Rudd government removing barnacles
5th July 2013

I argue that the Rudd government is trying to nullify education as an electoral liability. Published on On Line Opinion.

Who can forget Kevin Rudd, in the lead up to the 2007 election, mimicking Prime Minister Howard by describing himself as fiscal conservative?

Once again, Rudd is channelling John Howard and copying his approach to politics.

As Prime Minister and when leading into an election campaign, John Howard advised his cabinet to clear the barnacles. This meant removing those policy issues that made the government vulnerable and ensuring that the opposition didn't have any easy shots.

Just under a week since being elected Prime Minister Rudd is following Howard's example and attempting to nullify those issues causing the ALP government damage.

Take education. This week Minister Carr acknowledged that forcing universities to enrol more and more students, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds and on the basis of improving equity and social justice, has led to falling standards.

Prime Minister Rudd, realising the government's Gonski inspired school funding model and National Plan for School Improvement are electoral liabilities, has admitted the critics are correct when arguing the new funding model is flawed.

As reported yesterday, Rudd is allowing an additional month before non-government schools have to sign on to the Gonski inspired model to provide a breathing space to address concerns.

Rudd and Minister Shorten hope, in the time available before the election, to assuage the fears non-government school authorities have that their schools will lose funding and have their autonomy compromised as a result of the new funding model and school improvement plan due to begin at the start of next year.

Rudd and Shorten should not be believed. The ALP government's sudden about face, now calling for meritocracy in education and a better deal for non-government schools, is simply an example of political pragmatism.

What better way to nullify education as an electoral liability than ditch a cultural-left commitment to equity of outcomes and victim-hood, and to copy the Coalition's commitment to properly fund non-government schools, promote meritocracy and allow schools autonomy and flexibility.

Such a move, while close to the hearts of Sussex Street political apparatchiks, will do little to convince an increasingly sceptical public that the ALP is genuine and that it no longer privileges power over policy.

Thanks to Julia Gillard and Peter Garrett, it is also the case that the new funding model and school improvement plan are enshrined in legislation, having passed both houses in the final weeks of parliament.

Given the time constraints it will prove impossible to make any meaningful changes and that the only option, as argued by the Coalition education spokesman Christopher Pyne, is to continue the existing socioeconomic status model for another year.

That changes need to be made is beyond doubt.

The Australian Education Bill 2013, described by DEEWR as "all-encompassing", and the related National Education Reform Agreement will force every school across Australia to implement the ALP government's agenda.

As a condition of funding, government and non-government schools will have to implement a national curriculum, national testing, national system of accountability, national teacher registration and teacher training standards and whatever else the commonwealth government, or the minister, decides should be a priority.

Ignored is that by reinforcing and centralising the power of those education authorities and bodies responsible for Australia's current dumbed down curriculum and substandard teacher training will only exacerbate the problem and lead to ever lower standards.

Evidenced by the intention to establish a new commonwealth body to collect school performance data and to hold schools and teachers publicly accountable, the model is inputs/outputs driven, highly statist and based on the conceit that centralised authorities know how to improve outcomes and identify what is best for schools.

No wonder non-government school authorities, and even Tasmania's ALP Premier Lara Giddings, complain that the ALP's education model micromanages schools, duplicates what is already there at the state level and imposes costly and inefficient compliance costs.

As proven by the success of Australia's non-government schools, both in terms of academic results and increasing enrolments, there is an alternative. Instead of all roads leading to Canberra, governments should promote a more market driven approach; one based on autonomy, diversity and choice.

The popularity of Charter Schools in the USA and Free Schools in England show that diversity and local autonomy is preferable to centralised control. It shouldn't surprise that the New Zealand government recently passed Charter School legislation.

Unlike every government, Catholic and independent school across Australia that will have to dance to Canberra's tune, New Zealand Charter Schools will have freedom over staffing and the curriculum.

Charter Schools will not have to employ registered teachers, follow the national curriculum and will be exempt from the Official Information Act.

Now, that's a real education revolution and the opposite of what is occurring in Australia. 


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5th July 2013

I argue that the Rudd government is trying to nullify education as an electoral liability. Published on On Line Opinion. Who can forget Kevin Rudd, in the lead up to the 2007 election...
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