Putting parents back in charge of schooling


The big irony for many parents who have found ourselves schooling our kids at home in the last six months is that education departments and teacher unions around the country have strongly opposed (until now) the delivery of school education – as if parents and teachers are actually ‘co-educators’ of children.

On most education department websites, you will find hidden away at the bottom of a page somewhere, often under a heading such as ‘philosophy’, a statement of acknowledgement that parents and teachers are partners, or ‘co-educators’, in the intellectual, physical, social and moral formation of students. 

Of course, they don’t mean it.

If they did mean it, they would coach parents in our role as co-educators. They would provide resources for parents, they would involve us in the classroom and outside it, and they would open up curriculum plans and teaching tools for parental access.

They don’t do these things. And so, in 2020 when some Australian governments closed schools as part of a frenzed panic over covid-19, parents found ourselves having to step into the breach, unprepared, with few resources and even fewer skills, in coaching the self-learning of our kids. For most parents, frustration, bewilderment and a scant supply of patience got the better of us.

Parents in Victoria are settling in for a sustained period of schooling in this way. There is no end in sight to the nightmare of flying blind, deep in stress, with multiple threats to mental health encroaching on us from all sides.

The covid crisis is illuminating the shortcomings and, in many cases, the deep-seated dysfunction in our systems of organising human and essential services. The fiasco in aged care, where bi-partisan political failure to de-institutionalise care for the elderly has set them up as sitting ducks for the virus, has at least exposed the charade that  governments know what they are doing in service delivery.

They don’t. For thirty years, they have simply outsourced and corporatised service delivery to a whole new generation of service delivery ‘providers’.

Alongside aged care, school education has been subject to the same fate. Providers of schooling do all the talking and all the lobbying about education. They get all the money, with stunningly little accountability to government and no accountability to parents. This is called ‘provider-centred service delivery’ – governments fund the providers of services in the hope that they can fulfill the diverse needs of children and parents. When they fail to fulfill these needs, there are no consequences. Virtually nothing happens, for decades on end.

Amongst the many reasons for the establishment of The Sensible Centre is the critical human need to change this model of service delivery to a ‘person-centred’ or ‘family-centred’. Or, in the case of schooling, a ‘student-centred’ model.

Systems of teaching and learning should be built around the student, not the provider. Funding should be directed to the student via their parents, not via the provider. These two principles are essential for the reform of our schools, but neither Liberal nor Labor is remotely inclined to shift from their commitment to provider-centred systems.

What would schooling look like if we seriously enacted these two principles in recognition of parents and teachers as partners, ‘co-educators’ of our children?

This is our policy agenda for fixing our schools. We invite your comments:

1. Every student and their family is entitled to clear information about generally accepted year and stage-specific knowledge requirements, in each curriculum area, as each student progresses through their years of public education. This should be readily available in the form of a portable, online Student Learning Plan that is accepted by schools and teachers as a foundational plan against which every student’s learning progress can be measured, with resources made publicly available to assist each student’s learning.

The purpose of this Student Learning Plan is to assist parents in working with teachers as co-educators of their children, outlining year and stage-specific core knowledge requirements, teaching methods and learning tools. It would be renewed annually.

2. Every teacher is entitled to a portable, online Core Curriculum Teaching Plan that specifies year and stage-specific core knowledge requirements, teaching methodologies, and teaching resources. Teachers should not be expected to have to devise teaching plans for every student and every subject, in isolation from institutional and peer supports or parental expectations. It’s purpose is to assist teachers to do their job effectively.

3. All state schools in Australian states and territories should be permitted to become Independent Public Schools based on the Western Australian model established in 2009. This is an opt-in scheme where public (state) schools can exercise greater governance and operational autonomy, run by an independent school board, with greater flexibility in organisation and teaching methods, and additional flexibility in hiring teachers and other staff. Independent Public Schools would remain non-fee paying schools.

After eight years as an Independent Public School, schools would be permitted to move to a second stage in autonomy and flexibility, varying their curriculum outside the Core Curriculum requirements, and employing teachers from various professional backgrounds as they see fit.

4. Parents, teachers, communities and NGOs should be encouraged to establish new public (state) schools, based on the English Free School model in the UK established in 2010. All institutional impediments to the formation of new schools should be removed, and a supportive regulatory framework established, based on the governance and operational requirements for Independent Public Schools.

5. All state schools should have a right to expel disruptive or poorly behaving students. States and territories have an obligation to accommodate disruptive and poorly behaving students in intensive support settings until they are able to resume participation in mainstream schools.

6. All state schools should have a right to remove teachers who they deem to be ‘not suited to teaching’. Individuals in this category should be supported by education departments in leaving the teaching profession without industrial relations agendas inhibiting their rapid movement out of the profession.

7. School funding should be re-allocated from schools to parents. Parents should be able to take the their child’s funding to a school of their choice and should be encouraged to use their funding as leverage in negotiating an educational program that suits each child. This is essential for students with learning difficulties, disabilities or behavioural challenges who face constant battles in finding schooling options that suit their needs.

A parent-directed, portable school funding entitlement would encourage parents to co-operate with other parents in establishing new schools with their preferred culture and educational philosophy.

8. All state and non-state schools (private and public) would be required to meet a minimum benchmark of inclusion of students with learning or developmental disadvantages in order to be eligible to receive public funds.

9. A ceiling of $20,000 in annual fees for fee-paying schools would be introduced for schools that wish to receive public funding. Public funds should not be permitted to reinforce social exclusion through inaccessible school fees. Fee-paying schools may choose to set their fees beneath this ceiling and receive public funding, or exceed the ceiling and forfeit public funds.

10. Ideally, public schools should comprise students from a broad range of social, cultural and educational backgrounds. But increasingly this is difficult to achieve as our cities segment by class and ethnicity. We support financial incentives for Socially Inclusive Schools whereby schools that draw students from diverse economic and social backgrounds receive additional financial resources.

By ‘diverse economic and social backgrounds’ we mean, specifically, a mix of families with tertiary education and families with sub-year 10 educational attainments, and a mix of families with anglo-celtic heritage and families from other cultural backgrounds.

These additional incentive payments should be sufficiently large in size to encourage schools to tailor their enrolments accordingly. Without an intentional movement towards making schools socially inclusive, the current segmentation of schools by class and ethnicity will deepen and intensify towards extreme levels of social fragmentation.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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