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Gillard introduces Education Bill, Barnett still unsupportive

The Gillard Government introduced its Education Bill to Parliament on last Wednesday the 28th of November. The Education Bill underpins the reforms set out by David Gonski in the Federal Review of Funding for Schooling and outlines how these reforms would be achieved.

However, the Bill stopped short of detailing how the new funding model would work or what percentage State Governments would commit to funding the reforms. The Bill also included a clause stating that nothing contained in it would be enforceable by law. Federal Minister for Schooling Peter Garrett said the Bill would be amended once an agreement was reached with States, Territories and private education providers.

“Not only are we confident, we have every expectation that an agreement will be achieved between the Commonwealth and States. The State Premiers must step up now and negotiate in earnest," Minister Garrett said.

But WA Minister for Education Hon. Peter Collier has flagged the prospect of Commonwealth control over school funding as the major reason his Government has not yet supported Gonski. In an Education Forum last month, Mr Collier said, “If it means the states are going to lose authority over the education system, no you won’t have our support.”

In a letter to Minister Garrett last month, Minister Collier again raised his concerns saying that any agreement needs to, “be consistent with the Intergovernmental Agreement on Federal Financial Relations and the Prime Ministers commitment to the Western Australian Premier that the Commonwealth has neither the intention nor desire for control of schooling, or to direct funding for public schooling. The level of detail within the NPSI and the draft Bill does not support that commitment.”

President of WACSSO, Kylie Catto, urged State and Federal Governments to come to an agreement.

“We have invested a lot of time and resources into this review for it to be sitting dormant. The longer we wait to implement the reforms, the longer inequity exists in our education system. We don’t want to see control of the education system go to the Commonwealth, but we do want to see greater investment in education,” she said.

Education Ministers are set to meet on the December the 7th where it is expected that negotiations regarding the Education Bill and State commitment will continue.

Click here to see what WA parents had to say!

WA Labor will fund WACSSO School Council training, Liberals won

In a letter responding to WACSSO last month, Minister for Education Hon. Peter Collier was unable to match Shadow Minister Paul Papalia’s announcement in August that WA Labor would return funding to WACSSO to undertake school council/board training for parents on the back of strong demand from school communities.

Until 2010, WACSSO provided training for school councils, however funding for the provision of this service was removed by the Department of Education who then took on the responsibility of providing this it.

Affiliates regularly report that since WACSSO lost funding to provide training to school councils, very little has been provided by the Department, in particular to non-IPS schools. In addition, only a small proportion of IPS training has been targeted at the parent and community members of School Boards.

Training for School Council/Board members, as with P&Cs, needs to be consistent and ongoing as members have a relatively high rotation rate and skills and knowledge are lost when members leave.

Increased responsibilities with IPS Boards and the Government’s commitment to greater parental engagement requires that parent representatives are skilled and supported to undertake their role on School Boards and Councils effectively.

In an ongoing survey of affiliates available through the WACSSO website, over 90% of P&C members believed that WACSSO was a preferable option over the Department of Education to provide parents with school council/board training.

During the 2012 WACSSO Annual Conference, delegates welcomed Shadow Minister for Education Paul Papalia’s announcement that a Labor State Government would return funding for WACSSO to train parents. This commitment has not been matched by the WA Liberal Party.

“The Department of Education provides a telephone support service, a comprehensive written information package and a PowerPoint presentation that can be used by Principals and experienced chairpersons. The Department will continue to make this support and training available to all school communities,” Minister Collier said.

President of WACSSO, Kylie Catto, said it was imperative that funding is reinstated for WACSSO to provide school council training to parents and the wider community to ensure they are equipped with the necessary tools and information to carry out their roles effectively.

“Since the introduction of the Independent Public Schools initiative training has been provided to new School Boards, which we fully support. But IPS schools represent only one third of government schools in WA, leaving roughly 500 schools without the opportunity of governance type training for their Schools Councils. We find this completely inequitable.”

“We regularly get phone calls requesting training and advice, particularly from school principals who have previously accessed the service through WACSSO.”

“The Department has not continued the service it previously funded WACSSO to provide, and instead has a phone line for people to ring when they have queries. This is unacceptable and does not reflect the significance of the role School Council’s play.”

“We urge the State Government to review this situation and reinstate the funding to ensure all school communities have access to comprehensive training. Why are we seeing IPS schools supported and trained but no facility for non-IPS schools? It gives the perception of a two tiered system and recognises the needs of one above the other,” Ms Catto said

Securing the Education Future of our Children - Rob Nairn

We saw a rare show of bipartisanship after the High Court ruled that the National Chaplaincy Program was invalid because of the way it is funded. All of the major political parties supported continuing the program and with that agreement they found a way to make it happen. Isn't it time we had this approach to Education as a whole?

I think everyone would agree about the importance of education yet at both National and State levels education is often used for political points scoring.

Why education?

Everyone seems to have a view on education because everyone went to school but is that view based on experiences at school or sound educational rationale? We all have links to education; many of us have children going through the education system, children who have recently been through the education system or have children who will be going through the education system and we all have an interest in doing what is best for our children. But do we always know what is best?

Who are the people best placed to make decisions about education for our children?

The autonomy agenda is premised on the belief that schools are not "one size fits all" and decisions are better made by school leaders in partnership with their school communities who understand the local context. It would be reasonable to assert that our educational leaders are best placed to make strategic decisions about the educational future of schools and systems but it appears unfortunately, that many decisions concerning education are made for political reasons and not necessarily sound educational reasons.

We can't always blame Politicians, often they are responding to parent / community comment / requests and the reality is parents vote!

If we are to provide the best opportunities for students then political interference must stop. Governments must be prepared to make hard and potentially unpopular decisions in the interests of our children. It is human nature to want to preserve your job and there is a reluctance to make unpopular decisions because of any potential electoral backlash. What concerns me most however, is when decisions or lack of decision making interferes with what is best for our children.

I am confident that we could get agreement from all sides of politics on the aims for education and goals for our students; in short, isn't it about providing quality education for everyone and helping all students reach their potential? If we achieve these basic aims everyone wins!

Whilst there is much common ground, political cycles dictate that parties differentiate and we get tangled up implementing different solutions to the same problems. 

It is time for bipartisan agreement around education to secure the future for our students. Our children need our political leaders and our education leaders to sit around the table together and commit to a fully funded, long term (8 years plus) plan and a structure for regular review.

If we are truly going to make a difference let's plan our buildings and infrastructure, let’s guarantee our funding and let’s build some sustainability into our interventions!

Bipartisan commitment to system initiatives, transparent long term planning and long term funding will enable the systematic achievement of common goals.

Something as important as education should not be dependent upon political funding or election cycles. The education of our children is too important to let politics get in the way!

Rob Nairn - President of WASSEA