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School Independence in Australia: Pros and Cons

Jan 21, 2011

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has a plan to allow schools to function more independently from government authority. The program is considered by some to be similar to the charter school system in the U.S. As with most political matters, there is opposition to this plan, with some opponents concerned about the total privatization of Australia's educational system.

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A Push for School Autonomy

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her allies in the Labor party want to move forward with a plan that will put the responsibility for governance and student performance in the hands of individual schools. All of Australia's public schools would be eligible for inclusion in this plan, should it be put into action. The initiative has been compared to the U.S.'s charter school system, wherein public money is used to fund schools that are managed autonomously.

Prime Minister Gillard's plan for Australian education would increase local control of schools. Arguments in favor of the initiative portray it as a way to empower parents, teachers and school administrators to best serve the needs of their students. In this proposal, school principals would be responsible for hiring and firing faculty and staff, and school boards would be responsible for overseeing financial and budgetary matters. The overall goal of the program is aimed at improving student performance by allowing schools to tailor education programming to their specific needs.

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Pushing Back

The change proposed by this education plan is radical, and it is not without opposition. Teacher's unions are not enthusiastic about school autonomy because it might decrease their relevance and authority. One such group, the Australian Education Union (AEU), has accused Gillard of moving toward the total privatization of Australia's schools. A spokesman for the AEU criticized the term 'autonomy' in this context, saying that the plan did not truly offer freedom to schools and administrators.

Another critique was levied in a government report on the proposal. This report's author criticized the formal autonomy proposal as lacking in clarity. This author was not opposed to the idea of independently run schools, but was concerned about some linguistic confusion in the proposal.

This charge of weak wording may give critics of school autonomy more room to attack the proposal. As is customary with political matters, public perception of Ms. Gillard's proposal may be colored by inaccurate or incomplete reporting. Gillard and the Labor party will likely continue to face opposition from their opponents as the plan moves forward.

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