Australia’s education leaders have supported the Federal Government’s $70 million Independent Public Schools Initiative as a step in the right direction, but have warned that the focus must remain on improving student outcomes.
On Monday Education Minister Christopher Pyne unveiled the Initiative which plans to make approximately 1500 public schools become independent by 2017 and follows an election promise by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to have greater principal autonomy and parental engagement in school matters.
Rob Nairn, Principal of the Australian Secondary Principals’ Association, supported the plan but said school principals must be prepared well enough to step into autonomy.
“When you give leaders autonomy, in a lot of cases they don’t know what it means, and they don’t know how to use it effectively,” he said. “We’ve got to have the right focus when you give people autonomy, because we could very much end up like what happened in New Zealand where managing property and finance was the biggest focus under autonomy and it didn’t improve student outcomes because it was the wrong focus.”
Pyne said he wanted to remove the red tape and give principals the ability to choose their own staff and extra-curricular activities, with the end goal to give school students the opportunity to reach their full potential.
“One day I would like to see every public school having a level of autonomy and independence that means that student outcomes are a student first priority,” he said at Monday’s launch.
Nairn cited good leadership as an essential element of the Government’s Initiative.
“We believe that good school leaders develop good teachers who then improve the outcomes for students,” he said. “We haven’t changed the way we train principals, we haven’t changed the way we select principals – I think we need to look more at the changing role of the school principal, look at what the role entails and how we can best prepare people for that changing role.”
President of the Western Australian Primary Principals’ Association, Stephen Breen, also stressed that removing bureaucracy and giving principals greater freedom over the organisation of their school was an essential element moving forward.
“Red tape is colossal in the education system,” he said. “If you want to have autonomy for schools – like the non-government schools – you have to actually be dinkum about it and reform this area in a different way. Autonomy means responsibility for a school to get on with the job. A lot of schools can’t get on with the job at the moment because of the amount of paperwork, red tape, and signing-off. The systems have to let go so that we can do our job.”