Transcript of interview with Marius Benson, ABC News Radio
- Minister for School Education
- Minister for Early Childhood and Youth
COMPERE: NSW has introduced changes to the administration of public schools to give local schools and principals greater control over funding and staff.
The changes which put NSW in the lead on national moves to give schools greater autonomy will put budgets under the control of principals and see staff paid according to ability rather than seniority.
For a Federal Government view on those changes Marius Benson is speaking to the Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett.
MARIUS BENSON: Peter Garrett, you approve of the NSW Government initiatives on schools. In fact you expressed some disappointment that NSW is not acknowledging the Federal Government’s lead in these policies to decentralise decision making.
PETER GARRETT: Well Marius, we have had our Empowering Local Schools initiative in place since 2010. That’s about giving more power to local school principals because we know this produces effective education results for the kids in schools and some of the announcements that were made yesterday by the NSW Government are quite consistent with that.
But as well as that we are also providing support for these initiatives. So look, I thought it was remiss of NSW not to acknowledge that but at the same time we do want to see greater autonomy in schools right around Australia.
MARIUS BENSON: So do you give them 10 out of 10 for these changes?
PETER GARRETT: Well, what I would say is that any actions that governments take to provide more opportunities for autonomy in the local school environment which are consistent with improving education results and don’t result in money being taken out of the system we would support.
We brought this policy through because the experts tell us that it works. We can see from the overseas experience that if you provide more control for the school leader, the principal and more opportunity for that leader to take decisions at the local level, then you are likely to get better education results. That’s the policy that we had. We initiated it in 2010. We want to roll it out right around Australia and yesterday the NSW Government got on board with that. So we welcome that.
MARIUS BENSON: You mentioned there a proviso that as long as it doesn’t mean taking money out of the system, now the union, the Teachers Union is expressing concern that this is just a smokescreen to do just that, to cut education funding and some principals are also expressing some misgivings. Is that a concern in your mind?
PETER GARRETT: Well, I think we need to see more details for NSW about how they are proposing to deliver this school autonomy policy because we are providing them with some $12.5 million dollars to help implement changes. I would be extremely concerned if in doing that it meant that they were taking money that otherwise would be going in to teaching kids out of the system, but we haven’t seen that detail. I saw those comments from the Teachers Union. I understand why they have got those concerns.
MARIUS BENSON: There is an issue of equity in Australian schools that the recent report by David Gonski pointed to it. Is there a danger the inequity in schools could be increased by these changes because good principals will attract good teachers with good pay, and there will be losers as well as winners?
PETER GARRETT: Look Marius, the most important thing that we can do to lift the educational results of kids, whatever school system they are in and whatever their economic background, is to lift teacher quality, provide more opportunities for the principals in the schools to deploy their teaching capacities in ways that they think are going to best suit the kids.
That’s very clear. The research tells us that where these programs have been tried, including a pilot in NSW. It was held in 47 schools which the Commonwealth also provided support for, the general responses both from principals and also in the way the kids have been learning have been very good.
MARIUS BENSON: Is there an issue of administration here because under these changes principals will control not the 10 per cent of the school’s budget they now control but 70 per cent. Are they equipped to administer a budget because they are trained as teachers, principals?
PETER GARRETT: Look, I think that principals are more than capable of administering budgets within their own school. They know the school well. No one is better placed and it is the case that the NSW system traditionally has been quite centralised and quite bureaucratic.
And I do know that in other parts of Australian, for example in Western Australia where they have an independent schools programme where principals are given greater autonomy, for example over their budgets and over staffing arrangements, that for the most part they are extremely, extremely pleased with taking that opportunity and they can exercise those responsibilities quite efficiently.
MARIUS BENSON: Peter Garrett, thank you very much.
PETER GARRETT: Thanks Marius.
COMPERE: The Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett speaking there to Marius Benson.