ABC Adelaide - Mornings With Ian Henschke
- Minister for School Education
- Minister for Early Childhood and Youth
Mornings with Ian Henschke
ISSUES: School autonomy
IAN HENSCHKE: Well, thanks for your time, Peter Garrett. The evidence seems to be coming out stronger and stronger that people are choosing private schools and one of the reasons they’re choosing them is because they believe that there’s a higher level of authority in those schools.
In other words, you can review the teachers’ performance. Do you think there’s a better standard of teaching in private schools?
PETER GARRETT: G’day, Ian. No, not necessarily. I think that the quality of teaching across the Government and the non-government systems matches up pretty well. One thing that we are doing is providing the opportunity for schools to take on more autonomy with what we call the Empowering Local Schools Initiative and we’re spending quite a bit on it, nearly half a billion dollars.
We’ll roll that out to around a thousand schools. To start with, eighty schools in South Australia, as well. That will give principals more opportunity to have, say for example, control over staff selection, over their budget, over things like professional development, but I’m not at all convinced that it’s simply this issue that means that people choose other schools they send their kids to. There’s a range of complex reasons why people do that.
IAN HENSCHKE: But we are seeing this, though, in Australia, more and more people taking out extra mortgages on their homes, borrowing money from relatives to send their kids to private schools and it seems to be that they think they get a better quality there and obviously, the quality of teaching would be part of that.
PETER GARRETT: Look, there are pretty clear examples of people who, particularly in the secondary system, are making the choice to non-government schools. What we know is that if we do give principals more autonomy in the classroom or schools - local schools - more autonomy over their teaching, that you generally do see better education results for kids. That’s been shown pretty clearly in the overseas examples and that’s why we’ve made these announcements about spending quite a bit on rolling out a program to empower local schools. Different states have got different systems. It may be that in some states, the principal might get a say over their budget.
It may mean in other states, they might get a say over staff selection. One of the options on the board for schools to consider is that the board or the school council gets some statutory authority on school oversight. It might play a role in selecting the principal, for example.
I think the bottom line is that we know that if principals have got more opportunities, more discretion and more autonomy, they are better placed to make decisions about those things in their own school and generally, we see better education results as a consequence.
IAN HENSCHKE: We’re now seeing principals coming out and saying that they would like to have more power over hiring and firing and dealing with underperforming teachers. So clearly, the public system sees this as a major issue. What can you do at a federal level to assist those principals in getting the best staff in their schools?
PETER GARRETT: Well, we’ve provided about $480 million for this initiative to empower local schools, which will be implemented in 1000 schools this year, so that’s a huge start on that journey. We’ve also spent quite a lot, Ian, in the Teacher Quality National Partnership. We’ve spent about $550 million and that’s providing professional development opportunities for teachers and principals in schools right around the country, so we’ve actually had a very strong emphasis, both on teacher quality and on potential principal autonomy. I know for a fact when I meet with Principals Australia, that they tell me that they’d like to have more autonomy, more say over what goes on in their school, so we’ve actually responded to their calls for that.
I think the other thing to say is that there are opportunities in school communities for the community to play a role in the school. You might have the P&C, which raises funds from the tuck shop and the like. Quite often, though, I think there are opportunities for the school community to play a more involved role, working with the principal in the school setting, making sure that the delivery of education in those schools is really working for the kids that are going there.
IAN HENSCHKE: Do you think, then, that the principals in public schools should also have the power to set salaries, so that they could recruit better teachers?
PETER GARRETT: No, I don’t. I think that the question of the industrial arrangements in the Government school system, in public schools is really a matter for the states that set those arrangements. Now, what we’re saying is that there’s a range of different things that the states can do.
If we’re going to have more school autonomy, and we’re certainly providing this pretty big commitment to it, we want to see the states work through on a continuum, some of those things that might work best for them.
IAN HENSCHKE: But – Julia Gillard was pushing the idea of paying special bonuses to high performing teachers through the Federal Government. That’s been wound back somewhat. Why is the Federal Government moving away from what was clearly a program designed to give teachers more money who are doing a better job?
PETER GARRETT: We’ve still got the rewards for great teachers policy in place, Ian, but we do want to link it to the national standards and qualifications for teachers, which we’ve also had agreed. I mean, it’s a, kind of, really a fascinating area, because the states generally, particularly, obviously, in the Government schools have run the state systems, but this Government has had a very strong commitment to lifting the educational results of Australian kids, wherever they live.
Amongst the things that we’ve done is actually introduced national standards for teachers, so if a teacher teaches in South Australia and then they move across the border into Victoria, the same national standards apply and we’ve linked the reward payments to those national standards. And that’s something that has been welcomed by the teaching profession, as well as by those education experts that look at this stuff pretty closely.
IAN HENSCHKE: All right. Well, finally, if you were a parent of a student in a public school and you felt that the teaching wasn’t up to scratch and you felt you weren’t getting any results there, do you think it is worth writing to the Federal Minister and saying where the school is and what the problem is?
PETER GARRETT: Look, we’ll always take correspondence from people, Ian, but my recommendation to parents in that instance is to speak to the principal. I find that the principals are outstanding leaders in their school community. They’re the ones that are working with the teachers on the ground.
They’re the ones that are very knowledgeable about their staff and they’re the ones that have got the interest of people’s kids at heart. So I think you make that contact with the school principal, identify any issues that need to be resolved and I think, in most cases, people can work these things through pretty well, if they actually cooperate and go in and see the principal.
IAN HENSCHKE: Thanks very much for your time this morning.
PETER GARRETT: Thanks, Ian.
IAN HENSCHKE: Peter Garrett there. Minister for School Education.