Gillard’s incorrigible dunces

The funniest part of the federal “fixing schools” gimmick so far has been Gillard’s appeal to the mining industry to support her in this. It’s like that scene in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil where Sam is asked to pay for his own torture at the hands of the government, which also offers to lend him the money at very competitive rates.

As Des Moore has pointed out, this is not policy — it’s election promises. This is a relief, given this government’s track record of spending on education so far:

Project: Building the Education Revolution, $16.2 billion
Impact on educational outcomes: Unknown. 

Project: Building 3742 school libraries in the last 3 years (as part of BER), $4 billion
Impact on educational outcomes: Library closures as schools move to virtual libraries.

Project: One Laptop Per Child project 2012 Federal grant, $11.7million
Impact on educational outcomes: No published evaluations available.

Project: Labor’s “literacy and numeracy partnership” (4 years), $540 million.
Impact on educational outcomes: No measurable improvements in either literacy or numeracy.

Project: Solar panels for school roofs, $324 million
Impact on educational outcomes: Unknown

Fixing the school system is not easy, but it is do-able. The good news is that Australian schools don’t need federally-funded new buildings, laptops, vegetable gardens, performing arts complexes, sports fields or solar panels.

The bad news is that what they do need are new teachers, new kids and new parents. Unfortunately none of these can be produced by federal funding.

Or can they? Let’s take teachers as an example. Australian universities are federally-funded, and they’ve been churning out teachers now for decades, thanks to a series of reforms by ALP Minister John Dawkins.

These would be the same teachers who have just been congratulated by our Prime Minister (and former Education Minister) when she pointed out that parents think their kids are “being taught to read and write while they’re at school. And they’re not.”

Australia is a federation of states, and it is the states which are responsible for schools. So if your school system is a mess, then it’s your state government’s fault, and it’s your state government’s job to fix it. Have you spoken to them about this lately? People in Victoria have, using a quaint and archaic method called “an election”. This is how a Liberal government assumed office with a plan to:

  • sack underperforming teachers
  • increase entry scores to tertiary teaching courses
  • pay teachers more if they can teach hard sciences
  • reward skilled and competent teachers with up to 10% performance pay 

People in NSW also complained to their state government using the same quaint and archaic method. That’s how they got a Liberal government which is drawing up a plan to: 

  • sack underperforming teachers
  • increase entry scores to tertiary teaching courses

In the most recent Staff in Australian Schools survey (of more than 15,000 teachers and principals), 54% of principals in government schools complained about their lack of power to sack underperforming teachers. 

And even if the states can be won over with flowers and chocolate, there’s still the formidable figure of the union movement watching your every move from the parlour window. Here are just a few recent media releases from the impartial and level-headed Australian Education Union: 

The AEU, which has described the Baillieu government’s plan to sack underperformers and reward good results as "punitive" and "divisive", has gone on strike in pursuit of a 30% pay rise over three years for all teachers, good and bad. 

This would be the same AEU that also donated $10,000 to GetUp! on August 25, 2011 — a donation not specified as such in the AEU annual financial statement, unless it’s buried under “Campaign and Project Expenses”, (although how a donation is a project expense is anyone’s guess). 

But look on the bright side. The last time the Federal government decided to sweep in and fix a responsibility of the states the initiative produced Kevin Rudd’s embarrassing hospitals plan. This led to an almighty standoff and helped to precipitate a domino effect, to the point where state-level Labor has now been virtually annihilated from the electoral map.

Press on, Jules. We’re right behind you.

Philippa Martyr blogs at Transverse City

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