With the new Tony Abbott led federal government, teachers face hard times ahead in defending any recent gains that have been made in terms of education funding and changes that might make for a better deal for students.
The heart of the minimal improvements contained in the Gonski reforms of the recent Labor government is essentially out the door.
According to the government the new education policy is based on “extensive consultation with patents, teachers, principals, state governments and communities.” But it is no secret that there is an intention to maintain and strengthen the formulas that see the bulk of government education funding going to the private school sector, with the wealthiest of them getting by far the best deal.
According to education minister Christopher Pyne, the first priority of his government is to return to “more traditional” teaching and remove the “left bias.” This most likely means sticking to maths and science and sidelining such subjects as history and the study of society and imposing a more prescriptive and conservative content on them.
The Coalition’s policy for schools also endorses Direct Instruction, a US-developed system that provides scripted lessons that teachers must recite word-for-word, thus giving giant corporations control of content and removing creativity, curiosity and any opportunity for a socially critical approach to learning from classrooms. Murdoch’s Australian welcomed the news that Abbott had appointed Noel Pearson to “review the education of all disadvantaged and impoverished children and explore rolling out the direct instruction teaching model in schools across the nation”.
There is also an intention to turn many government schools into private schools. A $70 million fund has been set up to assist with this. As many as 6,700 public schools are to become “independent”. The model is based on the experience in Western Australia where it has led to a two-tier system of state schooling with no measurable improvement in student achievement. Even the NSW Coalition government has seen through this scam, saying it will not go along with the plan because there is “no evidence that it improves student outcomes” (Sydney Morning Herald, 20/7/13).
Existing pressures to directly connect individual schools with business interests, on the grounds that there needs to be greater “community input” into education, will accelerate under the Coalition. Education departments will be downscaled and the role of principals as business managers will be strengthened. This will push schools into charging fees, or increasing them if they already have them, and looking for new sources of funding. Private business interests can then seize control.
Those that cannot keep up in the race will undoubtedly be left behind. Schools catering for working class and country kids will be left high and dry.
It is a scenario outlined by Abbott and his mates over recent times. Big business spokespeople have demanded this. It is an important part in the trend towards integrating education more solidly into the operation of the capitalist system, especially at a time when it is in an extended economic crisis, when Australia continues to be de-industrialised and there is no need, from a capitalist point of view, to spend too much in training the future workforce.
Of course there is little support for it in the wider Australian community. Teachers and parents will fight it. Nevertheless it is going to be a tough period ahead.
There recent Labor Gonski reforms do have things that are worthwhile supporting. They were never enough though. They did not counter the drift towards privatisation. Labor, despite the wishes of the many who supported the changes, helped to pave the way for what is now on the cards.