Supporting parents, supporting public schools

Independent Public Schools

WACSSO supports all government schools in Western Australia. However, we are of the strict belief that the expansion of the Independent Public School (IPS) initiative must not create a two-tiered system. Currently, there are a number of factors contributing to the developing perception of a two-tiered government education system in Western Australia. These include the public discussion of IPS, an inequality in the distribution of support between IPS and non-IPS sites and the State Government’s advertisement of the initiative. This growing perception of a two-tiered system is detracting from the reality that all of our government schools are operating under one-line budgets. The system should be commended for educating 67 percent of school aged youths, in many and varied circumstances, to a very high standard.

Since the Premier and Minister for Education announced the creation of the IPS initiative in 2009, the initiative has allowed some schools to adopt a new operating approach that delivers greater autonomy in selecting staff, implementing programs, and managing finances. IPS was touted by the State Government as a solution to strengthening community engagement in schools. However, no research has been conducted nor evidence provided to support the claim that IPS increases community engagement. In fact, since the introduction of IPS, WACSSO affiliates have been reporting increasing incidences of P&C Associations being asked to become sub-committees of the school board or even to wind up. The IPS Report Card found that the benefits of a school board’s structure cannot be realised when school boards are relegated to an advisory role.  With a great majority of management decisions being made solely by principals, there is little substantive involvement of school boards and, by extension, the school community. WACSSO supports any initiative that promises higher levels of parent and community engagement, although this should never be unique to IPS schools and should never come at a cost to existing groups that are operating within the school community.

Multiple investigations into the initiative (Melbourne University’s initial report in 2013 and the subsequent IPS Report Card in August 2016) have revealed no demonstrated educational benefit or improvement in student outcomes, which should be the key driver for any educational reform. The IPS Report card claimed that the initiative was “exacerbating existing inequalities in the government education system, both perceived and actual, in order to reinforce a 'two‐tiered’ system.”  WACSSO is concerned about the State Government’s endorsement and continuation of the initiative. The introduction of another 73 IPS sites in 2017 (meaning 83 percent of government school students will be attending IPS schools) is especially concerning considering there has been no attempt to address the systemic flaws exposed by multiple investigations.

The way the State Government has showered praise on the IPS initiative, a system which will never be sustainable for some schools, has resulted in schools competing for status. The Honourable Peter Collier MLC, Minister for Education, described the IPS initiative as having:

“Stripped away the barriers that used to shackle principals and staff from doing their jobs effectively - that is, providing the very best teaching and learning environments for students.”

and that:

“Such a strong field of schools were deemed ready to become Independent Public Schools that we could not deny them this great opportunity”

These quotes are from a recent media release from the Minister for Education  announcing additional IPS schools for 2017. These quotes indirectly suggest that non-IPS sites are second best and unable to offer optimal teaching and learning environments. The language used places IPS sites on a pedestal and reinforces the perception of a two-tiered system, leaving schools and parents concerned that they'll be left with below par teachers if they are not able to choose their own teaching staff; which we know is simply not the case.

WACSSO is very cognisant of the disparity between training for schools boards and councils as a risk to the current system. Arguably, as the School Education Act 1999  does not include reference to boards, councils and boards are essentially the same body because all schools (except where exempt) are required to have a school council. As such, councils and boards should receive equal training opportunities. However, school boards (IPS) are receiving more (and better quality) training than their school council counterparts.  This disparity only further intensifies the negative ‘two-tier’ perception of WA’s government education system.

Position

WACSSO calls for the promotion of the government school system as a whole, to include:

  • supporting teachers and helping them to achieve quality teaching, whether IPS or not;
  • a formal and immediate change in the discourse surrounding IPS and government schools, the current dichotomy, IPS (good) versus non-IPS (bad), is further entrenching the perception of a two-tiered system; and
  • State Government addressing the mechanisms that are creating the perceived and actual two-tiered system.

Any major educational reform should be made on the basis of improved student outcomes. With no evidence to suggest that this is the case, WACSSO calls for evidence into improved student outcomes before any further roll out of the initiative.

For referencing and the full report, click here.