Education policies reveal gulf between parties

In late 2011, two major educational announcements from the current government and one from the LNP opposition indicated that education issues will play a significant role in the 2012 state election campaign.

The first issue, addressed by both the government and the LNP, was a response to the federal government’s school autonomy proposal, which will be foisted on Queensland schools in 2012 and involve a significant amount of additional funding.  The Queensland Government and its Department of Education and Training responded to this proposal by releasing a discussion paper titled “Local decisions: stronger school communities”. The paper provides stakeholders – including classroom practitioners and education leaders – with a sensible consultation platform upon which a school autonomy model could be developed that would work in Queensland state schools.

This discussion paper avoids the populist but ill-conceived autonomy notions that would treat principals as business managers and leave them struggling to do ever more with ever less on an inadequate one-line budget.  The government’s ideas are framed not on giving more power to parents at the expense of professional educators’ decision-making, but on an enhanced partnership model between schools and local communities, an extension of school-based decision making that already works well, and a preservation of the enterprise bargaining agreement between DET and the QTU.

It was developed in close consultation with the QTU, the Queensland Secondary Principals’ Association (QSPA), the Queensland Association of State School Principals (QASSP) and the Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens’ Associations (QCPCA), and if allowed to progress into a well thought-out policy through consultation, could ultimately lead to an educationally (as opposed to politically) developed outcome offering a good model of local school autonomy for the future.

The LNP’s proposal (“Independent public schools”) could not be more different.  It is a rehash of the Borbidge government’s appalling  “Leading Schools” proposal from 1997, complete with one-line budgeting.  Released as a policy with no consultation with the QTU, the new LNP policy demonstrates how out-of-touch the LNP is with educational and industrial relations reality.  There is little detail but a great deal of state school bashing in the one-page policy, which quite clearly hasn’t been thought through from an educational sense.  The proposed model appears to be based on a similar scheme introduced in Western Australia after its last change of government, where it is already a proven failure.

While the school autonomy debate is a state response on how best to manage a federal initiative, the Queensland Government’s plan to establish an education trust (“From mines to minds”) to invest in Queensland’s future is arguably the most positive suggestion ever by a state government looking to improve Queensland’s education focus.

The QTU has always advocated that investment in education professionals, students, schools and TAFE is the key to a real investment in Queensland’s future prosperity.

Harnessing the success of Queensland’s boom industries to benefit all Queenslanders is a positive move; even more positive is the direction of more funds towards helping every Queensland child achieve his or her full potential through education.

The returns on initiatives such as the prep year and government funding made available through the BER program and the National Partnership Agreement Low SES Schools program have not only improved students’ learning but also lifted school pride and staff morale, thereby strengthening whole school communities.
Investing more in supporting Queensland’s state education system at all levels, from prep to VET, is a move that will no doubt be warmly welcomed by the QTU’s 44,000 teacher and principal members.

There is a wide range of areas which could hugely benefit from more funding, including support for students with special needs and learning difficulties, the provision of individualised programs for all students, the embedding of technology in all learning areas and the upgrading of the physical learning environment in schools and TAFEs.

The proposal for consultation would see 50 per cent of liquid natural gas royalties channelled into an education trust.  The two suggested options for disbursement of the funds are individual trust accounts coming into effect from 2030 or a dedicated education fund providing additional expenditure for education systems generally from 2015.

The QTU welcomes the decision to invest further money into education over and above current levels of expenditure.  It is a sensible and important investment in the future of Queensland and Queenslanders.  Of the two options, the QTU supports the creation of a dedicated education fund.  The benefits flow to the community sooner and it provides the opportunity to address disadvantage.  The QTU has never supported the notion of education vouchers.

Now all we need to see is the political will (from whichever party wins the forthcoming election) to convert this excellent proposal into reality.

Steve Ryan
Former QTU President

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 117 No 1, 17 February 2012, pp8-9