This article is the third in a series on mapping the extent and differences in school autonomy across jurisdictions and school sectors in Australia. The aim is to provide an up to date information base for further discussion of issues around school autonomy.
The information provided below and in forthcoming articles is a first go at developing a comprehensive overview of school autonomy in Australia. Comment is invited with a view to correcting mistakes and omissions.
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Victoria has the most decentralized school system in Australia. Extensive school autonomy was introduced as part of the Schools of the Future program in 1994.
Schools are responsible for decisions regarding the selection, number and professional mix of staff subject to some system requirements, including the placement of excess teachers and compassionate transfers. Schools have complete authority over the employment of short-term staff. The selection of staff occurs within the limitations of the school budget.
Government schools are allocated a budget based on student numbers, student needs and family background which they are free to allocate according to their own priorities subject to several parameters including salary levels, class sizes and some specialist program funding.
Principals are responsible for allocation of 94% of a schools budget. Major maintenance and refurbishment programs are centrally funded and managed.
Schools have significant authority for deciding the curriculum and pedagogy within the context of a centrally prescribed learning standards framework. The Australian Curriculum in English, maths, science and history is being implemented in schools.
The Department provides schools with guidelines for the minimum total time allocated for teaching and learning for each school day and week. There is a legislative framework of total time for each subject. Schools have some flexibility within these guidelines. The Department provides a general framework for the selection of materials for teaching and learning, enabling schools to decide on the materials that will be most effective for their students.
Each government school in Victoria has a school council which comprises parents, staff and community members. The school council is involved in the development and endorsement of the school’s strategic plan, and in planning, monitoring and reviewing school performance. School councils also play a role in approving the school’s budget and in appointing the principal, by recommending an applicant based on the advice of a selection panel.
Increase in school autonomy
The Empowering Local Schools program will provide greater local decision-making in approximately 166 government schools in Victoria. Participation in the Empowering Local Schools initiative is aimed at helping school leaders to better exercise the autonomy that they already have, and on the reduction of the bureaucratic burden on schools. The program has four features.
The administrative burden of managing local decisions in small schools is to be reduced by making use of a Local Administration Bureau which allows small schools to outsource some of their personnel, payroll and other administrative processes. The Bureau will be extended to include services such as financial management, human resources, occupational health and safety, procurement and/or school infrastructure maintenance services.
Participating schools will be encouraged to work in partnership to identify strategies for more effectively using the local decision-making that now exists within current arrangements. Funding will be allocated to engage an Implementation Partner and a Community Engagement Partner to act as facilitators to support schools in this process.
Grants will be made available to 21 schools to specialize in a field of their choice, such as languages, maths, science or design.
A Supporting Professional Practice program will be introduced in 56 schools to increase the capacity of principals and leadership teams to create the conditions in their schools that improve the quality of professional practice.
The government school system in Western Australia is in a state of transition, with increasing numbers of schools converting to Independent Public Schools (IPS). There is a dual system of mainstream schools and IPS. There are currently 207 IPS covering about 40% of government school students in WA and the number will expand in the future.
All mainstream schools are allocated teaching staff under a school staffing formula. Each school is provided a base allocation, per capita student allocation and an allocation of administrators. Schools are allocated non-teaching staff through various school support staff formulas. Funding for staff is not transferred to schools and staff are paid from the central office.
Schools receive an annual school grant which represents about 10% of the annual running costs of schools. Each school receives a base allocation, a per student allocation and site specific allocations. Some elements in the grant are school or student specific and enable resources to be provided to meet the local school context and student needs. The grants include funds for maintenance and minor works.
A curriculum framework sets out the learning outcomes expected of all students from kindergarten to year 12. It provides a framework for schools to develop and implement their teaching and learning programs according to the needs and characteristics of their students. The Australian Curriculum in English, maths, science and history is being implemented in schools.
Government schools are required to have a School Council on which parent/community members are in the majority. The school principal is required to consult with the Council to develop a plan for the school’s priorities and objectives and to monitor and report on the school’s performance in relation to the plan. The Council role in these matters is consultative and advisory. However, Councils have to approve school charges and parental financial contributions.
Independent Public Schools
The Independent Public Schools (IPS) initiative provides schools and their local communities with significantly enhanced decision making authority. These schools have greater budgetary control select their own staff, exercise more flexibility in relation to curriculum (including offering the International Baccalaureate) and they may expel students, without needing central approval. These independent government schools continue to be bound by existing industrial agreements, apply the same fees and charges,
Schools have a one line budget. The resource allocation method (staffing and school support staff formula) for the IPS is the same as all public schools. The budget generated by this formula is converted to a notional dollar allocation and this, combined with the school grant, which forms the Independent Public School’s one line budget.
Schools have control over allocations and appointments and the mix of expenditure on salary and contingencies. This single line budgetary approach gives schools a high degree of autonomy in the selection and deployment of resources, including teachers. Schools are responsible for the recruitment, selection and appointment of all staff. The proportion of the one line budget which the Principal designates for salary expenditure is not transferred to schools and the personnel are paid centrally. Schools are able to award contracts and sell individual assets valued up to $150,000 and award and vary contracts up to that value.