PART C: Changes in Australian Government Policies



In this section it is argued that at the same time as the federal and state governments have placed economic concerns at the centre of decision making in response to globalisation, the reform of school education, best understood as a process of institutional re-regulation, has changed the work of teachers, parents and students. In addition, changes in the management of the public sector impact particularly on the work of Principals as they become subject to a common framework of corporate performativity and accounting.

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1. Reform and re- regulation.

The view held by both the recent Labour and current Liberal Commonwealth governments is that education is a matter of national interest. The provision of a skilled labour force is seen as central to continued economic development: investors are both attracted to and retain a presence in Australia and local companies are more productive if there is a good educational and training infrastructure. Educational policy is therefore subject to increased attention: there is now careful policy prescription of the nature of the required changes.

(a) The 1970s - a period of some deregulation.
The seventies and early eighties were a time when regulatory controls on schools were loosened. Commonwealth involvement in schooling began in earnest in the Whitlam period. The conception of school reform that prevailed was one where innovation and change were relatively open ended. School based decisions by teachers and parents determined the directions and details of changes that would meet broad national social policy goals of increased retention, participation and equity. Commonwealth funding was used as an incentive, and it was state administrations which placed restrictions on schools through submission and evaluation processes.

South Australia moved away from inspectorial supervision of staff, from central budgeting and supply, and placed the locus of many decisions at the school level through the introduction of School Councils and changed Principal roles. The previous tightly regimented, text book driven approach to curriculum was substantially shaken, the technical - high school divide was tackled in the move to comprehensive high schools and the abolition of the more extreme forms of tracking and setting, and there were experiments with school organisation and structures (sub-schools, open space, alternative schools, annexes). There was still tight control over student enrolments through zoning mechanisms; these also exercised some restraint on demands for buildings and equipment and supported the emphasis on the neighbourhood nature of the school. There was also tight central control over teacher and Principal appointment, transfer and promotion. A bevy of advisers and an energetic young teaching force moved to take up the new curriculum and decision making spaces that were available.
In the long vision of history, this period of relative deregulation is more clearly seen as somewhat of an aberration, although it was the formative experience for many current teachers and administrators who have not generally enthusiastically embraced the transition to a more tightly and differently regulated system.

There has been a gradual, not seismic, change over the last fifteen years. The seventies model was expensive and South Australia has been both in demographic and economic decline for perhaps longer than most other states. There were pressures at state and national level for further reforms - for example:
The period of de regulation did support increased student retention, although the degree of difference in performance of social categories of students (eg SES, Aboriginality) was unacceptable to many, including the organisations representing those sections of the public School based curriculum development and change was patchy and had to contend with the continued tight control of the post compulsory curriculum exercised through the public examinations system. There was pressure to place a floor, a minimum (basic) learning standard to guarantee that the overall failure levels produced by the system would decrease
There was some consensus that a national common curriculum framework was necessary for citizens in a democratic country
School staffs and Principals argued that in order to reform they needed to select staff School Councils wanted Principals selected to match the needs of the schools, equity groups argued that merit must replace seniority and procedural rules were required to manage school based selection, and parents argued they wanted to enrol their children in schools of their choice.

(b) The 80s and 90s - a period of re- regulation.
The response to these pressures has been enacted differently in different states. However, what is common is the trend to reverse the previous reforms - to tighten up curriculum provision through the development of national frameworks and in some cases (eg New South Wales) state syllabus requirements, and to loosen up institutional infrastructures such as staffing, budgets and buildings and to reduce restrictions on student enrolment. More responsibility at the school level is dependent on increased accountability measures, geared to describing results. The role of central office changes to one of policy development, monitoring and accountability. This package of measures is usually referred to as devolution, or school based management.

The theory supporting devolution is drawn from one strand of the post industrial management literature, in particular that sketched out by Osborne and Gaebler (18). It has been fleshed out further by Caldwell, Spinks, and Beare(28), and put into full effect in Victoria as the Schools of the Future program. In America, charter schools legislation (29) as popularised by Chester Finn (30) has been seen as a means of introducing innovation into a stagnant system of public education, and most recently Hill, Lawrence and Guthrie(31) have suggested that all public school systems should be contractually organised. Opting out (32) and devolution have operated in England for some time and New Zealand (33)was one of the early adopters of this style of institutional reform. The practice is one that which places fewer central restrictions around institutional infrastructure - staff, budgets, buildings, and student enrolments ( the very things that were previously controlled), and more central control over curriculum (previously much more at the discretion of the teacher and school).

Although South Australia is now at the national tail end of institutional reform via school based budgeting, it is arguably in the best place to learn from substantive experience here and overseas(34). Institutional reform using the policy levers of human and financial resources, does have significant effects on both the nature and amount of work done by teachers and Principals, can alter entrenched patterns of allocation, can be used as a cost cutting measure but does not automatically and by itself improve student learning. It is largely an efficiency measure, rather than dealing with quality and effectiveness. There is now considerable evidence that the schools that deal best with devolved responsibilities are those that also have a strong educational (curriculum) reform agenda and that, without strong central intervention in the form of differential funding, disparities between devolved rich and poor schools dramatically increase. In a marketised and cost cutting environment, devolution is a risky venture. A policy framework that supported both autonomy and mutuality (35) would only be a first step towards managing potential dangers.

(c) The Howard reforms - competition policy.
In recent times the federal Liberal government has moved to use funding to promote competition and to enforce policy in a more coercive way. It has simplified the agenda to one of literacy, numeracy, citizenship and work training, forced the development of national benchmarks and comparative performance tables and threatens the withdrawal of funding for noncompliance and poor performance. Through supporting the development of new private schools, and the rhetoric of a wider choice for parents the expectation is that more competition will improve the performance of existing providers as they work to maintain their enrolments. The emphasis is not on innovation or providing new curriculum arrangements and options for students. Individual schools or systems may decide that innovation is what the market wants and is viable, affordable and still produces the accountability requirements. Public revelation of performance works to further the pressure to perform. The policy levers of outcomes, accountability, competition, and selective public information are now the stuff of Commonwealth - state relations all states and the orthodox interpretation of the ideology and strategy that supports the national economic goals.

Policy reform is decided away from schools. Federal decision making is at the Ministerial level with working groups of officials largely bound to confidentiality. The former Labour party privileged particular peak bodies - unions, business and government through the Accord - with consultation with representative groups, and advice from a plethora of national bodies such as the National Board for Education, Employment and Training. The current government has a different set of groups, eliminating unions and some special interest groups, and privileging others, including Principals Associations. (Arguably this is part of a strategy to separate teachers and Principals as part of a more general move against unions). Many of the consultative mechanisms have been abolished and not replaced. This is not precisely the situation in South Australia where both individuals and Principal Associations do have some access to decision makers although many of the processes for making decisions are unclear and consultation opportunities limited. The highly political and 'closed shop' nature of decision making and the increased use of the media to make policy announcements in order to get political advantage, means that many teachers and school Principals now feel removed from positions where they can understand and influence both national and state education policy.

(d) The likely result of reforms.
The combination of state based devolution policy, and increased federal support for private schools and choice policy, work together to create stand alone schools, both public and private, that compete with each other for funds, image, students and sponsors. In the first instance this has further encouraged and increased the movement of students from public schools to the government subsidised private sector (36). But there are three further significant effects:
(1) There is a fragmentation of the population who comprise the public
The development of small, private special interest schools removes those children from contact with the broader community, and the community from them.
(2) The curriculum shifts to what sells in the marketplace
Parental choice policy leads to schools competing to offer the course that are perceived to offer individual students the best advantage - this is most often either narrowly university oriented or heavily vocational. The reduction of curriculum to a narrow skills base with an economic purpose reinforces tendencies to recreate the technical/high school, mental/manual divides. The creation of such a binary knowledge base and divided student population is precisely what the public system has, less successfully that hoped for, been working against for the last three decades
(3) There is a marginalisation of schools that serve the poor and those of modest means
Funding policies that rely on parent contribution to school resources accentuate the growing divisions between rich and poor. These may well be exacerbated by trends to vocational versus academic curricula. Choice is a policy that works for those who can afford, or who are located so that they have, a choice - many in our communities cannot, and may well have a poorly resourced state school struggling to offer a viable and varied curriculum as their only option.

This very significantly undermines some of the greatest strengths of the public system. Not only is the public education system inclusive in enrolment, catering for all of the diverse groups that make up the Australian public, it is also the institution that has the capacity to shape a tolerant and inclusive Australian public. The public values - equity and inclusivity- that underpin the public system are undermined by the current policy directions as is the capacity of the public system to provide a quality education for all.

Current policy reforms define choice as meaning a choice between schools. Yet it could also mean mix and match, individual student learning pathways that combine specialist and common learnings, that draw from the full range of options in the public system. Collectively the public education system can offer a huge range of curriculum options because it has enormous intellectual capital and physical resources on which to draw. It is only because this is fragmented, and each school isolated, that non public schools are able to compete. Current reform then is a particular version of competition -it is one which works better for some than others. It advantages those who have the individual school resources to afford a broad range of curriculum, and those who market themselves as meeting particular social or religious needs. The considerable disincentives and barriers to a systemic approach to choice and diversity are built on top of the residues of the 1950s regulatory hierarchy and threaten the emerging democratic and collaborative work that has slowly grown from the seeds planted during the period of deregulation.

Paradoxically, the current educational reforms, which are said to encourage competition, work against the public education system competing as a system. The rhetoric of equity and excellence in all schools and increased variety for students and parents, is highly likely to lead to excellence for those that can afford it and diversified provision of a more standardised curriculum. The reforms will not raise the standards of the public education system - rather they will significantly damage the capacity of public schools to educate all young people and will skew further the already uneven social playing field.

2. Changes in public sector management.

Educational policies are put into operation through the organisation of the public sector which carries with it its own set of pressures, histories, and practices. The public sector which supported the Welfare State of the post war period in Australia was characterised by the separation of bureaucracy from the sphere of politics and the commitment to impartiality guaranteed by standardised processes. The public sector offered:

    • permanent tenure and life long career
    • rigid hierarchies and transmission of information up and down the chain of command
    • separation of those who made decisions from those who carried them out
    • transparent and rigorous procedures for dealing with public finances and the public
    • little internal costing in a high trust environment

Its professional basis was the personal disinterest of public servants and their commitment to the long term interests of the public. The public sector was often criticised for its frustrating administrivia, imperviousness to criticism and intervention, unresponsiveness to the public it was meant to serve, and territorial behaviour.

The basis of contemporary public sector reform lies in reversing two previous cardinal doctrines of impartiality and due process, viz. - lessening or removing differences between the public and private sector and shifting the emphasis from process accountability towards a greater element of accountability in terms of results. The first steps towards reform were through 'corporatisation' - the adoption of business practices such as strategic planning with its requirements for common mission, performance indicators and annual reporting through aggregated data collection; divisional structures that broke up the large public sector structures into smaller units able to be individually managed and monitored; emphasis on hands-on top management by newly named Chief Executives; merit-based selection procedures that broke the old chain of discriminatory seniority- based promotion and enabled organisational culture and human resource management to come into focus; and the introduction of evaluation, quality assurance and review processes that enabled a focus on results not diminishing or additional financial resources. The corporatisation of South Australian public education bureaucracy coincided with the appointment of Dr Ken Boston and the state bureaucracy moved to three year plans, engaged in major organisational restructurings, and accelerated the introduction of merit based contractual appointments. Principals were more formally charged with responsibility for their schools and with adopting the norms and behaviours of the corporate culture.

Corporatisation should not be seen as being all bad. It did enable a broader range of people to participate in decision making processes, more people were involved in staff training, women entered management positions in larger numbers, some procedures were streamlined and the quality of public information about public services and the population improved. Managerialism however had its negative aspects - the creation of low trust working environments, increased documentation of plans and performance, intensification of work, and the intrusion of generically skilled managers into previously autonomous professional arenas. In Central Offices, corporatised divisions became bunkers leaving officers in the field to deal with competing agendas and intra- Departmental inefficiencies.

The second overlapping phase of public sector reform is sometimes described as 'market bureaucratisation' because of the emphasis on competition and privatisation, 'contractualisation' because of the reliance on specified individual, unit and institutional performance and sometimes as 'accountingisation because of the introduction of new tools of accrual accounting and audit.

Introduction of the processes of audit and management have enabled government to get 'inside' the public services previously dominated by professionals, regarded as prime exemplars of 'provider capture'. Doctor - patient relations and hospital provision have become primarily questions of accounting and actuary open to management scrutiny rather than firstly professional medical judgements. Likewise, schooling is dominated by the average cost of school for its size and location, per capita student cost with allowances for individual needs distributed to schools in global budgets, and student, school and system results measured as comparable test scores. It is on these 'objective measures' that judgements about efficiency and effectiveness can be made and on which managers must focus.

Organisational structures are realigned to designate some 'core' units, those necessary for policy, regulation and audit (the 'core business' of small government), separate from those that deliver actual services. The separation of decision making from provision attempts to reduce the role of service managers to implementers of policy. When providers are given some autonomy and resources then conditions that simulate a market enable efficiency and effectiveness to be achieved through internal competition.

Moves to marketise the South Australian public education bureaucracy are now underway, although they are not proceeding as rapidly as they have in state health and welfare departments, and in federal education arrangements where there is now a very clear separation of policy making from provision ( the funder- purchaser -provider model). Whole of public sector accrual accounting and results based budgeting, together with efforts to standardise quality assurance reporting, have been placed alongside corporatisation practices and many of the residual, older bureaucratic procedures they seek to replace. These institutional procedures and accountability requirements impact considerably on the work of school Principals.

3. How educational and public sector reform work together.

The educational policy of devolution appears to open up a managerial space to Principals. However, the vulnerability of government to media critique, the performance requirements of line managers, the impost to minimise the risks of litigation and subsequent costs, new accounting and accountability requirements,conspire against such autonomy. Providers are not left to deliver the outcomes and the policy unencumbered. A plethora of rules, documentation, monitoring and reporting requirements increasingly enshrined in digital form tightly regulate management, and the distance between decision makers and delivery exacerbates difficulties in communication and information, and giving and receiving feedback. The goals of flexible and holistic responsiveness are not met and morale suffers. The policy of subsidiarity that in theory opens up managerial space for Principal action is filled with bureaucratic accountability requirements, rules, files, procedures, risk management processes, data collections and performance requirements. Decentralisation in practice neither creates the level of autonomy promised in policy nor supports innovation, supposedly the purpose. This is not to suggest that Principals wish a return to the former tight regulation of institutional policy levers but, rather, that some loosening of low trust bureaucratic mechanisms is required. The gap between policy rhetoric of autonomy and everyday reality of school administration is one current source of alienation of school Principals from Central Office and desire of some to move to American style Charters is indicative of the depth of feeling about unnecessary bureaucratic imposts. In a climate of increased criticism of the public education system, significant expansion of the private school sector and an increasingly market driven approach to enrolment and curriculum, further pressure is placed on Principals to put what time and space they do have available into efforts to keep their school, and the public education system, viable and in good public esteem.


Is this the only version of reform?

Reforms are often seen as either top down or bottom up. Some reforms are based on theorisations of the effective school. Our current reform is based around the public management policy /implementation split, and educational institutional change. It is resolutely top down and distant from schools. While these are the recipes found in the management literature and in neo- liberal education policy, they run counter to the newest educational research findings on successful school reform. That it is so difficult for Principals to access this material, which is largely reported in academic journals and conferences, is highly indicative of :
the ways in which one- best policy solutions are prescribed by government fiat, rather than discussion about policy options before decisions are made and the increasing gap between university researchers and school practitioners. The two programs - the NPDP and the National Schools Network (37)- that bridged this gap and worked actively on jointly funding local versions of reform - have now been abolished.

Current educational reform research (38) strongly suggests that reform and innovation require not only resources but some loosening of controls. The message is that successful reform is driven by locally developed and centrally supported educational and curriculum change. The literature suggests that schools and their Principals are not merely implementers of policies and that it is counter productive to see them as such. Nor can they accommodate competing policy demands each of which acts as if no other exists and the school is a blank page waiting to be written. The emphasis in the research on student learning and professional involvement in participatory processes speak strongly for a Principal who is focussed on educational issues as the 'prime mover' of her/his practices.

What is also useful is what researchers have discovered about reform failure (39)- for example, the following are all problematic:

    • A lack of clear educational goals
    • A plethora of petty administrivia and rules
    • Packages that are devised by external experts and then handed to schools
    • Total funding from outside which fails to get commitment from the school
    • Dependence on voluntary labour
    • Creation of small reform teams rather than working across the entire school - creates insiders and outsiders.
    • A focus on the easy and short term rather than the important and difficult
    • Failing to use information from other places
    • Trying to find a magic bullet
    • Running a pilot or lighthouse program - easily dumped.
    • Spending too long in planning so that enthusiasm has died by the time implementation come
    • Setting evaluation targets after one or two years - most change takes five to ten.
    • Ignoring history
    • Using a discourse of progress and decline that distorts the view of change
    • Trying to 'teacher proof' or 'Principal proof' reforms
    • Failing to link educational reform with the broad moral and civic enterprise.

The research clearly identifies the necessity for leadership depth and collaborative effort.
Such cooperation and participation are in tension with current demands for individualised line management. The tensions between hierarchical management and collaboration is long standing but is exacerbated by the current emphasis on performativity. Ultimately each Principal makes their own decision about how to manage this dilemma but systemic support through professional development early in a leadership career should be provided as part of a systematic Principal preparation programme. At the same time, efforts are needed to reduce the toxic effects of the fetish for individual liability.

Collaboration and participation are practices that require time in schedules and therefore have implications for work loads and what is counted as work. The tasks of sorting through complex questions of ethics, knowledge and pedagogy, learning about the implications of the new information and communications technologies, and establishing agreed long term plans for a school community are neither quick nor easy, but according to the reform research are all vital. They cannot be left to the good will of school staffs and cannot be done on the cheap. While some early educational administration literature overplays the role of the Principal in school change, it is still recognised in the new research that well informed leadership is absolutely necessary, if not sufficient for significant school improvement. Time for collaboration therefore is a crucial question not only for teachers, but also for Principals.

We can conclude that the Principal's capacity to move in research supported reform directions is hampered by current policy as it is currently bureaucratically and industrially enacted.

This is further explored in the next Section.

Commissioned Paper.
South Australian Secondary Principals Association.
March 1998.

[ About this paper ] [ Executive Summary ] [ The Role of the Principal ]
[ Changes in Society ] [ Changes in Australian Government Policies ]
[Implications for the Work of Principals ] [ The Paradox of Policy and Pay ]
[ Footnotes ]