Interview with Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National
- Minister for School Education
- Minister for Early Childhood and Youth
SUBJECTS: Empowering Local Schools initiative, gambling reforms.
FRAN KELLY: Let's go to our schools now and a Federal Government initiative to give parents and principals a greater say in how schools are run. Under the plan, schools will be able to establish a board, made up of parents and local citizens, to make decisions over the budget, the appointment of the school principal and teachers. Even the length of the school day is up for negotiation.
It's called the Empowering Local Schools Program, with the first phase involving 1,000 public, independent and Catholic schools around the country. Teacher unions want a guarantee that this initiative won't go hand-in-hand with funding cuts.
And we're joined by the Federal Schools Minister, Peter Garrett. Minister, welcome to Radio National Breakfast.
PETER GARRETT: Good morning, Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Peter Garrett, what's prompted this move to give school authorities more autonomy?
PETER GARRETT: Fran, we know that where principals have got more say over what happens in their schools and school communities have got more say over the schools, that it's better for the students. We've got international and now some local research, which points pretty clearly to the fact that kids' education results are associated in terms of improvement of increased autonomy in their schools.
FRAN KELLY: Can you tell us a bit more about that? There has been a trial running. How have you quantified it and how marked is the difference?
PETER GARRETT: Well I think the key thing is that the OECD do extensive analysis of student progress. And they have identified associations between students that do well in schooling and increasing autonomy in school systems. Here in Australia, we've got a trial that's run in New South Wales, some 47 or so schools trialled greater autonomy. And we saw some reports on the weekend of the improvements that were noticed in schools, either on issues of truancy, behaviour and the like. And of course in Western Australia we're also seeing some independent school models now starting to be rolled out. And again, principals are saying that they're getting better performances from their kids.
FRAN KELLY: So tell us how it works. Can you give us an example of new powers a school board would have?
PETER GARRETT: Well it could work in a number of ways, Fran. And I must stress that it's really going to be up to the states to deliver options which they think best suit their state systems, because we've got different levels of autonomy happening around Australia at the moment. In New South Wales, it's pretty centralised. In places like Western Australia, we do have some devolution to the school community.
But for example, a board could determine the length of the academic day or the year, participate in making proposals about professional development of staff. Principals could get greater responsibility for the selection, based on merit, of staff, including, you know, teachers or ancillary staff. That would have to be within the existing legislative, industrial and policy framework of the states, but it's really providing the principals and the school communities with more of a say about how their school operates.
One simple example – kids in western New South Wales or western Queensland or hotter parts of the country, perhaps starting school an hour earlier each day and finishing an hour earlier each day.
FRAN KELLY: So would a school for instance be able to say that the school day is longer. And if so, what's the implication for paying teachers more?
PETER GARRETT: Well as I said, any of the options that are brought forward by the states would have to be consistent with the way in which they run their systems, including the legislative and the policy parameters in the system.
But what we're really saying is that it makes sense to give principals and school communities more say over what happens at their school locally. We're providing the financial commitment to do that. In other words, when we do roll this empowerment program out next year to 1,000 schools, there'll be money there available to assist principals in their professional development.
And we're doing it because we know it will work better for students. But it will still be up to the school community and the state systems or independent systems to negotiate the details.
FRAN KELLY: As I see it, the initial money available to the schools for these independent programs is $50,000 a year. Is that right? That doesn't seem like a lot, if you're looking at hiring extra staff for extra kind of programs or, you know, changes like that.
PETER GARRETT: It's $40-50,000, Fran. And it's really to enable both the principal and the school community, whether it's in the shape of a board or a panel or whatever that might be, to be well equipped and skilled to exercise these additional responsibilities. And we think that that's the right way for us to travel.
I guess I make the point, Fran, that we're in the midst of a really big phase of education reform in this country. We've got more investment in education than ever before, more transparency than ever before. But we do know that, for the principal in particular, who is the person making the decisions in the school on the ground, giving them greater responsibility and autonomy is something that they've been calling for and it's something which we know will actually benefit kids' education.
FRAN KELLY: Sure. Now the union has two concerns. One is they worry that this could go hand-in-hand with cost-cutting. But the other concern is that, if the schools get to choose their teachers, if there's not some kind of central control over teachers, some schools will just end up with the dregs.
PETER GARRETT: Well, Fran, as I said, it's got to be within the existing industrial and policy parameters. And we're not thinking about embarking on programs or policies that basically interfere with the existing industrial arrangements. But I think there's a very strong case for giving principals greater say over who they have teaching in their schools.
I think it's really time for us to recognise that, in the school community, it's quite often the principals and the school community themselves who have a clear sense of what's working in the school, the emphasis they want to have in the school and what opportunities they want to provide the principal for effective leadership.
So I'm absolutely certain that this is going to be a successful rollout. It's very clear from the evidence that if people have got more say about what's happening in their schools locally, then the kids are doing better. And I would really encourage the union to work with us.
FRAN KELLY: And just finally, on another issue, Minister, the government's poker machine reforms. You're letter-dropping in your Sydney electorate today, as I understand it, in an attempt to strike back at the campaign being run by Clubs Australia against mandatory pre-commitment technology. Clubs Australia are lobbying in Parliament House today.
Do you think this issue could be solved by going to the – enforcing the $1 bet policy? Simple as that.
PETER GARRETT: Well look, Fran, there's been a very aggressive campaign by Clubs Australia. And I think it's really important for MPs, particularly in my case, to actually say, hang on a minute, we've got a real problem in our community with gambling. I've got local residents spending over $175,000 a day on pokies. That's an incredible figure and it's one that's inflicting a fair amount of problems on my local community.
We've already proposed a policy which we think will do the job. It's based on the Productivity Commission’s report. We've even said that, yeah, of course, we would support a trial of pre-commitment in the ACT.
But I do think it's time to recognise the social cost that gambling through pokies is actually inflicting on the Australian community. I want my electorate to know that. And I want a second year to roll out the reform.
FRAN KELLY: So you don't think the $1 bet idea is the better idea?
PETER GARRETT: Well, I mean, we've got a proposal in place. Let us roll that out.
FRAN KELLY: Okay.
PETER GARRETT: Let us see what happens if we trial it. And let's make sure that people understand what the stakes are in terms of the social costs from problem gambling.
FRAN KELLY: Peter Garrett, thanks very much for joining us.
PETER GARRETT: Thanks, Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Federal Schools Minister, Peter Garrett.