For Whom the Liberal School Bell Tolls


As appears to be becoming the norm for Conservative political parties the world over, and in Australia, they have developed a blueprint for winning elections from Opposition which involves an amalgam of amorphous concepts, Fuzzy Math, Truthiness, Catch Phrases, Principled Words that look good on a backdrop and every marketing trick in the book. Or is that, every marketing trick that they can fit into a glossy pamphlet?

Thus with Tony Abbott’s Coalition we have the amorphous concepts of a government of ‘chaos and dysfunction, in disarray’. A position not actually borne out by the facts of a government who, despite instability, which is different, have governed well and in an orderly fashion over the last 3 years.

Tony Abbott likes to contrast that with his team, an Opposition ‘ready to govern’ with a ‘stable front bench’. Whether in reality that is a good thing is open to question, even as he tries to portray it as such, as you could also portray it as a stultified and sclerotic potential administration, unable or afraid to move on poor performers from their spots where they have become araldited to the Shadow Front Bench.

Anyway, as we all know, Abbott is simply trying to make the best of a bad situation, unable as he is, to move them, because if he does he invokes the agreement he made with Gary Gray as Special Minister of State which would see a cut in resources allocated to the Opposition.

Still, you can’t say that Tony Abbott doesn’t try to make every post a winner.

Also, the ‘Fuzzy Math’ is manifested in the Coalition’s position to dismiss the validity of Treasury estimates of anything but to laud the ability of their ‘Commission of Audit’, which would occur after an election of an Abbott government, to come up with the correct figures, in contrast to Treasury’s numbers, and upon which they would rely instead.  Just as the Coalition attempted to do in the 2010 election when they rubbished Treasury Costings of their policies and relied instead on the arithmetic of their chosen firm of WA Accountants (with links to the Liberal Party).  Figures which were subsequently proven to be without solid foundation, and more than a bit fuzzy.

The Catch Phrases, in lieu of cogent and accurate criticism of government policies, we can all come up with many examples of from the Abbott Opposition over the last 3 years. ‘Great Big New Tax’ being just one.

The ‘Principled Words that look good on a backdrop’, which the Opposition have chosen to background Abbott with this go around are, ‘Hope. Reward. Opportunity. Real Solutions and The 5 Pillar Economy’. All well and good, and what any citizen would aspire to for their country and to be manifest as aspirations for a government. Though I can see why the Coalition have opted for 5 Pillars, when usually 4 pillars are enough to support a structure, 5 are better!

However, all of that is not what this post is actually about. Instead I am wanting to focus on the ‘Truthiness’ aspect as it relates to the Coalition’s policy platform relating to Education.

Stephen Jones, MP pointed out in a Tweet the other day this paragraph from the Coalition’s ‘Real Solutions’ booklet which went to their Education policy:


I had to wonder, what does that mean in reality? Because the Coalition aren’t telling us straight up. So I went to the Liberal Party Platform document to try and flesh out the motherhood statement in the pamphlet with some more concrete facts. Ever hopeful that I am of the Coalition having an Education policy, which has just been hidden away somewhere.

Here it is:

Federal Platform
The Liberal Party of Australia
Liberals believe in a society in which all children have the opportunity
to develop their potential and all people have the opportunity to
The education system is fundamental to achieving this goal, but
education goes beyond schools to include family and community.
Material reward, cultural enrichment and personal fulfilment may be
derived from an effective education system that seeks to overcome
limitations imposed by disadvantage and maximises opportunities
for all.
Liberals are committed to the widest possible freedom of choice
in education. The right to choose should not be just a privilege for
the rich.
In creating opportunities for Australians, Liberals will:

recognize the importance of families and good parenting to children
in policies that protect and strengthen the family;

ensure the widest possible freedom in choice in education,
promoted by diversity of systems and schools;

ensure that all children have access to the best possible education,
irrespective of sex, race, religion, socioeconomic background or
place of residence;

establish standards of literacy and numeracy, and accountability
mechanisms for their achievement;

help students overcome limitations and disadvantages by fostering
choice in education, accommodating diversity in needs and
aspirations, and encouraging excellence;

decentralise the control and administration of schooling
by empowering local systems and respecting school

promote awareness of the need for adults to upgrade their
education and provide appropriate opportunities for doing so;

offer financial assistance where appropriate so that educational
needs can be met;

oppose discrimination based on irrelevant criteria;

implement economic policies that generate employment

assist migrants to integrate and find appropriate employment;

provide for the needs of special groups in the community,
including the disabled, the aged, indigenous Australians and
remote communities; and

recognise that gifted and talented children often have special
educational needs, which must be met if their potential is to be

Nope, nothing there that tells us exactly what the Coalition would do as far as their approach to educating our children and grandchildren goes. In fact, if you read it you would have to say that their aspirations sound very much like those outlined in the Gonski Report. ‘Provide for the needs of special groups in the community….’ Also, to ‘offer financial assistance where appropriate so that educational needs can be met’, sounds very much like they would provide something like the ‘School Kids Bonus’, which they have pledged to rescind.

Anyway, the line which interests me the most, and which is, yet again, left deliberately vague as to it’s implementation on the ground, is:

decentralise the control and administration of schooling
by empowering local systems and respecting school

So, in the interests of informing ourselves just what this new system of educating our kids might actually look like, which the Coalition are keeping under wraps for the most part, possibly until after the election, we’ll have to go to those government’s school systems that have already embarked upon similar paths to see what they look like.

From the research I have done there may be a few options for paths that the Coalition may go down. They are paths that other countries with Tory governments have taken as they have turned over what we know as Public Education to Private Education Services providers. Which can also encompass ’empowering local systems’, or franchises, when you think about it.

Plus, I will look at those Coalition State governments that the federal Coalition are looking to for inspiration.

1. Vouchers.


On ABC24’s ‘The Drum’ last Monday, a spirited discussion about what may be the specifics of the Coalition’s plans for Education policy, occurred between the IPA’s, Tim Wilson, and actor and friend of Kevin Rudd, Rhys Muldoon.  The Privatisation of Public Schools was discussed, based upon the paragraph in the ‘Real Solution’ pamphlet that I have highlighted above, and Wilson, often a public cipher for the Coalition’s private musings, was more inclined to think that the introduction of Education Vouchers for each student would be the best way to go and that any group, in any community, who would wish to start up a school, should be able to do so.

So, what is the Voucher system and how does it work? What are it’s pros and cons?

School Vouchers are a certificate given by the State Government that allows parents to take their child’s portion of that State’s per pupil education spending and apply it to the school of their choice (Private, virtual, or home) instead of the Public School district their child resides in.

What are the advantages of School Vouchers?

School Vouchers give parents who would not otherwise be able to afford it some choice in their child’s education. Public Education is the cheapest form of education and many simply cannot afford other choices such as Private Schools. The voucher system gives them the opportunity for this type of choice.

Another advantage is that all taxpayers pay for Public School funding regardless of type of school their child attends. So a parent, who has a child in the Private School system, is paying for the Public School system as well. This eliminates that double payment. Proponents also argue that School Vouchers would provide more competition across schools, which would in turn improve the quality of education for all students.

What are the disadvantages of School Vouchers?

The opportunity to undermine the Public Education system is presented with the School Voucher program. Public School enrollment and funding would take a huge hit. Essentially opponents of School Vouchers say that the monies being taken away from Public Schools through the voucher program would not be replaced and it would be difficult to be competitive without adequate funding.

It can also be argued that Private Schools, many who control enrollment, will not have enough room to meet the potential demand, thus having to turn down students who wish to attend their school. Much as they would love to, Private Schools would not be able to endlessly expand. Opponents also argue that parents who take the vouchers to home school their child may not be spending it properly on their child’s education.

I remember that when Brendan Nelson was John Howard’s Education Minister, he and Howard began to make sotto voce comments about a School Voucher program. Then Howard lost the 2007 election and the option has not been publicly spoken about by the Coalition since. Only the IPA.

For a more comprehensive explanation of the Voucher System and a comparison with other alternatives, you may like to read this:
It may be an American information sheet, but so much in Education Theory these days is global and shared.

2. Independent Public Schools


Fortuitously for me, over the last week, Christopher Pyne, Shadow Education Minister for the Coalition, has fleshed out what will be the policy that they will take to the election. By reading this informative article by Maralyn Parker in The Daily Telegraph, of Wednesday, July 17th, 2013:

and an article, by way of reply, from the NSW Education Minister, in The Sydney Morning Herald, of Saturday, July 20, 2013:

it is now possible to say with confidence that the Coalition have a plan to spread nationwide, by ‘encouraging’ the States, that system which has been implemented in Western Australia, and is being rolled out now in Queensland. Though not one that NSW is interested in.

What is it and what does it involve?

From this article in ‘WA Today’ of March 25, 2012:
we have the WA Minister of Education, Dr Liz Constable, explaining the guts of it as being about giving School Principals more autonomy in the schools they run and attracting experienced and outstanding Principals to the most disadvantaged schools, with financial incentives, and allowing them to develop the programs that will lead to an overall improvement in the school’s results.

Which sounds all well and good, and, as Dr Constable explains, it is merely the implementation of an agreement to do just that which has been entered into with the federal government.

The other aspect of the Coalition policy is this:
Under the policy, schools can apply to become an IPS, giving them autonomy over budgets and staffing, greater discretion over curriculum, and managed partly by a school board. They remain publicly funded and do not charge compulsory fees.

However, Minister Piccoli in NSW is not convinced:

”While we are talking about very significant devolution of authority from the centre out to local schools, we are not talking about wholesale autonomy,” he said. ”We will not be introducing charter schools or independent public schools because there is no evidence that they improve student performance.”

If it doesn’t lead to improved student performance, why advocate for it then? Unless it is to be the thin end of the wedge which leads to the Privatisation of Public Education, where schools are run by ‘Education Services Providers’, who take over the running of the schools and the education of the students in them, from the government.
Such as has been happening in Sweden for the last few decades, and is happening in Britain now, where the Cameron Tory government, under Education Minister, Michael Gove, has introduced Academies and Free Schools, and is considering whether to allow them to be able to run and make a profit:

So, as you can see, at least we now have an Education policy from the Coalition, and we can compare it to the ‘Better Schools’ offering from the Labor federal government.

Two radical new proposals to take education of our kids down a new path in the 21st century.

One an evolution of our present model and an improvement upon the, now generally recognised, failed model of the Howard years.

The other, a devolution revolution. And one which it’s critics say benefits the companies who seek to get into the education space, more than the students themselves.

The election will decide which one we get.

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