Gillard wrong to copy Blair
16th October 2012

In yesterday's Australian I argue that Prime Minister Gillard is wrong to copy Tony Blair's failed education policies.

TONY Blair put education centre stage when he was Britain's prime minister, describing his government's priority as "education, education, education". In a 1999 speech Blair also argued his plans for the future represented a "moral cause" and New Labour's polices a "moral crusade".

In her September 3 speech to the National Press Club titled "A national plan for school improvement", Julia Gillard spoke the same language. Denying children equity in education was "a moral wrong" and she called on others to join her in the government's "national crusade" to give "children a better education and a better future".

After years of championing the government's so-called education revolution, the Prime Minister now seeks to rebrand her failed education agenda with the rhetoric of high moral virtue and aspirational desire.

And it's not just the rhetoric Gillard has copied. Initiatives such as a national curriculum, national testing and making results public, national standards for teaching, computers in schools, getting more disadvantaged students into university and school autonomy are all copied from the Blair agenda.

That the federal government is importing policies from Britain shouldn't surprise. One of Gillard's key advisers, both when education minister and now as Prime Minister, is Tom Bentley. Late last year one of Blair's former spin masters, John McTernan, was appointed to her staff.

Bentley was an adviser to David Blunkett, the Blair government's secretary of state for education, and during the years 1998-2006 was director of Demos, a think tank heavily favoured by Blair.

Two of Australia's more influential so-called education experts, Tony Mackay and Ken Boston, now favoured by the ALP government, are also closely associated with policies implemented during the Blair years of government.

Mackay, largely responsible for Australia's national professional standards for teachers and also deputy chair of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, was a founding member of the Blair government's National College for School Leadership. Boston, recently employed by the NSW government to advise about literacy and numeracy, was head of Britain's curriculum and assessment authority during the Blair years.

The irony is that at the same time schools and classrooms are suffering under the weight of Gillard's Blair-inspired command and control model of education, in Britain, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, is dismantling Blair's legacy and implementing alternative policies based on autonomy, diversity and choice in education.

Gove argues, "Over recent years, government has tended to use highly centralised approaches to improving schools. It has tried to lead, organise and systematise improvement activity, seeking to ensure compliance with its priorities We think that this is the wrong approach."

It's also the case, as reported in an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study titled Reforming Education in England, that the reforms introduced during the Blair years, and which Australia is now copying, failed to raise standards or overcome disadvantage.

The OECD report states that despite the additional expenditure, "educational performance (in Britain) remains static, uneven and strongly related to parents' income and background", and that "progress on improving educational outcomes and lowering educational inequality has been limited".

Catholic and independent school authorities are concerned, in their response to the Gonski review of school funding, that the Gillard government will further micromanage schools. It's significant the OECD report acknowledges the benefits of a more market-driven approach.

While suggesting a number of caveats, the report argues for increased "demand-side reforms" in education, a situation "allowing low-performing schools to exit, new schools to enter and popular schools to expand".

In support, the report cites The Netherlands, where "students attending independent schools tend on average to perform better on national exams, even after controlling for the socioeconomic background of students. Overall, the Dutch primary and secondary school system seems to provide genuine school choice and good outcomes for disadvantaged children".

In her National Press Club speech the Prime Minister argued her government's reforms would place Australia among the top five performing countries in the Program for International Student Assessment tests by 2025.

Once again, it's ironic the ALP government is implementing the very Blair-inspired policies guaranteed to ensure we never reach such a target.


Responses to this Post

It is a foregone conclusion that Gillard's top-down centralist approach will fail. We have had nothing but this socialist ideology in Australian education for several decades now and our standards have fallen in a deep hole. In order to fix this they want to give us more, much more of the same at even bigger expense.
Hence Gonski.
The same old faces are at the top of education bureaucracies,the "daring radicals" of the 70s are safely cemented into their places,the National Curriculum" is simply more of the same but worse. The same people are"fixing" what they broke a few decades ago. Needless to say nothing will be any better.
The new Science curriculum is an absurd disaster which doesn't even deserve to be called Science. It is devoid of rigor, full of Green ideology and sets "creation stories" alongside Geology and Biology as equally important. (interestingly, the Christian Creation stories are judged unfit for inclusion.)
The only remedy is to take education out of the hands of the union and the federal government and open it up for fresh ideas and COMPETITION.
The lavishing of money on  demonstrably failed schools by identifying them all as "disadvantaged" is criminal waste.They have failed. Let them go and allow others to take their place. However, this is one idea this socialist government will not countenance because its central policy is to eventually shut down all independent schooling.

Vivien Johnson
Macarthur, ACT



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16th October 2012

In yesterday's Australian I argue that Prime Minister Gillard is wrong to copy Tony Blair's failed education policies.TONY Blair put education centre stage when he was Britain's prime minister, de...
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