GMoloney-tn.jpgIPS: a guide to new relations

The LNP’s handling of its independent public schools (IPS) policy may well provide an insight into how the new government plans to work with teachers and the QTU.

The new LNP government’s “first 100 days” plan includes preparations for calling expressions of interest for the first 30 independent public schools. This was the first education policy announced by the LNP, and together with the provision of additional capital funding to state and private schools, it remains one of the most controversial of the incoming government’s education policy announcements.

Detail on the policy remains sparse. The announcement was accompanied by a one-page policy document and a page and a half of questions and answers. No further detail has yet been produced. This will be sought at a meeting that has been requested with Education Minister, John-Paul Langbroek.   

There is a spurious argument that these changes are neecessary to secure funding under the federal government's Empowering Local Schools National Partnership Agreement. However, the current levels of school-based decision making in Queensland already meet those requirements.

Two key problems are already evident with the IPS policy: the first is the implementation of a single-line budget and the impact on transfers and relocation. A single-line budget involves giving a school a single bucket of money to cover all costs, including staffing, maintenance and resources. The problem with that was simply stated by a member I met during the Leading Schools campaign in 1997. He had been a principal in a school in the United Kingdom when single-line budgets were introduced. He lead an experienced team, and the single-line budget was simply not enough to pay them all. That’s because the budget he was given was based on averages, so his funding was based on a staffing profile of the entire country, rather than the staffing profile of his school.  A single-line budget threatens pay, conditions and tenure.

The second problem is the notion of hiring staff at a local level, which undermines the transfer system and the capacity for teachers to return to preferred locations after remote area service.  Hiring also imposes a significant workload on school administrators. From my experience, garnered at a number of principal forums over many years, what principals want is not to make decisions about hiring and firing, but rather to have a greater say in staff appointments and transfers, to ensure they meet the needs of the school. All principals I have spoken to recognise the obligation to provide positions for teachers who have completed remote service.

There may well be other problems with the model being proposed by the new government – that remains to be seen when further detail is announced. The critical question is whether the incoming government is prepared to negotiate on the implementation of its policy. Its proposals are contrary to the current school-based management guarantees in the certified agreement, which is itself now due for renegotiation.  And there are ways of meeting the incoming government’s objectives and promoting school improvement which do not involve the negative consequences of its initial policy announcement.  It is a question of whether it will require negotiations or a fight to resolve those issues.

Graham Moloney
General Secretary

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Volume 117 Number 3, 20 April 2012, p5