of the iceberg: warning 1200 more education jobs to go (14 September 2012)
xx NSW Teachers Federation fax to all schools (13 May 2008)
xxi BCG op. cit. p58 and p150
xxii “Reform funding on need” in Education (NSWTF) (16 August 2022)
xxiii Anna Patty SMH NSW to slash $1.7 billion from education funding (11 September 2012)
xxiv NSW Commission of Audit: Public Sector Management p83 (24 January 2012)
xxvCentre for Education Statistics And Evaluation (CESE) LSLD Evaluation Interim Report (July 2018) p8
xxvi CESE Op. cit. p8
xxvii John Smyth The disaster of the ‘self‐managing school’ – genesis, trajectory, undisclosed agenda, and effects Journal of Educational Administration and History 43(2):95-117 (May 2011)
xxviii Quoted in Education Vol 97 No 7 Maurie Mulheron On Evidence Based Decision-Making 7 November 2016
xxix David N Plank and BetsAnn Smith Autonomous Schools: Theory, Evidence and Policy in Handbook of Research in Education Finance and Policy Helen F. Ladd and Edward Fiske (eds) (2007)
xxx Stephen Dinham The Worst of Both Worlds: How the US and UK Are Influencing Education in Australia Journal of Professional Learning (Semester 1 2016)
xxxi Cathy Wylie Vital Connections: Why We Need More Than Self-Managing Schools (2012)
xxxii OECD PISA 2009 Results: What Makes a School Successful? – Resources, Policies and Practices (Volume IV) (2010)
xxxiii CESE Op. cit. p53, p51, p51
Australian Education Union (AEU Victoria ) (2012) Submission to the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission Inquiry into School Devolution and Accountability
Boston Consulting Group (BCG) (2010) Expenditure Review of the Department of Education and Training (DET) – Initial Scan
Centre for Education Statistics And Evaluation (CESE) (July 2018) LSLD Evaluation Interim Report
Dinham, S., (2016) The Worst of Both Worlds: How the US and UK Are Influencing Education in Australia Journal of Professional Learning (Semester 1 2016)
Gonski , D et al (2011) Review of Funding for Schooling Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR)
OECD (2010) PISA 2009 Results: What Makes a School Successful? – Resources, Policies and Practices (Volume IV)
Patty, A., (19 March 2011) Secret cuts to schools Sydney Morning Herald
Patty, A., (19 March 2011) Secret report administers a shock to the system Sydney Morning Herald
Patty, A., (11 September 2012) Tip of the iceberg: warning 1200 more education jobs to go Sydney Morning Herald
Patty, A.,(14 September 2012) NSW to slash $1.7 billion from education funding Sydney Morning Herald
Plank, D N. and Smith, B., (2007) Autonomous Schools: Theory, Evidence and Policy in Handbook of Research in Education Finance and Policy Helen F. Ladd and Edward Fiske (eds)
PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PWC) (2009) DET School-based employee related costs review – Interim Report
Smyth, J., (May 2011)The disaster of the ‘self‐managing school’ – genesis, trajectory, undisclosed agenda, and effects
Journal of Educational Administration and History 43(2):95-117
NSW Commission of Audit (January 2012) Interim Report into Public Sector Management
NSW Commission of Audit (May 2012) Final Report: Government Expenditure
Wylie, C.,(2012) Vital Connections: Why We Need More Than Self-Managing Schools
Maurie Mulheron was a teacher for 34 years, including 10 years as a high school principal. Throughout his working life he was an active member of the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) for which he was awarded Life Membership.
In 2011 he was elected President of the NSWTF, taking up the position in 2012, and serving four terms until 2020.
Between 2016-2020, he was also Deputy Federal President of the Australian Education Union, to which he was awarded Life Membership in 2020.
Maurie played a central role in the schools funding, salaries, staffing and save TAFE campaigns throughout this period.
Internationally, Maurie has been active in the global campaign opposing the growing influence of corporate ‘edu-businesses’ and their attempts to commercialise and privatise public education.
Maurie is currently Director of the Centre for Public Education Research (CPER).