More Untruths by Pyne on Independent Public Schools

It seems that the Federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, is either incapable of getting his facts straight or he is deliberately misleading the public about his plan for independent public schools.

Three governments have now rebuffed his claim that all governments except South Australia have signed on to his proposal. The NSW, Tasmanian and ACT governments say that they have not signed up. As well, the Liberal opposition in Tasmania says that if elected in next month’s election it will not introduce independent public schools.

Under Pyne’s $70 million plan 1500 public schools will be turned into independent public schools by 2017. Independent public schools will have more power to select staff and allocate funding, but will have to teach the same curriculum and pay teachers the same amount. State education departments will decide which schools are given independent status. Each school will receive additional funding.

In announcing the plan, Pyne said “every state and territory, including Labor states and territories, have signed on to the initiative with the exception of South Australia”.

The claim was immediately rejected by the NSW government. NSW education minister, Adrian Piccoli:

“The NSW government has not signed an agreement with the federal government to introduce independent public schools. We don’t believe the research supports creating either charter schools or fully independent public schools.”

“We believe we have the balance right between local authority and maintaining the benefits of collaboration and efficiency that come from a strong school system. We don’t support having two types of public schools in NSW.”

The Tasmanian education minister, Brian Wightman, said the Labor Government was opposed to a “two-tiered” public education system. The former Tasmanian Greens education minister, Nick McKim, said he was opposed to Pyne’s plan because it would pit school against school.

Tasmanian Liberal education spokesman, Michael Ferguson, also ruled out establishing any independent public schools if the Liberals are elected in March.

It also appears that the ACT Government has not signed up. A spokeswoman for ACT Education Minister Joy Burch said that the ACT has indicated an interest in the proposal, but “we have not signed up to it”. She said that the ACT’s public schools already operate with a high level of independence.

Pyne has repeatedly claimed that independent public schools have proved to be a success. However, he has consistently has misled the public about the research evidence. The evidence he cites is highly selective and misleading and completely ignores the latest evidence from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Many overseas studies and Australian reports acknowledge the lack of compelling evidence that school autonomy increases student outcomes. The overwhelming mass of research evidence on New Zealand’s decentralized schools, US charter schools, Sweden’s free schools, England’s academy schools shows that school autonomy has little to no effect on student achievement.

Trevor Cobbold

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