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Correct formula for more input

By Scott Prasser - posted Tuesday, 5 February 2008


During the federal election we heard a lot from Labor about an “education revolution”. It attracted considerable voter interest. Yet back in Queensland where the State Government spends $7.4 billion on education - the second largest area of government spending representing 23 per cent of total state budget - we do not even have a dedicated parliamentary committee to oversee this important area of public policy.

While there are such committees in some other states, and there are two federal parliamentary committees on education, Queensland's parliament and our state elected representatives do not deem education important enough to warrant a special education committee.

Yet without such an ongoing parliamentary committee on education there is limited opportunity for our elected representatives to provide input into how all these education funds are spent.

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It is left in the hands of the state minister and education bureaucracy.

Without an all-party parliamentary committee it is difficult to gain bipartisan support for needed improvements to an area of policy or for members to become fully acquainted with the complexities of education.

And without an ongoing parliamentary committee - with their open public hearings and special inquiries - there are presently inadequate opportunities for the public and, importantly parents, to contribute to policy development concerning how Queensland's schools are run or the curriculum taught.

While the Federal Government is increasingly involved in funding education, state governments are the real on-the-ground deliverers of education services. State governments largely control curriculum development. State governments employ the most teachers and control teacher and school accreditation. State governments are responsible for regulating where, when and what schools are built. We need a state parliamentary committee on education to review these vital activities.

While there is some parliamentary oversight of education through the normal processes of parliamentary debate and the operations of the parliamentary estimates committee processes, these hardly suffice.

In the estimates committees, the Education Department gets less than a day before the committee - the same amount of time as much smaller departments.

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Without doubting the Education Department's professionalism, education issues need to be discussed openly, with adequate information and proper scrutiny by our elected representatives and the public.

An important initial role for a dedicated parliamentary committee on education could be an ongoing and rolling review of curriculum, each year looking at a different area, and promoting public comments and input. This is an area where there is great public concern.

A parliamentary committee could also investigate what a community wanted in terms of the mix between public and private schools in particular regions, and the focus of schools in these areas. Not every region is the same, so let's have an education system that reflects this.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on December 12, 2007.



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About the Author

Scott Prasser is Professor of Public Policy and was Executive Director of the Public Policy Institute at the Australian Catholic University. Scott has worked previously in senior policy and research roles in federal and state governments and in several universities in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. Recently, Scott co-edited with Associate Professor Nicholas Aroney and J.R. Nethercote the book Restraining Elective Dictatorship: The Upper House Solution? He has just written with Helen Tracey a report entitled Beyond Gonski: Reviewing the Evidence on Quality Schooling.

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