FRONT FOOT PLEASE
It is time, and overtime, for school based educators to get onto the front foot in response to matters within the arena of educational debate. For far too long, educators in schools from Principal to classroom teachers and support staff, have been reacting to pressures from above. ‘Above’ includes the supposed educational support area embraced within the overall systemic educational hierarchies. (This is often referred to as Educational ‘Carpetland’.)
For eons of time, those in schools have been beaten around the ears with demands, suggestions, requirements and imposed priorities coming from above. ‘Above’ ultimately is higher and more rarified than system carpetlands. The head office of every Australian State and Territory Educational System is under the command of its relevant Education Minister. Notwithstanding the things said about consultation and lip service paid to the idea that discourse precedes policy, it is true to say that a great deal of what is imposed on systems by governments is done in quite not-consultative and dictatorial fashion.
This means that a great deal of demand placed upon systems is done on the spur of the moment and without proper consideration of policy pros and cons.
It needs to be understood that State and Territory Governments in turn have demands placed upon them by the Australian Government. Hearsay and general awareness would suggest that most things happening in our schools are at Federal behest. This is because of compliance and accountability tags attached to money made available for educational initiatives. I believe while States and Territories espouse the merits of independence in decision making and priority setting, their capacities in this regard are very limited. Unless they do things ‘The Australian Government way’ and comply with the strings attached to monetary grants, funding can be partially of wholly withheld.
COAG AND MYCEETCHA
On the face of it, there should be opportunity for State and Territory Education Ministers and Chief Executive Officers to discuss matters relating to educational policy and development in a frank and reasonable manner. From what I understand, these conversations rarely happen. I have been told that the agenda for COAG along with discussion papers are often presented close to meeting times, giving little time for fair and proper consideration of the issues at hand.
As a long term school based educator who for many years wore the pointy end of decisions I have come to believe that the (Australian Government) Education Minister and Department of Education say “jump”: State and Territory counterparts respond with “how high”! Healthy educational debate rather than weak-kneed acquiescence to Commonwealth demand is necessary.
A still recent and massive example of this need relates to the Building Education Revolution program (BER) that poured billions of dollars into States and Territories for infrastructural development. While facilities were added to schools both private and Government, prescription about what could and couldn’t be constructed strictly curtailed the value of money for facilities in many individual circumstances. Many schools would have willingly used funds to supply human rather than material resources, in order to support teaching and learning programs. That option was not available.
ERRONEOUS EXPECTATION AND MISPLACED BELIEF
For years and years school based educators have been beaten up by government and by members of the public at large because of student under performance. The fact that students achieve less successfully than their overseas counterparts is an achievement shortfall laid squarely at the feet of educators.
(In rushing to this comparative judgement, it matters not that the socio-cultural and geo-topographical Australian context is wildly different to similar overseas contexts. Our multiculturalism and the vastness of our ‘wide brown land’ makes Australia a vastly different and uniquely individual place within which education has to be provided.)
It seems with the passing of time student competence and levels of achievement are declining. This is small wonder, when one considers the impacts upon society of changing preferences and pressures placed by an increasingly cosmopolitan and rapidly growing population. A further exaggeration impacting upon us is the sad fact that society in wealth terms is definitely two tier with the pauper class a growing group because of cost escalation.
It is time to stop being reactive and start being proactive in educational matters. We need to play a part in shaping educational priorities and futures.