I sometimes wonder who drafts education policies: when one looks at both Labor and Liberal policies one can only assume that they are designed not with education in mind but with accommodating the prejudices and assumptions that people have about education and schooling.
In fact, if you put the Liberal Policy next to the Labor Policy or for that matter next to the Green’s policy it is very difficult to find any significant points of difference. All of them want to create the best education system in the world, all of them make wonderful statements about resources, valuing teachers, promoting lifelong learning and a host of other motherhood type statements. None seem to want to come to grips with the issues that face education not just in Australia but globally.
To tackle these issues in detail is beyond the scope of a short essay such as this, but just by responding to the lead statements in the Labor Policy will illuminate some of the short comings not just of Labor’s policy but of those of the other parties as well.
If we start with the vision statement:
The Gillard Labor Government’s vision is to make every school a great school - because in the 21st century, a great school and a great education are the keys that unlock an individual’s potential and the nation’s future. Only with world class schools can we build a high-productivity, high-participation economy that gives all Australians the opportunity of rewarding and satisfying work.
Few would disagree with the statement - indeed one can see it in the policy statements not just of the Labor party but in just about every political party in the world.
However, I have yet to see any policy statement follow this vision statement up with a commitment to investigate what the obstacles are to ensuring that every school is a great school. Why is it that we are unable to produce enough engineers, doctors and nurses to meet our needs? Why is it that we have difficulty in producing students who have a sound grasp of maths and the sciences? Why do we have difficulty in attracting and keeping highly qualified and motivated teachers?
Instead we get a series of non solutions that sound good but run the danger of ensuring that the vision will not be realised:
The Gillard Labor Government will provide reward payments to the schools that deliver the greatest improvements across a range of areas. This will help drive excellence in every school and better results for every child.
Both Liberal and Labor policies advocate financial incentives to improve school performance in so doing they perpetuate the myth that schools are the sole arbitrators of educational outcomes. This is partly acknowledged in that governments recognise that schools located in areas of social disadvantage need additional support. However, providing support for schools in areas of social disadvantage is not sufficient; there is also a need to ensure that the community as a whole is supported in lifting themselves out of poverty.
There is another danger implicit in this proposal - all schools will be attracted to extra funding. One way a school may be able to improve its rating on these various measures is to develop strategies to exclude students who may well reduce a school’s chances of “winning” the reward payments.
Arguably both major parties are taking a path that will make it even more difficult to ensure that adequate resources are directed to those students who need them most. The thrust of the policy is to create a two-tier educational system where one set of schools will be little more than child minding centres with the other committed to educational excellence. If we want to see such a system in operation one only has to go to urban Britain.
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