AUSTRALIA – PUBLIC SCHOOLING

Locations of authorities Each state and territory, eight in all, has its own system of schooling. Being state-controlled, Australia is frequently described as having a ‘centralised’ system whereas USA [School Districts] and the UK [Local Education Authorities] are described as ‘de-centralised’. Private and systemic schools usually follow the curriculum and general requirements of the state where each is located.  The federal authority, in its role as financier, tries to impose its will on the states even though its constitutional power and schooling expertise are both limited.  Because of the differences between state systems, there are difficulties for pupils [e.g. children of Defence personnel] moving from state to state and for children from other countries.  Such children have to adjust to varying year-level structures and differing age-grade factors as they change schools. It is a real potpourri, which presents further difficulties for ‘starting’ children as the age of admission to school also varies. It’s a condition that is so easy to repair if the Federal Government was able to exercise some leadership.  Apart from individual complaints to Ministers, there has been no lobby nor political forum to alter this state of affairs. The age-grade differences are said to be reflected negatively in the results of national testing and pupil trauma at the time, but such pupil-welfare items have never been important political items.

Summary: Australia contains eight separate systems with an inexperienced super-ordinate federal political power currently attempting to control the eight.

Structures Each State has a Minister for Education who controls a Department responsible for the operations of free public schools in every part of each state.  Historically responsible for primary and secondary schooling and structured to cater for children compelled to attend school, each has extended its brief over the years. Each ‘Department’ is responsible for the staffing of schools, within which there are complicated school-related procedures for appointment, transfers, promotions, leadership, teacher quality and curriculum. The arrangements for each of these also differ.

The larger states, whose innovative leanings have occasionally tended towards  un-researched or thought-free innovations such as Principal-selection of staff, special payment for better teachers, payment for service in isolated schools, use of non-trained and partly-trained personnel have usually waned because of the difficulties of equity of employment across a state that has to cater for the isolated. There are very, very few teachers with the missionary zeal to want to leave the city or surf for the never-never, so staffing of remote schools is difficult. Transfer, as a condition of service, works; and outback children receive top-level instruction because of it. It is to the credit of centralisation of appointment conditions that equity of teaching talent occurs.

Summary: A Minister from the ruling political party in each state has over-all authority. Once assisted in mentoring and monitoring roles by officers with extended school experience, most state departments now follow a business-based organisational framework.

Compulsory Schooling The limits of schooling for each state are different. Generally speaking there are about 13 years of schooling provided. 7 or 8 of these are spent in primary schooling. The upper-limit of ages of compulsory schooling range from 15 years to 17 years.

Children must start school in the year that they turn 6 years of age in ACT, NT, NSW, SA, Vic ; 6.6 in WA; 6.64 in Qld; the year after they turn 5 yrs. in Tas.

Due to varying dates of starting, the minimum age of attendance is 4.5 yrs in NSW; 4.6 in NT, Qld, WA; 4.8 in ACT, Vic; 5.0 in SA, Tas.

Children enter schooling through their first year of schooling called Kindergarten in ACT, NSW; Transition in NT; Preparatory in Qld, Tas, Vic; Reception in SA; Pre-Primary in WA.

From there, they move to Year 1 for six years [ACT, NSW,NT, Tas, Vic] or for 7 years [ Qld,SA, WA].

The terminology varies for secondary schooling levels. In the ACT and Tas,  pupils move to High School then College for Years 11 & 12; High School in NSW, Qld, Tas, WA; Secondary then High School for Years 11 &12 in SA; Secondary then VCE for Years 11 &12 in Vic; Middle School then High School for Years 11 & 12 in NT.

Non-compulsory pre-schooling by various organisations for the youngest to approximately age 5 is extensive within a ‘neighbourhood’ context. There is some confusion about the terminology of ‘early childhood education’ and its impact on compulsory schooling, as there is no ‘middle childhood education’ nor ‘late childhood education’ lobby.

Summary: There is extensive variation in starting ages, length of primary schooling and the terminology.

Whereas most progressive countries, in terms of total schooling and achievement in measureable items, start formal schooling at seven years of age, there has been no serious debate on the issue in Australia for many years.

Expenditure The recent September 2010 OECD report ranks Australia as 16th out of 22 industrialised countries on its primary schools expenditure and 13th out of 23 for secondary schooling. At the same time, Australia does well, comparatively, on the OECD’s PISA results. See Education at a Glance 2010: OECD Indicators

Primary:  $US6498 per pupil…. while the average is $US7673.   Secondary: $US8840 per pupil…. while the average is $US9510.

Summary : Despite its frugality, Australia provides a much higher standard of schooling, including test achievement, than does the hard-data systems of schooling such as one provided by a district in New York, whose fear-driven, test-based system Australia has recently adopted.  

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One thought on “AUSTRALIA – PUBLIC SCHOOLING”

  1. Hey Phil, Love your work. I think if schools were run like business (good/smart business then a lot of the nonsense you so eloquently map would not be there. The business of schools is kids. At the moment the business of schools is anything but kids-they are collateral realities. To me, as Don Watson so wonderfully argues, it is the rise and rise of managers/managerialism that is at the heart of this galactically stupid interference in schooling. Management speak is a plague in most formal education settings. It keeps producing wonderfully stupid grist for his books.

    When/if teachers are allowed to be professionals like medicos and take control of their professional lives and work we might see the kind of schooling that most teachers know is possible.

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