Choice or Equity in Education?

This paper, by Trevor Cobbold, was delivered to the Education Summit in Sydney in June 2008.

It argues that choice has failed the promise of its advocates to improve education outcomes and that it has not only deflected education systems from dealing with the major challenge of inequity in education, but has exacerbated inequity. Continue reading “Choice or Equity in Education?”

Do Smaller Classes Make a Difference and is it Cost Effective?

The Liberal Party proposal to reduce class sizes from about 30 to 21 in Years 4-6 in government schools will be popularly received. Reducing class sizes is one of the very few education policies that are widely endorsed by teachers and parents.

The Opposition is to be congratulated for committing a large funding increase for government schools. However, across the board reductions in class sizes are expensive and there are more cost effective ways to improve student outcomes.

Continue reading “Do Smaller Classes Make a Difference and is it Cost Effective?”

More Meaningless Rhetoric on Community Consultation

The Chief Minister’s proposals for the reform of community consultation processes in the ACT amount to more meaningless rhetoric from a Government under pressure.

The Chief Minister is only promising superficial change, not real change. All he has done is to serve up more bureaucratic drivel that fails to deal with the key failures in community consultation.

The big failure of the Stanhope Govt on community consultation has been its use of sham consultations to get a pre-determined outcome. This is what it did in the case of the W. Belconnen super-school and the school closure program. It had made up its mind before the consultations began.

What the Chief Minister has to do to make real change is to commit to full open consultations processes, not sham consultations.

Continue reading “More Meaningless Rhetoric on Community Consultation”

Govt. is in a Dither over Closed School Sites

The ACT Government is in a complete dither about what to do with the closed school sites. On the one hand, it has a report from Purdon Associates that says “sell, sell, sell”. However, the problem for the Government is that the report also reveals strong community opposition to selling off school buildings and ‘green space’.

There is a stark contrast between the recommendations of the Purdon’s report and the outcomes of the consultation it conducted with regional and local communities last year. The report recommended partial or full re-development of each closed school site (except Hall and Tharwa), while retaining some parts for community use.

It also found that there is a strong community preference for the buildings and grounds to be retained for community use. There was very limited community support for re-development of the sites.

Continue reading “Govt. is in a Dither over Closed School Sites”

Minister for Education Disowns Budget Figures

At the Budget Estimates hearings last week on education, the Minister for Education, Andrew Barr, effectively disowned the Chief Minister’s budget figures. The Minister resorted to producing ‘rubbery’ figures not reported in the Budget Papers in order to give the appearance of a real increase in government school funding for 2008-09.

Continue reading “Minister for Education Disowns Budget Figures”

A Message of Support From Save Our Schools

Save Our Schools has sent a message of support to the Hemmant school community in Brisbane who are fighting against their school closing.

Hemmant is a small school of 90 students supported by a very committed parent community. The Queensland Minister for Education wants to combine it with up to 4 other primary schools into one with over 900 enrolments. The school has been the hub of the community for 144 years with all buildings heritage listed. It appears that the Government wants to sell off the land. Continue reading “A Message of Support From Save Our Schools”

False Claims by Minister on ACT Budget

The ACT Government has claimed that it is increasing per capita funding for government schools in 2008–09 by 8% in real terms (that is, adjusted for inflation) and total real funding by 6%, contrary to the figures provided in its own budget papers.

The claims are made in a paper selectively circulated by the Minister for Education, Andrew Barr, which purports to refute the analysis of the schools Budget published by Save Our Schools. Evidently, the Government has been stung by criticism of the Schools Budget by SOS.

The Minister’s claims are false. At best, there is no increase in real funding available for government schools in 2008-09. In fact, real funding is likely to decline. The mistakes in the paper reflect either deliberate misinformation or extraordinary ignorance about the Budget Papers.

Continue reading “False Claims by Minister on ACT Budget”

Barr’s divide and conquer strategy

Minister for Education Andrew Barr has this week announced that a Canberra Liberals’ plan to reopen empty schools “will take money away from all school renovations and the building of new schools such as the Harrison High School, Gungahlin College, West Belconnen High School and the new Kambah High School”.

Thinly disguised as an attack on the budgeting skills of the Canberra Liberals, the real motives appear to be a more sinister attempt to repeat the divisive tactics he succesfully used in the 2006 shcool closure campaign.

The message from his statements are that, in Belconnen for example, if Cook and Flynn were to re-open then the future of West Belconnen High School, school upgrades, teacher’s wages and a host of other schools funding programs in the district would all be threatened.

There is no other reasonable explanation for an attempt by an education minister to try to inject fear of schools re-opening into school communities fortunate enough to survive Towards 2020.

It gets worse, though. To keep with the Belconnen example, the basic facts are wrong – as West Belconnen High School is actually a P-10 school. The suggestion is, then, that re-opening two primary schools (Cook and Flynn) could affect the viability of a high school. In fact, the alleged savings from closed schools – which have never been accepted as fact by SOS – have been spent several times over if Mr Barr’s press releases are to be believed. It is a logical etension that this press release has spent the same savings again.

In addition, both West Belconnen and Harrison were announced well before the 2006 closures. There is no way that closing schools, or re-opening them, should affect this capital expenditure, unless the government had relied on a predetermined decision to close schools and sell off the land to provide the funds.

Closing Cook and Flynn primary Schools, for example, are proposed to be saving about half a million a year each, and the actual savings are probably lower. How this could fund the multi-million capital works investment Mr Barr referred to, as well as the long list of ongoing programs in Belconnen – in line with the claimed regional basis for educational provision – can be understood only with a massive leap of faith.

The ACT Government is facing a massive budget surplus, again, and the clear message from this latest statement reveals the government’s priorities. If Mr Barr was truly concerned about the Liberal’s capacity to budget, he could have asked whether re-opening schools combined with cutting taxes might affect their capacity to spend on million dollar artworks, statues, single-lane roads or other progams. Instead, he has chosen to reveal his continued disdain for school communities, trying to rekindle the division he so successfully used to his own ends back in 2006.

The only question is, who will fall for it this time around?

Sarah James

False Claims by Minister on ACER Report

The Minister for Education, Andrew Barr, claimed last week that the report on student performance commissioned from the Australian Educational Research Council (ACER) shows that “our lowest socio-economic students performed better than their counterparts anywhere else in Australia” [ABC News, 26 March 2008]. He also made a similar claim in a media release on the report.

This claim is false. The ACER report clearly shows that 15 year old students from the lowest socio-economic status (SES) levels do no better than those in at least several other states.

Continue reading “False Claims by Minister on ACER Report”

A High Quality, Low Equity and Socially Segregated School System

Trevor Cobbold, spokesman for Save Our Schools, recently delivered an address to a forum on the future of public education in the ACT sponsored the ACT Public Education Alliance. The address makes four key points:

  • The ACT schools system has very high quality outcomes, with little difference between the government and private sectors, especially when the different social composition of the sectors is taken into account.
  • School outcomes in the ACT are not improving and, indeed, have declined in some areas over the period of the Stanhope Government.
  • There is extensive individual and social inequity in ACT school outcomes with a large achievement gap between students from low and high income families.
  • There is increasing social segregation in the ACT school system that is reflected in the ongoing drift of enrolments to the private system.

The paper also canvasses some broad policy proposals to address key weaknesses in the ACT school system.

School Outcomes in the ACT - 2008

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