Friday, 20 October 2006
The present clarion call against Federal Education Minister Bishop’s national curriculum push is shallow politicizing and is in no way grounded in rational education debate.
In June 1986 the Australian Education Council (AEC) called for a national collaborative effort in curriculum development in order to:
(a) maximise the positive effects of the nation's scarce curriculum development resources and
(b) minimise unnecessary differences in curricula from State to State.
After all, through what logic do we accommodate eight different curricula. If the case were Singapore, not a person would believe it otherwise than ludicrous.
But the AEC's 1993 decision not to endorse a national curriculum framework which it had developed over the period 1989-1993 left the impression, in some quarters, that a major education opportunity had been lost purely on political, as opposed to educational, grounds.
Regarding that decision, the Prime Minister of Australia at the time, Paul Keating, was reported as saying that the move to abandon work on a national curriculum ‘was one of the most depressing outcomes ever of Commonwealth State meetings .... If we can't even give our kids a national curriculum after five years of work on this by the Commonwealth and States ... then you do wonder if we can get to anywhere cooperatively' (The Australian, July 6, 1993).
In Darwin in July 1989 South Australia's Associate-Director General of Education, Curriculum Garth Boomer, who has been described as ‘perhaps Australia's most creative curriculum expert', gave a remarkably frank keynote address to a national joint conference of the Australian Reading Association and the Australian Association for the Teaching of English. [Before his SA appointment he had been based in Canberra as Director of the Curriculum Development Centre and Chair of the Commonwealth Schools Commission].
Boomer became an unlikely, but extremely articulate, spokesperson for a national curriculum. Boomer experienced a personal struggle over the period 1989-1992 to balance his ‘progressive’ education tendencies, developed over many years, with his uncomfortable feeling that the rhetoric and practices of ‘progressivism’ had not delivered the goods. He became concerned that classroom teaching had not changed enough, and that needed gains with respect to equity considerations in education had not been achieved.
He admitted that although he was unhappy with what he found himself accepting, he had a growing belief that ‘such progressives, admirable though they may be in many respects, may be holding back the powerful growth of literacy in an increasingly harsh world', that they might be like the philosopher/astronomer who, with his eyes fixed on the stars, ‘seduced himself into a ditch'.
He admitted to having to confront the depressing evidence that despite the rhetoric and courses and good intentions, no substantial gains in teaching literacy to children from a range of circumstances, if one key indicator of success was completion of a full 12 years of schooling, had been made.
Immediately following this statement, Boomer, who would become Chair of the Australasian Cooperative Assessment Program, indicated that he had come to believe that what was needed was a ‘standards-referenced' approach, which would require the development of books of examples of performance ‘set in context, arranged according to adjudged levels of performance'.
Boomer admitted that it was not enough for teachers to merely affirm uncritically their students' histories, experiences and stories, and that to take student voices at face value was to run the risk of idealising and romanticising them.
So, Boomer said that it was for reasons of equity and social justice, for economic/political reasons and for educational reasons that he had been gradually developing a critique of the progressivism which many had worked to promote.
In 1989 Boomer admitted to having modified his views, justifying his change to his capacity ‘to be self-critical'. ‘To learn is to move on', he said, ‘to change, to overthrow what once we believed'.
Similarly, it is time for much lesser lights in the curriculum arena to move on and be self critical, sufficient to ensure an objective debate on the merits of, and possible framing of, a national curriculum. And that debate must now include the community. The development of curricula that intones what our children will learn, and how it shall be taught, is far too important to be left solely in the hands of teachers.
Wendy Engliss, Senior Years Curriculum Superintendent in South Australia’s Education Department, said that the current SA curriculum framework was designed ‘by teachers for teachers’ (“Curriculum chiefs hit back at ‘misinformed’ Bishop”, The Advertiser October 7 2006). That is indeed the problem. It should be designed by curriculum designers, based on community input and aspiration, for teachers to teach to our children.
The teacher’s unions of course sway in the political breeze like reeds on the river bank. While signaling abhorrence to a national curriculum in recent times, in 1993 they and the Federal Labor Government agreed to build support for the national curriculum concept into enterprise agreements. The Government at that time also moved to provide funding to professional associations which would support the national curriculum thrust. Some unions and professional associations accepted the Federal Labor offer of substantial additional funding in return for their advocacy of the nationally-developed curriculum.
Boomer insisted that it was in the interests of children that Australian society debated what constituted essential knowledge to which all Australian children were entitled and he deplored the idea that what children learned at school should be decided by a ‘Russian Roulette kind of offering of content'.
Boomer was right, and we should take heed of the advice of the last genuine curriculum guru, certainly in South Australia if not nationally.
Wednesday, 23 August 2006
Imagine. You are moving to a
… whether or not the school, although providing an acceptable standard of education, nevertheless has serious weaknesses, in one or more areas of its work; whether or not the school, although not identified as having serious weaknesses, is judged to be underachieving.
Such transparency is the opposite of the situation in
First, under-performing schools receive additional funding;
second, if results still do not improve, students receive funding to pay for private tutoring.
Finally, if particular schools consistently fail to meet the grade, students will be allowed to transfer to more successful schools. Again, this is unlike
In answer to those resisting change.
Are our principals adequately trained for their jobs, and is the job the same now as it was 20, 50, or 100 years ago?
And behind that premise is the underlying truth that being a good teacher is no guarantee of being s good principal. They are different professional roles.
Sunday, 20 August 2006
Most of the reforms in public education, particularly in Australia, over the past 100 years, despite their intended effects, have generally seated the running of public education firmly at the centre – with departmental and industrial bureaucracies taking, at times, unyielding control.
But with the advent of community involvement in governance, that hegemony is being challenged.
In New Zealand, the UK, the Australian states of Victoria and South Australia, parts of the US and other public education systems throughout the world, local decision making in public schools is gaining currency with communities, is being resisted by unions and bureaucracies, and is making a difference.
Notwithstanding the indisputable aim of bettering student achievement, the central issue boils down to - "who’s in charge?"
The key questions in public schooling relate to just where the critical decisions about direction, policy, evaluation and standards are made. If state or public schools are to adequately serve 21st century communities, then clearly we need a governance structure that will bring about the effective servicing of those community needs.
Centralised control of public systems is an artefact of 100 years of 'doing it that way'. It is not divinely correct!! Critical decisions are made by people far removed from the classroom, and often who are bereft of an understanding of the needs and aspirations of those using particular schools.
It's time for public schools to go for straight A's – autonomy, authority and accountability.
The most pressing, and single most important issue in redefining public education and making it relevant and of high quality and worthy of public confidence, is the move from public school systems, to systems of public schools. After all, we as parents send our children to schools, not systems!!
Schools should have the autonomy and freedom to make decisions without interference from departmental or industrial bureaucrats far removed from the point of service delivery. They need the authority to make decisions happen, and they need to be accountable to the communities who are their primary clients – not conformance to rules and regulations, but rather performance for results.
But moving to local governance of schools is a major challenge, although successfully achieved in many schools throughout the world.
It means standing up to the political, industrial, economic and social interest groups who benefit from the bureaucratisation and centralised authority of public education, and to recognise that their protests, albeit sometimes, in the language of public concern, are in truth, just plain self-interest.
Public Education is in transformation both culturally and infrastructurally. The evolution of a 21st century relevant curriculum framework; a focus on the quality of teaching; the capacity of school leadership; the utility of our school facilities; the ongoing professional development of teachers; are all key issues for the present and for an innovative and meaningful future for students in our public schools.
The single most significant advantage of a framework of local governance and management is that it allows for the advocacy for continual improvement in all areas of public education, especially the governance and parent participation in decision-making and direction setting.
The process will be complex, the requirements extensive and the need for vigilance, expert negotiating skills, constructive obstinacy and a range of unique and innovative partnerships paramount.
In spite of resistance from conservative principals, many see the advent of strong, locally elected governing bodies as allies, sources of strength and an advance in the move to focus the efforts of schools on the needs and aspirations of their client group, rather than repeat the state determined 'one size fits all' form of education from which we are seeking to move.
School governing bodies provide a formal structure and framework for local decision-making and accountability.
They provide an opportunity for parents, teachers, students and the broader school community to participate in shaping the education delivered by schools through the development and expression of shared expectations.
Efforts by schools to develop in their students a capability for effective and active citizenship should be assisted by having an effective school governing body to demonstrate the benefits of open and informed decision-making.
It is especially important for school governing bodies is to have a significant and influential role in the selection of principals This reflects a view that, in order to secure a strong mutual commitment between a school community and its principal, it is important that the school community, through its governing body, has a direct role in the selection process. The involvement by school governing bodies in the selection of the educational leaders of government schools also reflects the partnership between government and local school communities in the delivery of educational services.
The key responsibility of school governing bodies should be to ensure that the student is the central focus of the organisational system as a whole, and to build the capacity of the school to manage its own affairs and to express the nature and needs of its local community within the framework of Government policy.
A distinguishing feature of public schools is that they are fully and publicly accountable for all aspects of their operation. Their answerability works in two directions. Each public school is responsible to the wider public through the Government for the exercise of its responsibilities. It is also accountable to its local community of users (through the school governing body) for the learning program it delivers and the outcomes that are achieved.
Through local governance there is significant potential for school governing bodies to:
- support the establishment of conditions within and beyond the school that are conducive to student learning and achievement;
- encourage student participation in the life of the school and the decisions that affect them, as well as advocate for the participation by parents and other community members in the work of the school;
- develop ways in which all members of the school community can be consulted about future directions for the school;
- defend and advocate for the educational interests and entitlements of the school and its students; and
- support and advise the principal on connecting more effectively to the community and other relevant organisations.
The governing body is the keystone to building enhanced self-management. It is the public space in which the different needs, interests and responsibilities are reconciled and coordinated, and an essential support base and point of accountability for school management and leadership.
Empowerment of school communities, through parent controlled governing bodies, not only changes expectations and instils community confidence – it usually provides far better solutions to their problems than normal public services.
It can be argued that:
- Community governance has more commitment to community members than service delivery systems have to 'their clients'.
- Community governance understands community problems better than service professionals.
- Community governance solves problems while professionals and bureaucracies deliver services.
- Community governance offers “care”. Institutions and professionals offer 'service';
- Community governance is more flexible and creative than large bureaucracies.
- Community governance enforces behaviour standards more effectively than bureaucracies or professionals.
- Community governance focuses on capacities; service systems focus on deficits (as government education systems are often based on a welfare model rather than an educational excellence model education).
In terms of student aptitude and achievement the equally most important influence is the school. But the traditional factors often over emphasised – teacher salaries, per student expenditure, class size – have little impact on school performance. The real keys are community governance, the clarity of the school’s mission, strong leadership, teaching quality and the degree of freedom and respect offered school communities (community ownership, a mission-driven organisation, and a decentralised authority). To develop these attributes schools need autonomy from excessive external control – from bureaucracies and unions. The more freedom that a school is granted to chart its own course, the more likely it is to become effectively organised.
Local governance and management has the capacity to be the means that holds schools accountable, not from the top down, but through the process of community-use, through achievements and demonstrable outcomes. Through governance we hold schools accountable by giving them autonomy – and by observing how well schools succeed in meeting the needs and aspirations, and therefore the support, of their parents and students.
Leaders can urge schools to improve; legislation can order schools to improve; outstanding principals can force schools to improve. But only community ownership through local governance can motivate schools to improve.
The history of governance in schools is the story of how ordinary people get to have a say in the running of their schools.
The Rationale For Community Governance
Why should there be community governance of schools at all? Why don't we just 'leave it to the experts'? Why don’t we just trust the professionals, and cheer them on from the bleachers?
Two Models for 'Delivering' Education
There are two ways of thinking about the involvement of ordinary people in decision-making in schools. These are founded on two ideological traditions. They are not mutually exclusive, and most of us carry elements of both traditions in our heads at the same time. (Gann, 1998)
The first might is described by Gann as the conservative tradition in which the customer or client is seen as:
- Free from responsibility for the quality of the service, except by complaining about it, or taking ‘business’ elsewhere (if they can?).
- Acting out of self-interest, rather than as a member of a potentially forceful society.
- Reactive to services, rather than proactive.
- Having a single, purchaser-provider relationship with services
- Unlikely to have his/her relationship with the surrounding world altered by the provision of services.
The alternative might be described (says Gann) as a radical model .
In a radical model, the member of the community is seen as:
- Responsible for the direction, content and quality of services.
- Committed long term to the community, and having a complex set of relationships within it.
- Acting in the interests of others as well as themselves.
- Proactive, that is, initiating change.
- Likely to develop an understanding of a relationship with the world that allows some control and a capacity for individual growth.
So what have we achieved through local governance and management. We have-
- enlisted the expertise of the community in order to make the service more efficient and responsive;
- furthered the cause of democratic participation in a state committed to active citizenship;
- helped to educate the community, about education in particular;
- 'pushed back the frontiers of the state' in public affairs;
- given 'ordinary people' the final say in affairs which affect them, so bringing schooling within the mainstream wider society.
Ian Jamieson of the
The second type of body described by Jamieson is the adversarial body – in which schools have failed to find a modus operandi (or way of doing things) which allows councillors to govern and principals to manage. While only a small number, it is these schools when conflict arises, that will get the publicity.
A growing number of governing bodies according to his research achieve the status wherein they take the role of critical friend – that is, one which helps to identify how well the school is doing and then participates to make it better. Increasingly the critical friend role is being interpreted as a proactive part. It requires a strategic view, a steering role, with the overall aim of maintaining and improving the quality of education and standards of achievement.
Evidence shows (Ofsted, 1994) that where governing bodies are fully involved in their school’s planning they have better informed and more effective oversight of the conduct of the school.
Good governance then, is about strategic and visionary leadership, and a means, of ordinary people getting to have a powerful say in the running of the schools in which their children are learning and developing.
Parents or care givers have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, and have the right to be consulted by state authorities with respect to the form that education should take and to take part in its governance. Parents have the inalienable right to choose the form of education which is best for their children particularly in the early years of schooling, whether provided by the state or not, subject to reasonable safeguards which may be required by law.
Public schools should have at least the following features on common:
- each school should represent a partnership between the state and the local community;
- the admission policies of public schools should be determined by governing bodies in consultation with the state department in terms of norms and regulations and should uphold guaranteed rights and freedoms;
- the mission, policy and character or ethos of schools should be determined within national and state frameworks by a governing body comprising the main stakeholders in the school;
- the salaries of teachers in each public school should be paid by the state department according to an allocation formula, and such teachers should be appointed in each public school by the state department on the recommendation of and in consultation with the school’s governing body and school management.
Decision-making authority in schools in the public education system should be shared among parents, teachers, the community and the learners in ways that will support the core values of democracy.
The sphere of governing bodies is governance, by which is meant policy determination, in which the democratic participation of the school’s stakeholders is essential.
The sphere of the school leadership is management, by which is meant the day-to-day organisation of teaching and learning, and the activities that support teaching and learning, for which teachers and the school principal are responsible and accountable.
These spheres can occasionally overlap, and there is likely to be considerable multiplicity in the exercise of governance and management roles, depending on the circumstances of each school, but within state standards and a quality framework.
Good public school governance requires a flourishing partnership, based on mutual interest and mutual confidence, among the many constituencies that make up and support the school.
In spite of the conservatism of some key players in public education as participating parents, we choose to go down the path to local governance, not because it is easy, but because it is a challenge; because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skill; because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one that we are unwilling to defer, and one of which we intend to make the most.
Wednesday, 9 August 2006
This requires the active encouragement of mutual respect for all of our diverse cultural traditions, and our right to enjoy and practice these in peace and without hindrance, and in the recognition that these are a source of strength for our communities and the unity of the nation.
Schools should create the conditions for developing a coherent, integrated, flexible state system which advances the equitable use of public resources, a continuing improvement in educational quality, democratic governance and school-based decision making within a State framework of standards, curriculum and quality.
It must ensure an equitable, efficient, qualitatively sound and financially sustainable system for its learners within a coherent state pattern of school organisation, governance and resourcing which is regarded as absolutely necessary.
Public education must therefore be unified through a managed process of change based on respect for rights and freedoms, redress, equity and continuing improvement in the quality of learning.
The structure, governance and resourcing of public education must aim to -
· ensure both state coherence and the promotion of a sense of common purpose in public education, while optimising flexibility and protecting diversity;
· enable disciplined and purposeful school environments to be established, dedicated to a visible and measurable improvement in the quality of the learning process and learning outcomes throughout the state;
· enable representatives of the main stakeholders of schools to take the responsibility for school governance, within a framework of appropriate (yet minimal) regulation and high support by the state education department;
· ensure that the involvement of departmental authorities in school governance is at the minimum required for legal accountability, and is based on participative management;
· enable school governing bodies to determine the mission and character or ethos of their schools;
· ensure that decision-making authority assigned to school governing bodies is coupled with the allocation of an equitable share of public resources, and the right to raise additional resources for them to manage;
· recognise that a governing body’s right of decision-making is not linked to the ability of its community to raise resources;
· ensure both equity and redress in resourcing from the public purse in order to achieve a fair distribution of public funds and the elimination of backlogs caused by past unequal treatment and bureaucratic tardiness;
· improve efficiency in school education through the optimum use of public resource allocations and publicly funded staff resources.
All South Australians must be given grounds for confidence that public education will be professionally planned and carried out, democratically and locally governed, and effectively managed; that the structures and strategies developed will be such as to enhance quality; and that the resources will be equitably distributed over the public education population as a whole.
Parents (or care givers) have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, and have the right to be consulted by state authorities with respect to the form that education should take and to take a meaningful and influential part in its governance. Parents have the inalienable right to choose the form of education which is best for their children particularly in the early years of schooling, whether provided by the state or not, subject to reasonable safeguards which may be required by law.
Parental rights, though inalienable, are not absolute or unlimited, but must be exercised within the full context of fundamental rights which all government agencies have the obligation to protect and advance.
It is envisaged that public schools will have at least the following features in common:
· each school will represent a partnership between the state and the local community;
· public schools will be funded totally or largely from public resources, that is, from state budgets, and with few exceptions their property would be owned by the state;
· the admission policies of public schools will be determined by governing bodies in consultation with the state department in terms of norms and regulations and will uphold guaranteed rights and freedoms;
· the mission, policy and character or ethos of schools will be determined within national and state frameworks by a governing body comprising the main stakeholders in the school;
· the salaries of teachers in each public school will be paid by the state department according to an allocation formula, and such teachers will be appointed in each public school by the state department on the recommendation of and in consultation with the school’s governing body.
Decision making authority of schools in public education will be shared among parents, teachers, the community and the learners in ways that will support the core values of democracy.
The sphere of governing bodies is governance, by which is meant leadership through direction and priority setting, policy determination, monitoring and evaluation in which the democratic participation of the school's stakeholders is essential. The sphere of the school educational leadership is management, by which is meant the day to day organisation of teaching and learning, and the activities which support teaching and learning, for which teachers and the school principal are responsible and accountable. These spheres overlap, and there is likely to be considerable diversity in governance and management roles, depending on the circumstances of each school, but within the state standards and quality framework.
Good public school governance requires a flourishing partnership, based on mutual interest and mutual confidence, among the many constituencies that make up and support the school.
Tuesday, 8 August 2006
This unified model of local management is supposed to have the learning of children and students as its centre piece. It is also supposed to reinforce the importance of parent and community participation, the voice of learners and the professional input from educators.
When the entire community works together to support learning, children and students succeed, not just in school but throughout their lives.
The school or preschool Governing Council is a central feature of local governance and management. As members of Governing Councils, parents and community members have real opportunities to improve the education and care of students and children in their local school or preschool.
Local school governance and management emphasises that every child and student’s success in learning is a shared responsibility between teachers, parents and their communities.
Members of Governing Councils are closely involved in this partnership and experience one of the most rewarding ways of contributing to their school or preschool and local community.
As a member of a Governing Council, you have real opportunities to:
· be a part of raising standards of education and care in your local school or preschool,
· identify where the school or preschool can improve and help make improvements happen,
· develop the school’s financial efficiency and effectiveness,
· engage other parents and the local community to benefit the school or preschool
· acquire new skills and new friends, and
· share in the success of children, staff, teachers and the school or preschool as a whole.
In locally governed and managed schools and preschools, the Governing Council provides a forum to ensure that the views of all segments of the community are taken into account when decisions about direction and improvement are made.
It is a formal, legal body with defined areas of authority and responsibility. It delivers these through actions of the Governing Council as a whole, its committees (smaller groups of members and others which focus on particular areas) and occasionally individual Governing Council members.
Governing Councils differ a little from place to place, but usually meet no less than twice each school term to make decisions on matters affecting the school or preschool as a whole.
Governing Council committees are formed to assist the main body meet its range of responsibilities. They usually meet once or twice per term and have responsibility for specific matters such as planning (the school’s direction), policy (to ensure plans are implemented), review (to make sure actions are effective), buildings and grounds (to plan future developments), curriculum & standards (to set targets and report results), finance (to plan school finances) and student matters (to plan for the well-being of students).
Individual Governing Councillors may also be nominated to particular areas of responsibility to assist the Governing Council in its work.
Parents and caregivers with children currently enrolled at the school or preschool are eligible to become members of the Governing Council and are the majority of the membership. One of the keys to success for Governing Councils is having parent and caregiver members with a variety of backgrounds and experience.
Community members may be co opted by the Governing Council, from business and industry or from significant groups within the community, such as Aboriginal, those from diverse cultural backgrounds and others with special skills or experience.
Membership categories vary from site to site and include the school principal or preschool director and also may include the local member of parliament, members of affiliated committees, staff and students.
If you would like to contribute to your local school or preschool through membership on a Governing Council please contact the principal or director, or the Governing Council chairperson of your local school or preschool as they would be delighted to hear from you.
If you would like more information on what is involved please send us an email with your inquiry at -