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Education Policy: Promoting Choice to Meet Student Need

Ahead of the federal election, Michelle Green, Chief Executive of Independent Schools Victoria, reflects on the issues at stake for Independent schools.

Ahead of the federal election, Michelle Green, Chief Executive of Independent Schools Victoria, reflects on the issues at stake for Independent schools.

Australians will vote in the federal election on 18 May after a campaign in which there are clear differences in the education policies of the major parties, even if they are united in their commitment to strengthen the performance of our schools and young people they educate.

Independent Schools Victoria (ISV) welcomes that shared commitment and the fact it is underpinned by practical policies that, while they differ, go beyond platitudes and motherhood statements.

ISV also welcomes the fact that the major parties – Coalition and Labor – acknowledge the important role that Independent schools play as one of the pillars of the Australian school system, alongside government and Catholic schools.

We will work cooperatively with whichever party forms government after 18 May. Our engagement with government will be based on some fundamental principles.

We believe education policy should recognise and support the right of parents to chose the school that best matches the needs of their children. Independent schools, through their diversity, help provide that choice. They are diverse in size, location, affiliation, the educational philosophies they follow, and the fees they charge. These schools and the families whose children attend them mirror the rich diversity of Australian society.

Independent schools do not fit a template or match a stereotype. There are some 220 Independent schools in Victoria, operating on 390 campuses in metropolitan and regional areas. They educate more than 145,000 primary and secondary students in schools linked to some 30 religious and secular approaches to education. Some have an academic focus, others meet the aspirations of students interested in vocational education, or who have needs that are not met by mainstream schools. Close to 13,000 teachers and more than 6000 support staff work in them. Their fees vary widely. The majority charge $10,000 or less, and of these, 50 charge less than $5000. These figures indicate the crucial role Independent schools play in the wider education system.

Independent schools recognise the fact that children are different – in their needs, talents, interests, and the values their parents want them to share. This means a one-size-fits-all approach does not work in education.

To enable choice, we believe every student in every school, regardless of sector, should receive some government support. The extent of this support and how it is allocated remains the subject of political debate – but the principle is not contested by the major parties, even if they differ on the level of funding they are committed to.

Whatever the amount, Independent schools require clarity, consistency and long-term commitments in funding, so that they can plan with certainty. It is time to put the tiresome and distracting school funding wars behind us.

Beyond funding, the major parties have committed to significant efforts to strengthen the performance of schools, the skills of those who work in them, and the outcomes of students. We welcome these differing commitments, but we urge that implementation should be based on evidence, consultation and a recognition not only of current weaknesses but of strengths.

That means policy makers and government bureaucrats need to listen to teachers and principals, respecting the skill, experience and knowledge they bring to schools and classrooms every day. Professional educators need to play a leading role to devising measures to improve school performance and enhance the training of teachers and the leadership skills of principals. Whatever measures governments decide to introduce, they should protect the autonomy that lets school leaders provide an education that meets student needs and that allows innovation to flourish.

Beyond reasonable requirements of regulation and accountability, we are wary of intrusive government interference in schools and the imposition of onerous red tape that undermines their autonomy, restricts parental choice and inhibits innovation. Schools, regardless of sector, should not be used as political punching bags, where they are simultaneously seen as the cause and the cure of social ills.

ISV does not presume to suggest how the parents of children at Independent schools should vote. The fact that we don’t take a partisan position in this election does not mean that we won’t speak out in defence of the fundamental principles that underpin independence.

Whatever the outcome of the federal election, ISV is committed to maintaining a respectful, consultative, cooperative and professional relationship with all levels of government, with ministers and with government departments.

Media contact

Tom Hyland

Media and Communications Advisor
0417 562 924