Australian Labor’s “self-managing schools,” seven years on
21 March 2017
In August 2010, then Labor Party prime minister, Julia Gillard, announced her government would make all public schools “self-governing” by 2018. The measure, she insisted, would drive “educational improvement” and “better meet the needs of students.”
It is therefore timely, some seven years on, to take a look at how public schools are faring under Labor’s autonomy agenda. Touted as a means to free them from the “shackles” of bureaucracy, the real aim of school autonomy was leaked in a 2011 New South Wales (NSW) education department report. It proposed closing more than 100 schools, sacking 7,500 teachers, selling surplus land and slashing the costs of programs for disadvantaged students in NSW, Australia’s most populous state.
The report, compiled by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), was tasked by the NSW state Labor government to identify savings. Its blueprint was based on education reforms carried out by the Kennett Liberal government in the Australian state of Victoria. In the 1990s, Victoria’s state’s public school system was devastated by the introduction of the Schools of the Future autonomy model, a plan whose origins lay in the devolutionary policies of the Victorian state government under Joan Kirner, Kennett’s Labor predecessor.
Kennett closed 370 schools, sacked 10,000 teachers and all but eliminated regional offices and school support services. As a result, Victorian public school students receive the lowest level of funding of any Australian state. The BCG plan recommended that the NSW government model its reforms along Victorian lines. The paper also suggested, given the difficulty of selling the plan to the public, that it be dressed up…