Release type: Transcript


Launch of the Australian Government’s Independent Public Schools initiative


The Hon Christopher Pyne MP
Minister for Education
Leader of the House

MICHAEL PHILLIPS (PRINCIPAL): Good morning everyone. Welcome to Ringwood Secondary College.

This morning it’s my pleasure to welcome the Minister, Federal Minister for Education Mr Christopher Pyne and the State Minister for Education Mr Martin Dixon to Ringwood Secondary College. And of course our Local Federal Member Mr Michael Sukkar.

It’s a pleasure to have you all here in what’s a really important year for Ringwood Secondary College as we celebrate our 60th anniversary.

The Minister has decided to join Mr Sukkar in the electorate of Deakin for an announcement this morning, which we have the pleasure of hosting. So without any further ado I would now like to hand over to Mr Pyne. Thank you.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well thank you very much Michael. It’s very kind of you to host us here at Ringwood Secondary College here in Melbourne.

I’m very pleased to be joined by my Parliamentary Secretary Senator Scott Ryan and most particularly by the State Minister for Education Martin Dixon and my parliamentary colleague Michael Sukkar the Member for Deakin.

Today is a great start to the year from the Federal Government’s point of view in education because we are today announcing our initiative for independent public schools.

Before the election we promised we would have a focus on teacher quality, principal autonomy, a robust curriculum and more parental engagement.

We’ve already made announcements early in January about the National Curriculum and today we are announcing that the Independent Public Schools Initiative has been launched.

We plan by 2017 to have at least 1500 more public schools as independent public schools or their equivalent in different states and territories.

It’s a $70 million programme and I’m very pleased to say that every state and territory, including Labor states and territories have signed on to the initiative with the exception of South Australia who are currently in the middle of a state election campaign and I’m hoping that once that’s over they might be prepared to be more likely to get involved.

The importance of the Independent Public Schools Initiative is that all the international and domestic research into autonomy and into good education suggests that the really important elements of giving students the best possibly of having a good outcome at school.

It revolves around teacher quality and their curriculum, but also very importantly the more autonomous a school the better the outcomes for students.

This is because the more a principal and his or her leadership team have control  over the destiny of their own school, the more that seems to lift the school performance. Western Australia has a particular brand of independent public schools which is very autonomous. They are a one line budget item in the Western Australian state budget and the school is run by the principal and their leadership teams and the board of parents, local government people, business people, professional people with some knowledge about how to make a school hum.

Victoria has been having more autonomous schools for even longer than Western Australia, since the Kennett Government in the 1990s, Victoria broke the mould of central command and control features that had been the hallmark of education departments since the seventies, and I’m very pleased that Martin Dixon is here today to help me launch the Federal Government’s initiative because it shows that the State and Commonwealth Governments are working together.

The other thing that I’m launching today is our Ambassadors programme. So I’m going to write to every Federal Member of Parliament and Senator, asking them to join the Government in being Ambassadors for Independent Public Schooling across Australia. This won’t just be joined by Liberal and National Members of Parliament because of course Julia Gillard, when she was the Prime Minister, used to take credit for Independent Public Schools in Western Australia so I’m sure Labor will want to get on board.

Chris Bowen’s written in his book, last year, another book from a Labor figure, that he was in favour of Independent Public Schools and Alannah MacTiernan in Perth, has been an advocate for more autonomy for public schools so this is not just a Liberal/ National issue this is also supported by many people across the aisle in the Labor Party and I look forward to working with all of them, with the State and territory governments, with education departments everywhere to make good schools even better, to give more autonomy to local schools, for the primary objective, the only objective, which is to improve the outcomes for our students and give them the opportunity to reach their full potential. I might leave it there and let Martin, and if Michael would like to say a few words, and then open up to questions if there are any. Martin.

MARTIN DIXON: Thank you Christopher. And to Michael, to Scott, my State colleagues, [unclear].

It really is great to be here. And as Christopher said, Victorian schools have the highest level of autonomy, it’s every single school here in Victoria compared to all other states and territories. And that’s been part of our education culture for a couple of decades now and it’s stood the test of time and it’s stood changes in political parties leading the state because it’s the right thing to do for our schools and it makes Victorian schools the best in the country.

What I really like about the programme that we’re launching today is that it recognises that it’s not a one size fits all approach. And different states and territories are at different stages of autonomy and understanding of autonomy and implementation of autonomy in their government schools.

So, we in Victoria, as leaders in the country now have the opportunity, and this is with the full endorsement of the Commonwealth Government, we now have the opportunity to take our autonomy further and so our submission that will be going to the Federal Government will be about pursuing the elements that we think will make a difference in making our schools more autonomous.

And what that means is that our schools will better be able to serve the communities in which they’re located. It’ll mean that the parents, the governance of the school, the principals, the teachers will be better equipped to use the authority and the autonomy that they do have, to improve student learning. And that’s what it’s all about, improving student learning.

This is not about a label, it’s about improving student learning. And that’s what we’re on about, and we think our schools, being more autonomous reflecting the needs of the community, specialising and having… governments, state governments and Federal governments having a hands-off approach really does make a difference, and research shows that. Autonomous schools make a difference to student learning and student outcomes.

So we in Victoria really do welcome this initiative and we’ll be using it to great advantage to Victorian schools. Thank you.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: [inaudible] might like to be the first ambassador.

MICHAEL SUKKAR: Thankyou, Minister Dixon, and a very warm welcome to Minister Pyne and Senator Scott Ryan for being here today and in particular can I thank Michael Phillips and everyone at Ringwood Secondary College for welcoming us here today.

I’m very proud that the Independent Public School policy has been launched in the Deakin electorate.

We have extraordinary school councils and principals in the Deakin electorate and Michael Phillips is a good example of the calibre of principal we have. Which gives me confidence that greater principal autonomy and local school control will ultimately lead to better outcomes for our students. And that’s what myself as a member of the Government and the entire Government is here for. It’s for student outcomes.

So I would very much like to take up Minister Pyne on his offer to be an ambassador and I will be taking this to all of my schools in the electorate. And I’d like to hope that Ringwood Secondary could be the model where we start and set the great example for the electorate. So thank you once again for having us and for visiting, Minister Pyne.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Thank you. Excellent. Are there any questions?

QUESTION: I was just wondering how you’ll go about…are there going to be incentives for schools…how do you get these 1,500 schools on board?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, we have $70 million on the table and in very tight budget circumstances it’s a real measure of the Government’s commitment to independent public schooling that that $70 million is available. We will work with each state and territory because as Martin pointed out, every state and territory is in a different period of transition.

Western Australia, Queensland, enthusiastically embracing independent public schools as a newish measure. Victoria has had a high level of autonomy in every school for 20 years. Some state and territories have very little autonomy and we want to obviously work with them to try and boost their openness to independent public schools.

I imagine and I am sure that the bureaucracy and the ministers will work this out one-on-one but I imagine the Commonwealth’s money will mostly be spent on building the skills base for principals and their leadership teams in schools that apply for independent public schooling.

So in Western Australia and in Queensland the way it works is that a school applies to be an independent public school. They have to be assessed about whether they have the capacity in their leadership team and in their school community to exist as an independent public school. So I am hoping that the Commonwealth’s money will be spent to reboot if you like, those school communities and those leadership teams to give them the skills necessary to be able to become successful independent public schools.  Because we don’t want to have some headlong rush into independent public schooling which ends up failing. Each school needs to be a success and its students’ outcomes need to be improved otherwise this policy won’t have been a success.

QUESTION: How do you maintain the quality if different principals have different leadership teams, have different priorities? How do you ensure there are still standards being set in terms of curriculum, in terms of outcomes?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well there are parameters in every state and territory that has levels of autonomy, there are of course parameters in which schools can operate. But what we’re looking for is that principals will have more capacity to choose their own staff – so in Western Australia while principals can’t yet choose staff outside the Western Australian Department of Education, rather than being sent a new teacher by the Department, regardless of what they need, they can advertise within the Western Australian pool and they get applications from 180–200 teachers in some cases  and they can choose from that group where as previously they’ve been sent a teacher by the department. That’s just one example of the kind of autonomy we’re looking towards.

Principals should be able to make their teams, and their parent bodies, decisions about extra-curricular activities – their priorities and what they think is the ethos of the school and where they want that school to go – whether it’s towards sciences or languages or for major subjects that we all study. Whether it’s spending money on music – we want to give them the opportunities to make these decisions in their schools. And that’s the model that has been working here in Victoria and in Western Australia.

And schools are clamouring, beating on the doors of Western Australia, to be Independent Public Schools. Peter Collier, our colleague in Western Australia, has a list of people wanting to be Independent Public Schools – much longer than they can accommodate. So this is embraced by school communities and I want everyone to get on board. And I’m delighted that Michael Sukkar will be the first ambassador for Independent Public Schools.

QUESTION: Will it be a two-tiered system or a danger of a two-tiered system, where those who aren’t partaking in the independent system aren’t benefitting in the same way?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well no, there can’t be. One day I would like to see every public school having a level of autonomy and independence that means that student outcomes are a student first priority. Victoria has a level of autonomy. No one suggests there is a two-tiered system in Victoria in education. So that is a red herring, raised usually by people who don’t support independent public schooling and they continue to support the central command and control aspects of education that, I think, are inimical to the best results for student interests.

QUESTION: Just wanting to ask your thoughts on Barnaby Joyce’s plan for drought assistance – $7 billion. Where might you come down on this particular issue?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, look, we all have tremendous sympathy and empathy with the agricultural sector that are facing weather conditions, whether it’s drought or flooding rains in our continent. And for decades the Commonwealth Government and State Governments have worked to ensure that farmers can get back on their feet after an unfortunate event or a long drought, and we will continue to do that.

There are already policies in place for drought assistance, and the Cabinet I’m sure will discuss in the coming weeks and months ways to ensure that our farming sector, our agricultural sector, is thriving, and everyone who can be in the sector, who wants to be, is in it. But obviously I won’t be pre-empting any discussions that we might be having.

QUESTION: But $7 billion is a lot of money considering what has been happening in manufacturing in term of subsidies for the private sector as (inaudible)…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, as I said, I won’t be pre-empting Cabinet discussions or views that might be expressed.  The most important thing we can do is ensure that the agricultural sector is supported by government in difficult circumstances like drought and floods. There are policies in place to do that.  Whether we want to enhance those policies is a decision that the Government will make, in total, over the coming weeks and months.

QUESTION: [inaudible].

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, not really, because at the moment there’s a lot of red tape and bureaucracy burdening schools that they currently have to comply with.  Many different acts of parliaments they have to comply with in both the government and the non-government sector. So I can’t see that this would be adding to the burden of red tape. In fact, it will give more autonomy to schools to make their own decisions. We’ll be trusting principals, trusting their leadership teams, to make the right decisions for their schools and to not spend as much of their time on the grind of red tape and bureaucracy.

And Martin might like to comment on the situation in Victoria in terms of the red tape burden and how it’s being lifted because of more autonomy in public schools.

MARTIN DIXON: Thank you Christopher. I was champing at the bit there…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I could hear you!

MARTIN DIXON: The reality here in Victoria is that with our very autonomous system that the accountability back to the central office has been reduced. The school is accountable to its local community, the principal to the parents and to the students and teachers, and obviously the teachers to the principal and to the students and the parents. So that’s where the real accountability is and that doesn’t require a whole lot of red tape, and in fact Victorian schools, up to about three years ago, had a compliance manual which was this thick. Even though they were accountable they still had this. This massive folder, which most principals like to show me when I went into their schools, we said that is no longer, school don’t have to use that, they’re not accountable to that massive form and the world hasn’t finished, we’ve just said ‘no it’s not going on, schools are doing a fantastic job still, they’re educating children well, getting great outcomes,’ and there’s been a vast reduction in red tape as a result of the autonomy.

QUESTION: Minister Dixon, the NAPLAN results of last year indicate issues in Victoria with Year 7s and Year 9s. How does that work into the autonomy equation?

MARTIN DIXON: The idea is, and there’s a lot of studies that show that one of the best ways to actually improve the student outcomes and their results is to allow schools to meet the individual needs of individual children, to meet the needs and aspirations of their local community, rather than have subjects and courses and programs pushed on them from above. So, we believe that by allowing schools to use their expertise to professionally trust schools to do that that’s where you get the best results. And we, in Victoria, we do overall our NAPLAN results probably the best in the country and what we want to see, though, is to be one of the best results in the world. You know, our children and our schools at Ringwood here, these students will be, in fact their talking to the school captain, they’re out there working in the world, literally around the world, they’ll be studying around the world, they’ll be working there, they’ll be travelling. And they’re the sorts of skills that we want our students to have and that’s who they’ll be competing with and that’s where  raise our aspirations to a world class system, not just the best in the country.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Hear, hear. OK, thank you very much.