Coalition School Policy is all electioneering and no vision

My next column for The Daily Telegraph will not be published until after the election. However as many people are asking me what I think about The Coalition’s Policy for Schools: Students First released last week, I decided to give you a brief rundown of my thoughts here on my personal blog.

The policy was released last Thursday just a few hours before Christopher Pyne and Bill Shorten were to due to speak at the 20th Education Forum that I had organized for The Daily Telegraph and the University of Technology, Sydney. (The forums are a joint venture.)

I thought it was good timing for the Coalition because I had been wondering what Christopher Pyne would be speaking about for the twenty five minutes allotted.

As it transpired neither politician spoke for the twenty five minutes they had been given. Which was a good thing as we had extra time for questions. Nevertheless Christopher Pyne did indeed speak about the Coalition’s policy.

(The forum was streamed live on Sky’s election channel. I have asked for the recording to be put up somewhere so I can give you a link. When it is up I will tweet the link and put it up here.)

Before I move on to the policy itself you should note that the school where Tony Abbott launched The Coalition’s Policy for Schools is Penrith Christian School. It receives about 70% of its funding from our state and federal governments. It also has (as the smh discovered) a statement of faith that it asks parents to sign. This includes the following:-

We believe that homosexuality and specific acts of homosexuality are an abomination unto God, a perversion of the natural order and not to be entered into by His people

Tony Abbott distanced himself from the school’s homophobia, saying that the views in its Statement of Faith were not his views, as did Stephen O’Doherty, Chief Executive Officer with Christian Schools Australia. Read more HERE .

There are other things in this school’s  Statement of Faith that are far outside mainstream Australian beliefs and values.

Like many others, I have wondered why Tony Abbott chose such an extreme fundamentalist Christian school to launch his policy.

Contrast this with our PM Kevin Rudd’s  smacking down a Christian Pastor on ABC’s  Q and A on Monday night  who questioned his support of gay marriage.

But back on to the Coalition’s school policy. The first thing I noticed is that many of the 22 pages of the policy are devoted to dumping on Labor’s policies, rather than giving us detail of the few Coalition policies on offer. In fact the criticisms of the Rudd and Gillard policies start on the very first page in paragraph three.

Then we only get to the fourth paragraph in on page one before we are told that “more money is not necessarily the only solution for better outcomes.” This has been a mantra of the Coalition and in particular, Christopher Pyne, for the past few years.

In fact one of the first things Pyne said at the 20thEducation Forum is that he wanted us to get beyond just talking about funding.  He called the debate over funding “an asinine distraction” from the things we really should be talking about – such as the quality of teaching.

No doubt many people would agree with Pyne. However President of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, was quick to tell him in Question Time at the forum that funding was not an “asinine distraction” to public schools.

In fact funding is at the very heart of this election as far as education goes – and not just for public schools.

Under Labor the nation’s schools will get the full Gonski funding reforms – all $10 billion worth.  Under the Coalition schools will less than one third of that, only $2.8 billion.

I will make the point here that it is easy to tell us to get beyond arguments about money when the children you care about are sitting in a warm (or cool) well maintained classroom surrounded by all of the latest teaching equipment and up-to-date resources.

When the day comes that all Australian children have such surroundings and such resources, people like Angelo Gavrielatos and I will stop talking and arguing about school funding.

The Coalition’s policy on devolving power to schools and to principals is not much different to Labor’s in intent.

However the Coalition wants to establish Independent public schools in all states and territories similar to those in WA.

I won’t repeat my arguments against Independent public schools. Read them HERE . Thankfully in NSW we will not get any – as our state education minister Adrian Piccoli has promised they will not be established in NSW on his watch.

At the 20th Education Forum, president of the NSW Secondary Principals’  Council, Lila Mularczyk, told Christopher Pyne that saying he wants public schools to be more like independent schools was offensive to her and to other public school principals and teachers.  Her retort was applauded by the forum audience – all heads and presidents of peak parent, teacher and principal organisations in NSW,  both public and private.

The Coalition’s school policy goes on to outline how it will interfere with the national curriculum including “widening the consultative process” and to correct a politicised curriculum where  “There is no explicit mention of the conservative parties.”

We can only wonder where that will end up. The curriculum writing process has been carefully carried out by education experts and already includes wide consultation and debate, as well as extensive checks and balances.

I predict a fairly noisy mutiny if Pyne attempts to directly influence the curriculum or tries to install some of the discredited, so called education “experts”, he seems to be listening to, into positions of influence in Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA.)

At the forum Pyne said he would take the responsibilities of national testing and data processing away from ACARA and give them to the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR). ACARA would be left to concentrate on curriculum.

This leads into the next promise from the Coalition’s school policy, and it is probably the only thing that will be received with some agreement from the education community. The Coalition will “see the NAPLAN testing return to a useful diagnostic tool as was intended, and will review the website.”

Pyne has always had the view that the My School website is not really necessary. He particularly dislikes the publication of school financial data and is not convinced of the value of publishing school NAPLAN results. Although he has said in the past that he likes the idea of a value added component.

I suspect we will go back having no public access to test data and having no idea of what government money is being spent where on schooling –  if we end up with a Coalition Government.

And that will certainly stop any public debates. We won’t know which schools are doing the hard work for our nation and how much they are being supported to do it.

Aside from pollies in the know and high ranking school bureaucrats, no-one will have a clue what is going on.

I will leave you with that thought.

I am off to China.  No not to pick up some points from Mao, but for a holiday.

I probably will drop in to Tiananmen Square, though I am not sure if I will have the stomach to file past Mao’s remains on display there.

Yes I have already voted.

You can find the full Coalition School Policy HERE


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