No sooner has the reanimated corpse of LP arisen from its crypt, than tonight the ABC’s Q&A program is hosting a cage match between Federal Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, Peter Garrett and his opposite number, Saint Christopher Pyne.
So I am popping two cherries tonight: my first live-blog experience, and the first time I will watch an entire episode of Q&A, which is usually on way past teachers’ bedtime and in any case is IMHO usually s^%& boring.
In keeping with zombie-LP’s themes of Policy, Process, Politics and Polls, I am choosing to focus tonight’s live blog on those first three, and ignoring polls. The current default operating assumption seems to be that the September 14 House and half-Senate election will result in an Abbott-led Coalition Government facing either a hostile Senate or relying on Senate cross-benches. In that environment, any new or altered education policies will still require cross-party negotiation.
As Labor maintains Higher Education in a different portfolio, we can expect tonight’s Q&A to focus on pre-, primary and secondary schools. Of these, I am most qualified to speak to secondary education, but in broad strokes the policy focus of the current government is on a dramatic expansion of pre-school education and to use the proposed Gonski model to re-balance Federal funding between the public, Catholic and independent sectors.
In policy terms, this Federal Labor government has been characterised by a dramatically increased financial and policy involvement in school sectors that are conventionally left to the States. Although the Howard government did a lot of largely symbolic wittering with flagpoles and Chaplains; Prime Minister (and formerly Education Minister) Gillard has spear-headed the MySchool website, brought the National Curriculum into its implementation phases, expanded federal funding in the BER and DER (Digital Education Revolution) programs, firmly embedded NAPLAN in all schools, relaunched Asia Literacy as a national education priority (including the nomination of Mandarin, Indonesian, Hindi and Japanese as national priority languages), continued to fund and expand the Chaplaincy program (while denying funding for secular ethics classes) and maintained National Partnerships funding programs. This can be framed as a big power-grab by Canberra; but it also indicates the extent to which State governments are neglecting their conventional Constitutional obligations. The fact is, many of the new computers, videoconference units, vocational trades trading centres, kitchens, science labs and language centres that grace the nation’s schools wouldn’t exist if schools were 100% reliant on State government funds.
The process of implementing all of the above depends crucially on widespread community and professional consultation with families, teachers, academics, universities, colleges, teacher unions, businesses; and considerable work is also required in international comparative education studies. A lot of groundwork has already been done in those areas and most of the present policies reflect a great deal of research on the part of the Federal department. Further process questions relate to the Federal/State funding splits and implementation of major reforms such as National Curriculum.
Finally, the politics of this I guess comes down to how the major parties wish to frame what’s at stake in the education policy arena. Tonight I would hope that, if he’s gonna be Federal Education Minister in six months, Christopher Pyne is capable of doing more than lisping indignant platitudes and turning puce. Peter Garrett needs to explain what Labor intends to offer a future Australia if voters spare them from the guillotine come September.
Finally, before I turn over the clock and the comments thread to all of youse, can I just remind you that these policies and reforms are not about you. Even if you have children in education at present, it’s not even necessarily about them. Maybe if your daughter or niece is pregnant, it’s about their kids. It’s about where we end up in 10-20 years time, as a result of policy platforms established today, implemented over a 3-5 year period and with outcomes really only starting to bite by 2020 at the earliest. So please, brush away any chips from your shoulder, stable your hobby-horses and stick those barrows back in the shed. Please think forward, not back, and enjoy the argy-bargy.
Q&A starts at 9.35pm Eastern daylight time on ABC 1, simulcast on ABC24 and can be streamed later on ABC iView.
10.37pm: Not a single word about Aboriginal students, of course.
10.35pm: Well, that’s a wrap. When Christopher Pyne becomes Federal Minister for Education in 6 months time, the agenda will be teacher-bashing, vouchers, more billions for private schools (which save taxpayer money!), working Principals to divorce and/or death, delivering distance ed. through a choked-down version of the NBN and pretending to care about students with disabilities, queer students and students in rural areas.
10.31pm: Pyne supports Principal autonomy. How much does he intend to pay a Principal to autonomously run a staff of 100 teachers managing 1000 students and their families and implementing whole-school plans? The current NSW rate is about $160K per annum…
10.30pm: Jennifer Buckingham, Centre for “Independent” Studies: Choice is wonderful in education. Pyne — Government support for non-government schools is wonderful. Pyne lying his head off that private education saves the taxpayer money, when it is ripping Australia’s social fabric apart, diminishing our national performance and costing billions in knock-on social and economic costs. But the private investors are happy, and that’s what counts.
10.27pm: Pyne reveals that he is relying on the Grattan Institute for his information. So that means Ben Jensen will be the architect of Australia’s school system after the next Federal election.
10.26pm: Pyne — “teacher quality”. That’s all he’s got. The beatings will continue until morale improves.
10.22pm: Associate Prof. Debra Hayes from University of Sydney points out the corrosive effects of casualisation of teaching workforce. Garrett dodges the question and Pyne responds with more guff about “teacher quality” being the answer. Obviously casualisation suits the politicians fine, as a casualised workforce is easier to push around.
10.18pm: Video question on ‘flexible programs’ points to delivering more vocational education needs and reaching disengaged students. Supportive noises made, no details available in this format.
10.17pm: Video question on rural education highlights need for NBN to deliver distance programs.
10.15pm: A whole ninety seconds on special education! Pyne calls for bi-partisanship on educating children with disabilities. No idea what that approach would be. Well, that takes care of that. Next!
10.10pm: Pyne — espouses “one size does not fit all” and “nuance” in education and says he sees room for whole language, critical literacy and phonics in primary education. He has rote-learned the jargon very well, but there is no evidence of any higher-order thinking.
10.06pm: President of NSW P&C asks “what do we do about bad teachers” and Pyne is sure that some teacher-bashing will fix it.
10.05pm: Veteran teacher asks what Pyne will do to make her a more “effective” teacher. Pyne says he wants to pay her more and give her more professional development. With what money, future Education Minister?
10.01pm: Young questioner quotes the billions education cuts and thousands of public sector job cuts by Newman, O’Farrell ($1.7 billion) and Baillieu ($550+ million) and asks why we shouldn’t expect more of the same from Federal Coalition. Pyne has turned two shades pinker.
9.58pm: Question from low-fee independent school representative. Garrett insists Gonski model is “sector-blind” and will increase funding to low-SES independents. And all of a sudden Pyne wants to talk about funding again!
9.55pm: Final-year teacher education student correctly pings the “teacher quality” issue as blame-shifting from the political designers of our systemic inequities onto individual teachers. Pyne wants you to believe that “teacher quality” is what he means by “values”, and that he’s not talking about “faith-based values”. Hmmm.
9.50pm: Christopher Pyne — Let’s not speak of funding again, what really matters in education is “values”. This from the party of small government!
9.48pm: Ken Boston — current Federal funding formula will see a real decline in public schools funding the range of $673 million over 4 years, while non-government sector will receive over $1 billion extra with no increase in enrolments. Pyne likes the sound of those numbers. He will be Education Minister in six months…
9.45pm: Political tactic from Garrett to keep shtum on funding discussions until States have reached agreement behind closed doors. Not going to hand Tony Jones a scoop!
9.38pm: First question to Ken Boston! Heavy-hitting question about the relative decline in Australia’s international comparative performance as systemic funding inequity has been entrenched over last ~30 years. Pyne indicates that the status quo is good for private investors, so that’s OK then.
9.35pm: In the red corner — Peter Garrett, the longest-serving of Australia’s current Ministers for Education (hat-tip to
@MaralynParker for the tasty fact). In the blue corner — Christopher Pyne, the longest-winded Shadow Minister since Joe Hockey last drew breath.