The following is a summary of a new Education Research Paper on the bureaucratisation of public education in Victoria. It can be downloaded below.
Australia has long been infected by what world renowned Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg, currently professor of education at the Gonski Institute of Education in Sydney, coined as GERM (Global Education Reform Movement). It is characterised by corporate management policies, test-based accountability of schools and fostering competition between schools to drive improvement in education outcomes. One manifestation of GERM is a bloated bureaucracy to police compliance with regulations, collect and record information and monitor performance.
The Victorian public school system has seen an enormous increase in bureaucracy since the turn of the century. So-called school reforms beginning in the 1990s promised less bureaucratic control but instead have intensified bureaucracy at all levels of public education systems. Both Coalition and Labor governments have adopted GERM and expanded bureaucracy in public education.
The administrative demands on principals and teachers have been unrelenting and have derailed educational leadership in schools. One principal told Save Our Schools that central office is “micro-managing schools”. A teacher said: “Our days are increasingly regulated….the way the Victorian Department of Education and Training deals with teachers and schools can be described as ‘high levels of monitoring and compliance, and low levels of support’”.
Bureaucratisation has increased throughout the system – at central and regional offices, schools and for teachers. From 2002 to 2019, the increase in administrative staff at the system and school levels was far greater than the increase in teachers and students.
Administrative and clerical staff increased by 102.9% in primary schools and 98.5% in secondary schools [see Chart 1]. The increase in primary schools was nearly three times the increase in teachers (35.3%) while the increase in secondary schools was over five times the 16.6% increase in teachers.
The increases in administrative staff also far exceeded the increase in enrolments – nearly five times the increase in students in primary schools (22.3%) and nine times the increase in secondary students (12.3%). Administrative staff now comprise 27.4% of school staff in primary schools compared to 20% in 2002. Administrative staff in secondary schools increased from 18.3% to 27.7% of all secondary staff.
Central and regional office staff increased by 72.2% or four times the increase for all students of 18.2% and nearly three times the increase for all teachers of 26.3%. Detailed figures for staff in central and regional offices are available only from 2015. The number of executive (management) staff increased by 40.1% which was much greater than the increase in students of 9.7% and the increase in teachers of 14.7% over the same period. Administrative and clerical staff increased by 45.3% and specialist support staff by 59.8%. Total non-school staff increased by 45.4%, about five times the increase in students.
As a result, there was a large reduction in the ratio of students to administrative staff and all non-teaching staff in schools in contrast to little change in the student-teacher ratios [Chart 2]. The student/administrative staff ratio in primary schools fell from 64.4 to 38.8 – a reduction of 40% − while the student/teacher ratio fell from 16.4 to 14.9, a reduction of 9%. Overall, the student/non-teaching staff ratio fell from 59.5 to 37.4, a reduction of 37%.
The student/administrative staff ratio in secondary schools fell from 53.6 to 30.3 – a reduction of 39% – while the student/teacher ratio decreased from 12.3 to 11.8, a reduction of 4%. The student/non-teaching staff ratio fell from 49.3 to 28.9 – a reduction of 41%.
There was also a large reduction in the student/non-school staff ratio from 429.5 in 2002 to 294.9 in 2019 – a reduction of 31%.
Increased government accountability requirements and regulations have driven the huge increase in administrative staff in central and regional offices and in schools as well as placing increased administrative workloads on principals and teachers. The promise of more school autonomy and less bureaucratic control has turned into a monster of more bureaucracy at both the central and school levels.
Public schools in Victoria, as elsewhere, are subject to widespread accountability measures covering financial management, student well-being, behaviour management and safety, teacher appraisal, compliance training, school review processes, curriculum standards, student progress based on standardised test results, workplace health and safety, and auditing. This requires increased monitoring and administration by managers and staff in central and regional offices. The system has resulted in a strengthening of central control over schools and a focus on management and administration rather than direct support for teaching and learning.
Only three out of 40 branches of the Victorian Department of Education appear to be directly involved in supporting teaching and learning. The vast majority are devoted to administration of finance, policing compliance to regulations, performance monitoring, human resource management and other corporate functions.
Despite the increase in administrative staff in schools, the administrative load for principals and teachers has increased. Data from the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2018 show that principals and teachers are working longer hours on administration. Australian teachers spend the 3rd highest number of hours on management and administration in the OECD.
The bureaucratisation of public education has clearly failed. Achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students in Victoria remain large at three to four years of learning at age 15.
Of course, public schools must be accountable, but the accountability regime imposed on schools has led to a significant misallocation of resources. The huge increase in administrative staff in schools and in central and regional offices has diverted much needed funding from supporting teaching and learning and derailed leadership in schools. The percentage increase in expenditure, adjusted for inflation, on administrative and clerical staff and other non-teaching staff in schools was nearly 40 times the increase on teachers since 2002 – 50.8% compared to 1.3% on teachers [Chart 3]. It soaked up three-quarters of the very small increase in government funding for Victorian public schools since 2002.
Increasing bureaucratisation is not the way to improve school performance and student outcomes. Public schools continue to face large shortages in teachers and many teachers are teaching out-of-field. As a result, nearly one-quarter of all students having their learning hindered by the shortages. The Victorian Government must eradicate GERM and focus on directly supporting teaching and learning in schools, especially disadvantaged schools. Public schools need high quality human and material resources to reduce the large achievement gaps.