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Abstract

School autonomy policies have circulated through various modes of educational governance internationally, endorsing the view that more autonomy will improve schools and their systems. When subject to the discourses and practices of marketization, however, school ‘autonomy’ has been mobilized in ways that generate injustice. These injustices are the focus of this paper. We draw on preliminary findings from a three-year study that is exploring the social justice implications of school autonomy reform across four Australian states. Drawing on interviews with 42 stakeholders, the paper identifies four key areas of paradox for social justice currently confronting public schools and school systems. The language of paradox is drawn on to narrate the oppositional politics between the discourses and practices constituting school autonomy and the pursuit of social justice. Such narration raises important questions for Australian public education. It highlights how these discourses are changing what is meant by the public in public education. Engaging with the language of paradox in thinking about school autonomy reform, we argue, is important given the broader landscape where public schooling is being reconstituted and where traditional links to social justice and the common good are under threat.
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To cite this article: Amanda Keddie , Katrina MacDonald , Jill Blackmore , Jane Wilkinson ,
Brad Gobby , Richard Niesche , Scott Eacott & Caroline Mahoney (2020): The constitution of
school autonomy in Australian public education: areas of paradox for social justice,
International Journal of Leadership in Education, DOI: 10.1080/13603124.2020.1781934
Pre-published version
The constitution of school autonomy in Australian public education: areas
of paradox for social justice
Abstract
School autonomy policies have circulated through various modes of educational
governance internationally, endorsing the view that more autonomy will
improve schools and their systems. When subject to the discourses and practices
of marketization, however, school ‘autonomy’ has been mobilised in ways that
generate injustice. These injustices are the focus of this paper. We draw on
preliminary findings from a three-year study that is exploring the social justice
implications of school autonomy reform across four Australian states. Drawing
on interviews with 42 stakeholders, the paper identifies four key areas of
paradox for social justice currently confronting public schools and school
systems. The language of paradox is drawn on to narrate the oppositional
politics between the discourses and practices constituting school autonomy and
the pursuit of social justice. Such narration raises important questions for
Australian public education. It highlights how these discourses are changing
what is meant by the public in public education. Engaging with the language of
paradox in thinking about school autonomy reform, we argue, is important
given the broader landscape where public schooling is being reconstituted and
where traditional links to social justice and the common good are under threat.
Key words: School autonomy reform; Australian education; social justice;
redistributive justice; paradox
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School autonomy reform and social justice
With various articulations across local and global education contexts, the common intention
of school autonomy reform is to free public schools from centralised authority to better
respond to local needs and drive up educational standards. There remains little conclusive
evidence to support the efficacy of this reform to improve schools and their systems. Indeed,
greater school autonomy in contexts such as England, the US, Sweden, Norway and Australia
is associated with producing further inequalities as it has coincided with an increasing
marketisation of schooling and the discourses and practices of economic efficiency,
competition, individualism and externally imposed accountability.
School autonomy policies, as they are located within and shaped by neoliberal
reforms, do not fulfil their promise of improving student learning outcomes and indeed
compromise social justice at the school and system levels (see Ball & Junemann, 2012;
Author). This paper explores the issue of school autonomy reform and social justice in the
Australian context. Drawing on interviews with 42 education stakeholders, the paper
identifies four key areas of paradox for social justice currently confronting public schools and
their systems. The language of paradox is drawn on to narrate the oppositional politics
between the discourses constituting school autonomy and the pursuit of social justice. Such
narration raises important questions for Australian public education. It highlights how these
discourses are changing what is meant by the public in public education. Engaging with the
language of paradox in thinking about school autonomy reform, we argue, is important given
the broader landscape where public schooling is being reconstituted and its traditional links to
social justice and the common good are under threat.
The Australian case
The particularities of the Australian education context (as distinct from other western
education systems) are important to explain in understanding the policy debates over school
autonomy and funding equity. Australian schooling has three sectors with six state and two
territory public education systems (comprising of 65.7% of all students), the Catholic sector
(comprising 19.5%), and the independent sector, ranging from predominantly faith-based
small to large elite schools (comprising 14.8 % of all students) (Australian Curriculum
Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2020). Public schools are state responsibilities, with
private and Catholic schools first receiveing federal funding from the 1960s. Federal funding
to non-government (i.e. Catholic and private) schools based on need was extended in the mid
1970s with the aim to sustain equitable provision for a declining Catholic sector. But a
neoliberal and socially conservative federal government changed the rules after 2000,
funding non-government schools based on postcode, which meant wealthy schools in close
proximity to less well-off government schools received increased government funding and
new small private schools gained funding to establish themselves where often government
schools had closed (Author). In order to maintain a cost neutral policy, the federal
government also withdrew per capita funding from state governments that was to be allocated
to fund government schools. With parental choice discourses being mobilised by federal and
some state governments, many families able to afford choice moved their children into the
non-government sector fuelling the expansion of elite and particularly small faith-based
schools, thus residualizing the public sector. While private schools now receive federal
funding, they are not obligated to enrol all applicants whereas government schools must enrol
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students in their zone, and now teach over 85% of students who are disadvantaged (Cobbold,
2020).
Recent equity-policy funding at state and federal levels (e.g. Gonski funding) (Gonski
et al., 2018; Gonski et al., 2011) has attempted to redistribute resources more equitably across
the public and private systems. There remains, however, marked levels of maldistribution
especially given the differential capacities of individual schools to accrue resources from
their communities and other sources (e.g. business, philanthropy and parent fundraising)
(Hogan and Thompson, 2019; Rowe and Perry, 2019b; Thompson, Hogan, & Rahimi, 2019).
Policies of school autonomy reform in Australia are set against this complex and
inequitable backdrop. The intentions and guidelines of this reform have shifted from their
original promotion in the ‘Karmel Report’ (Karmel et al., 1973) as a grassroots, bottom-up
reform drawing on notions of participatory democracy to today’s national and state versions
of, for example, Independent Public Schools (IPS), which draw on neoliberal notions of
greater efficiency and accountability. Amid these shifts, state articulations of school
autonomy reform have differed markedly. States like Victoria (Vic) have experienced a long
and complex history of devolution since the early 1990s while other states such as New South
Wales (NSW) have (until quite recently) remained highly centralised. There has been a
renewed focus in Australia on creating more autonomy within public school systems with the
conservative federal government in 2015 committing $70 million to ‘build on current
developments across the states to help schools become more autonomous and independent if
they so choose’ (Australian Government, 2016). The implementation of the IPS policy in
Western Australia (WA) reflects perhaps the most recent radical restructuring of that state’s
public education system with the conversion of 575 schools to IPS status (Department of
Education, 2019).
While mobilized in highly varied ways, the common thrust of this policy is similarly
framed – to grant schools greater freedom in governance and decision-making so they can
better respond to the local needs of their communities. The belief here (as with similar
reforms in other western countries such as England, the USA, Norway and Sweden) is that
such freedoms will encourage innovation and efficiency and will lead to school improvement
(Cobbold, 2014; Author). This reform provides school leaders with greater power and
discretion over their budget and their decision-making capacity in relation to staffing,
resourcing and programs. Equity funds from national and state governments, based on
student profiles, needs, and since 2002 location according to postcode, are additional loadings
for school leaders to manage. The questions that are yet to be settled in these reforms, include
what matters when it comes to school autonomy and with what effect in terms of social
justice outcomes for each school and student within system-wide public provision.
Counter to its policy intentions, school autonomy reform across the globe, e.g.
England’s academies, Charter Schools in Sweden or the USA or self-governing schools in
New Zealand, has not led to school ‘improvement’ as measured by student academic
attainment (Academies Commission, 2013; Darling-Hammond and Montgomery, 2008;
Gunter, 2012; Ministry of Education NZ, 2018; Ravitch, 2016). In Australia, similarly, there
is no evidence linking school autonomy reform unilaterally with a rise in student attainment
(Jensen et al., 2013; Melbourne Graduate School of Education, 2013; Smyth, 2011). In terms
of social justice and, in particular, redistributive justice (e.g. a more equitable allocation of
human and material resources for students, Fraser, 2009), the impacts of this reform are
mixed. There is some evidence to indicate that increased flexibility in relation to school
funding has led, in some cases, to a more equitable distribution of material and human
resources for marginalized or disadvantaged students; and that such flexibility can lead to a
more efficient use of these resources than might have been previously possible under more
centralized governance (Bandaranayake, 2013; Author).
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Generally, however, the market imperatives of economic efficiency, competition and
external auditing driving school ‘autonomy’ are seen as producing negative impacts for
redistributive justice. The imperatives of economic rationalism accompanying this reform
have tended to decimate the structures, resources and programs of central education
bureaucracies traditionally associated with supporting public schools. These imperatives have
whittled away support for schools and their leaders to manage ever increasing obligations and
responsibilities previously the domain of the state (Ball and Junemann, 2012; Smyth, 2011).
While most principals have welcomed the greater autonomy over decision-making for their
schools granted to them under this reform, the work intensities and responsibilities for school
leaders have become untenable in devolved education systems. Such work intensities have
led to high levels of stress and have diverted principals’ attention away from instructional
leadership (Niesche and Thomson, 2017; Thomson, 2010).
To survive within this environment of decreased funding and the pressures of
economic efficiency, many schools are turning to parent and local community fundraising
(Rowe and Perry 2019), and the philanthropic and corporate sectors to meet shortfalls.
Indeed, entrepreneurial connections with this sector have been encouraged in school
autonomy policy in some states such as Victoria (Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development, 2019). These non-state actors, many for profit, are moving into
schools to mitigate the absence of the state through providing crucial resources (e.g. capital
funding, human and material resources). However, as well recognized, their intentions and
goals (profit) can undermine educative and social goals given these organizations may tend to
prioritize economic gains (Lingard, Sellar, Hogan, & Thompson, 2017). Further negative
impacts for redistributive justice are associated with the lack of regulation and transparency
within devolved education systems over how resources are accrued and expended (author).
This lack of oversight is attributed to a rise in the misuse of funds and corrupt practices such
as has occurred in corruption uncovered in Victoria (Independent Broad-based Anti-
corruption Commision, 2017).
One of the key platforms of school autonomy reform is the notion of ‘choice’.
Providing parents and students with choice generally means enabling them to compare and
select schools on the basis of their academic performance on standardized tests. This
information has become freely available to the public through websites such as MySchool
which publishes individual school results based on NAPLAN standardized testing and post-
school outcomes. This is an economic supply and demand model with expectations that it
will drive up standards, as it assumes failing schools (i.e. those that do poorly on standardized
tests) with reducing parental demand will close while succeeding schools will flourish. This
market – accountability model has increased stratification and residualization within the
public system through valuing (publicly rewarding) and de-valuing (publicly shaming)
schools on the basis of their academic test performance (Lamb, Jackson, Walstab, & Huo,
2015). The equity implications of this stratification are particularly pronounced in under-
resourced schools (e.g. small schools, schools in remote or rural areas). Further compounding
this stratification is the relationship between a school’s positioning (e.g. location, social mix,
level of disadvantage) and its capacity to attract and maintain quality teachers (Mayer et al.,
2017). Rural/remote and schools in highly disadvantaged locations are difficult to staff
(Sullivan, Perry, & McConney, 2013). Such competition has undermined school
collaboration and increased ‘gaming’ practices where schools “recruit more selectively and
exclude more willingly” (Windle, 2015, p. 24) in order to prevent reputational damage. It has
also narrowed curriculum and pedagogy in the least advantaged schools to a teach-to-the-test
mentality (Heffernan, 2018; Lingard and Sellar, 2012).
These discourses of devolution, economic efficiency, competition and individualism
shaping public education in Australia call into question what is public about public education.
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Such discourses have encouraged practices which have increasingly privatized the sector (see
Author) and rendered unstable the political claim of education as a common good (in terms of
its deep tradition to democratic participation and active informed citizenship) (see Smyth,
2011; Gerrard, 2018; Boyask, 2020). Such instability points to the constant changing
understandings and practices of public education – ‘the ‘public’ is ‘incessantly shifting – and
historically mediated’ (Gerrard, 2018, p. 208; Boyask, 2020).
Amid this shifting terrain, we examine key areas of paradox for social justice
currently confronting public schools and school systems in Australia as relayed to us by a
group of education stakeholders across four states: Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia
and New South Wales. We use the language of paradox to help narrate the oppositional
politics (Dolan, 2020) between the discourses shaping school autonomy and the pursuit of
social justice as it relates to the redistribution of material and human resources (see Fraser,
2009). These areas of paradox are:
1. The discourses and practices of economic efficiency and differential funding
(between the public and private sectors) constitute school ‘autonomy’ in ways that
create economic injustice
2. The discourses and practices of competition and individualism shaping education
systems constitute school autonomy in ways that undermine equity at the system level
3. The discourses and practices of devolution and economic rationalism shaping the
public education system constitute school autonomy in ways that disadvantage
(already disadvantaged) schools
4. The discourses and practices of needs-based funding (when reflecting a lack of
transparency, nuance and administrative support) constitute school autonomy in ways
that create economic injustice
Research context and processes
The data presented in this paper derive from a broader three-year Australian Research
Council study that is exploring the social justice implications of school autonomy reform
across four states in Australia: Queensland (QLD), Victoria (Vic), Western Australia (WA)
and New South Wales (NSW). These four states were selected given their highly varied
histories and enactments of school autonomy reform. The study is examining how school
autonomy is understood by key education stakeholders in Australia; how it is enacted in
Australian public schools; and the implications of this enactment for social justice. In this
paper we present findings from the first year of the study from interviews with 42
stakeholders including representatives from educational bureaucracies (12); government (3);
parent organizations (3); principal associations (7); principals (4); professional organizations
(3); academia (4) and teacher unions (6). These stakeholders represent: Victoria (14); NSW
(8); Qld (8); and WA (10) with two stakeholders representing national associations or
viewpoints. Stakeholders were selected on the basis of their leadership within their respective
organizations/associations and on their extensive knowledge about, and experience of, school
autonomy reform. In referring to these stakeholders in the following sections, we identify the
state they are associated with and their relationship to education, but de-identify with
pseudonyms.
The interviews were conducted over several months in 2019 by the team (of seven
researchers). All interviews (usually 60-90 minutes long) involved two researchers to
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maintain consistency and one, or sometimes two, interviewees and were conducted either
face-to-face or online. The interviews were focused on exploring the participants’
understandings of school autonomy including: the origins and development of this idea in
Australia; the renewed focus nationally and internationally on school autonomy reform; the
impacts of this reform at the school and system levels in terms of social justice (e.g. in
relation to decision making, the allocation of resources and differential benefits regarding
student outcomes, leadership practices and teachers’ work); important factors for mobilising
school autonomy in productive ways; and the role of regional support in autonomous
systems.
The data were organized using Nvivo. Coding was driven by our research aims and,
in particular, the concepts highlighted in the interview questions noted above. This paper
focuses on analysis of the themes of ‘social justice’ and ‘equity’ which broadly included all
stakeholder comments about these two concepts. Our analysis deployed the language of
paradox to help narrate the oppositional politics between the discourses and practices shaping
school autonomy and the pursuit of social justice as it relates to the redistribution of material
and human resources (Dolan, 2020). This process involved firstly, identifying these
discourses and practices as expressed by the stakeholders and secondly, the social justice
implications of these discourses and practices. This constitutive approach drew on Dolan’s
research (2020) where paradox is taken to be ‘formed out of the constitutive practices of
discourses rather than functioning as representations of conflict or complexity’ (p. 5). Thus
the areas of paradox we present do not reflect the symmetry and pragmatism of a two-sided
conflict but an array of ‘competing discourses, marked by variations across space and time,
differential interminglings with local practice and asymmetrical levels of prominence and
influence’ (p. 5). Like Dolan (2020, p. 5), our analysis seeks to ‘problematize and make
vulnerable the discourses that dominate contemporary schooling and to reveal, through the
formulation of various paradoxes, the competing interests that shape and influence’ the take
up of school autonomy.
Paradox 1: The discourses and practices of economic efficiency and differential
funding (between the public and private sectors) constitute school ‘autonomy’ in
ways that create economic injustice
Interviewees commented on the ways in which school autonomy was not really ‘autonomy’
at all. As teacher union official Lucas (Qld) noted, autonomy cannot be considered without
understanding the ‘frame’ within which it is situated, ‘We actually need to consider the
legislation policies, procedures, curriculum; all of those things [that] form the barrier - the
boundary; and then autonomy occurs within that’. Many stakeholders were highly cognisant
and critical of the inequities of this ‘frame’ created by the processes of marketization and
devolution. Academic Quincy (National), for example, highlighted how the system had
shifted from a democratic to an economic efficiency discourse. The economic efficiency
discourse framing devolution or school autonomy reform at both national and state levels was
a dominant concern for many of the stakeholders as significantly creating maldistribution
within and across education systems. Edward, a teacher union official, for example,
commenting about school autonomy reform in NSW, stated:
Local Schools, Local Decisions had nothing to do with parental choice or freeing up schools
or any of that political overlay. It was the device where they could get cost efficiency and
draw down cost [to] almost all areas of school operations … [it was about] how we could
save money...
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Delia (teacher union, Vic) commented on how the economic efficiency discourse had
taken on material effects as it worked to decimate the public education sector through
decreasing regional and departmental support. She noted that the budget cuts to middle levels
of bureaucratic management ‘under the guise of autonomy and devolution’ as currently
reflected in WA (and mirroring earlier trends in Victoria) left schools ‘bereft of the critical
advice and support that they need to deal with a whole range of equity issues’. Such cuts
were, as we examine later, seen to disadvantage particular (under-resourced) schools and
exacerbate stratification and residualization within the system. In Uberta’s words (bureaucrat,
Vic), it was really difficult for schools to ‘break out’ of their positioning at the low end of the
hierarchy, as she further explained:
it’s a ‘vicious cycle’ … if the school doesn't have that reputation, then teachers don't want
to teach there; so, all of a sudden, the best and brightest teaching staff obviously aren't the
ones that are going to be attracted to go and teach at that school. So, of course, that will have
a huge impact on academic outcomes. And then if the academic outcomes of the school
aren't great, then no-one wants to send their kids there.
Charles (principal, Vic) expressed particular concern about the funding differential
between private and public schools across Australia. As we noted earlier, Australia has,
compared to other Western nations, a particularly large non-government school sector
(Catholic and private) funded federally by the taxpayer, educating around 35% of all
students. Charles described funding to the private sector as creating a ‘facilities arms race’ for
private schools able to build and re-build ‘staggering’ facilities ‘because they can, while
many schools within the public system (especially in low SES areas) languished as they tried
to ‘wring every cent’ out of their allocated per student state funding. This assemblage of
differential funding produces maldistribution (i.e. inequitable funding within and across
sectors). Combined with the market drivers of economic efficiency and competition, goals of
fairness are severely undermined (Author; Smyth, 2011).
In sum, a variety of stakeholders reported that the discourses and practices of
economic efficiency and differential funding (between the public and private sectors)
constitute school autonomy in ways that create economic injustice; they have decimated the
public education sector, exacerbated stratification and residualization within this sector and
exacerbated economic disparity between public and private sectors.
Paradox 2: the discourses and practices of competition and individualism shaping
education systems constitute school autonomy in ways that undermine equity at
the system level
As noted in the previous section, respondents generally agreed that ‘there’s no true
autonomy’ because, as Jack (professional organization, WA) noted, we ‘sit’ within ‘a
system’. For Jack ‘autonomy’, which he defined as ‘putting decision-making at the closest
level possible’ to the school, was preferred as long as it did not ‘impinge on another school’,
thereby imparting a sense of obligation to the public system. The imperatives driving
competition within and between public and private sectors, however, necessarily impinged on
other schools, such as ‘poaching’ staff from nearby schools, or encouraging failing students
to change schools, contributing to residualization. Many stakeholders across all states
expressed the view that school autonomy could create equity at the local level through
‘localised decisions based on the needs of your community’ (professional organization,
Belinda, Vic). But schools do not operate in isolation. The success of one school can
compromise equity system-wide because the choices of one school may limit options for
others nearby. Cedric (professional organization, Vic) explained that this was because school
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autonomy was:
…based on the notion that each individual school is responsible for the education of its
students, not the system … It is not just one school operating irrespective of what's
happening around them … and the idea that competition between schools is going to raise
standards, it just doesn't…
Many stakeholders noted the significance of a collective approach to education as a
public good, as Louise (parent organization,WA) stated, schools ‘should be working together
for the benefit of all students for equity; not equality, for equity’. Many were critical of how
competition and economic efficiency undermined this collective approach to education as a
public good. Uhlrich (bureaucrat,Vic), for example, suggested that the devolution seen in the
Victorian system has led to the tendency for schools ‘to be more isolationist; and they tend to
think only about what their role within the school is. So there's less system-based thinking’.
Delia (teacher union, Vic) referred to Victoria’s history of devolution as a case in point
following the ‘rampant competition’ introduced in the ‘Kennett [conservative state political
leader] years’ in the 1990s where the ‘model of funding was changed to a student-numbered
system … so the more students you have, the more funding you get’. Cedric (professional
organization, Vic) agreed, ‘the more students you get, the more money you have. And to be
frank, the bigger you are, the better economies of scale you have under the global budget
model’. Delia further commented:
Throw in school choice which we have in Victoria - I think, unfortunately - where you can
bypass your local school and go to whatever school you like, providing they have got
room, that [has] meant that schools have openly competed for students. They know it will
deliver more money. When you come to the issue of equity, that has just simply created a
much greater divide.
Travis (bureaucrat, Vic) described these processes as creating ‘goal displacement in
the system’ where principals are compelled to focus on maximising their school rather than
the system. Such processes, he added, were encouraged by how principals were valued – i.e.
as principals who could ‘turn around struggling schools’, not as system contributors.
A key concern expressed by stakeholders regarding this goal displacement related to
student enrolment exclusion. Cedric (professional organization, Vic) explained that this was
about ‘unloading your problems on somebody else’ because ‘you want to appear better than
the other schools down the road’. For Charles (principal, Vic) this ‘unloading’ was prevalent
and ultimately associated with funding, as he stated:
…if you get funded by the amount of students or bums on seats, if you get a kid who you
think is going to cost you enrolments … the shutters come down and they go, ‘If I bring
this kid in my school, he/she will do XYZ. I don't want a bar of them’.
While schools wanted to be ‘bigger’ given the funding and the economies of scale
size accrued, many actively rejected ‘problem’ students. Certainly exclusionary practices
associated with student enrolment pre-date school autonomy reform, but many of the
stakeholders viewed these practices as more prevalent given the freedoms of this reform
(Author). Lucas (teacher union, Qld) for example, noted how school autonomy reform in Qld
led to a belief in some Independent Public (IP) schools that ‘they had the authority to alter
their enrolment processes’ to exclude particular students (e.g. Indigenous students, refugees
and students with a disability). While counter to the ‘fundamental requirement of our
Education Act, that state schools accept the student that turns up at the gate’, there was, as he
explained, ‘clear evidence’ that some IP schools were ‘turning away students’, suggesting to
parents that ‘perhaps that student would be better off at another school because our school
can't provide them with the program that would be best suited to their needs’.
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In sum, stakeholders reported that the discourses and practices of competition and
individualism shaping education systems constitute school autonomy in ways that can create
greater equity for students at some schools (through forcing individual schools to prioritise
themselves) but invariably undermine equity for other schools and a collective approach to
education as a public good.
Paradox 3: the discourses and practices of devolution and economic rationalism
shaping the public education system constitute school autonomy in ways that
disadvantage (already disadvantaged) schools
Despite the concerns raised above, there was general agreement amongst stakeholders that
the flexibility afforded through school autonomy, especially around staff recruitment, could
be productive for equity. Many of the stakeholders noted, however, how such flexibility
disadvantaged rural and remote schools. In education systems where departmental support is
decimated and responsibilities for school management are increasingly devolved, schools end
up, as Delia (teacher union, Vic) commented:
…bereft of that critical advice or support that they need to deal with a whole range of
equity issues. So, when you have got huge levels of complexity in your school and you
have students who have got really high levels of need - whether that is … behavioural or
whether it is because they have got a disability - you know, having those structures in
place is really, really important. But, in fact, under autonomy, what's happened is: many
schools are actually meant to deal with it themselves…
One of the key ways rural/remote schools were seen to be disadvantaged, as Boris
(ex-government official, NSW) pointed out, was in the area of recruitment and staffing.
Edward (teacher union, NSW) spoke in this regard of the ‘capacity’ within devolved
education systems for ‘some schools to have a greater choice between good teachers than
others’. As he explained:
…because out bush people are not flocking to work in [remote areas], for example; because
one of the things about the local selection, you have no guarantee of coming back. People
are disinclined to go or ask their family to go with them, without any assurance that they
would come back.
Many of the interviewees, in recognition of this issue, viewed school autonomy as
advantaging schools in privileged areas that could attract staff and students and, in turn,
greater resourcing to utilize the flexibilities facilitated through autonomy. As Cedric
(professional organisation,Vic) commented, disadvantaged schools (e.g. in remote/rural or
low SES areas) ‘don't have the scale, size [and reputation] that [many] metropolitan high
schools do’. For Nancy (teacher union, Vic), this scenario created a ‘further equity divide’ in
ways that strengthened the stratification of the system and the reality that students who most
needed additional support did not receive it. Nancy spoke further about this differential
support in relation to the specific needs of rural/regional communities in Victoria where there
were both higher needs compared to urban or suburban communities and lower local
provision for ‘welfare’ and ‘mental health’ services, such as ‘the capacity to employ their
own student welfare teacher… let alone social workers, psychologists’. She noted that
‘devolution has not meant a flow-on of the necessary resources to enable schools to actually
make those decisions about providing the supports’ including for example, ‘breadth of
curriculum or whatever it is that they need for their students’. These concerns were also
raised by Nancy in relation to small schools who ‘battled to survive’ within the decreasing
departmental support of devolved education systems, especially given that they could not
offer the range of curriculum offered by larger schools. The ‘economies of scale’ of the
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system, she argued thus, ‘have much better capacity to be able to provide those services in a
much more consistent and regulated way.’
Another important equity concern seen to be exacerbated by the freedoms of school
autonomy reform was the differential capacity of public schools, often due to socio-
geographical location, to raise funds. This differential ability for schools and communities to
raise funds has dire implications for equity within systems (Rowe and Perry, 2019a). Wendy
(bureaucrat, Vic) remarked upon a school in the ‘eastern suburbs’ of Melbourne raising
$30,000, easily from a fete whereas a school in the ‘western/southern suburbs might be lucky
if they raised $2,000’. This ‘capacity to leverage a community’ as Kurt (bureaucrat, Vic)
described it, led to great inequities in the system. Relatedly, there were also concerns raised
about the differential capacity of schools to appropriately staff their school councils (Author).
While some school councils in privileged areas, could attract, in Lionel’s (parent
organisation, Qld) words, ‘a highly competent group of people’ who could not only support
the school but ‘stand against’ the department if need be, schools in less privileged areas and
especially in rural and remote areas, often found it very difficult to staff their councils. In
these areas there may be high levels of underemployment, parents may be shift workers, lack
transport and time, or parents may have had bad experiences with the school system
themselves as students (author). The inability to staff parent councils raises questions about
democratic and inclusive school governance.
Some other interviewees noted the significance of principal entrepreneurialism in this
space, particularly in regard to seizing opportunities to partner with philanthropic
organizations to accrue extra school funding. In more autonomous school systems, especially
in places such as England, these partnerships are very common and, indeed, expected by
systems (Ball and Junemann, 2012; Niesche, 2010; Yoon and Winton, 2019; Yoon, Young,
& Livingston, 2019). However, there was scepticism noted about school-philanthropic
partnerships as not operating within ‘equity principles’ in terms of benefiting individual
schools and not the broader system (bureaucrat, Harriet, Vic). For Holly (parent organization,
Vic), the ‘huge focus’ and ‘reliance’ on philanthropy was worrying because it reflected
‘public schools … feeling the pinch’ and ‘allow[ed] the Government to shake [off] their
responsibility, at Federal/State level’. Such concerns bear out in Australian research that
critiques the increasing power of the philanthropic and edu-business sector to shape the
governance and policy agenda of public education systems in Australia in ways that prioritise
business over educative imperatives (Lingard, et al., 2017).
In sum, stakeholders were in agreement that the discourses and practices of
devolution and economic rationalism shaping the public education system constitute school
autonomy in ways that disadvantage rural/remote, low SES and small schools (through
inadequate access to quality human and material resources) thereby undermining equity for
the most needy students.
Paradox 4: The discourses and practices of needs-based funding constitute school
autonomy in ways that create economic injustice
The presentation of the previous areas of paradox indicate the stakeholders’ critical
recognition of the discourses and practices that constitute school autonomy in ways that
compromise social justice. According to most of the stakeholders, creating greater equity
within and between education systems required ‘compensatory mechanisms’ (bureaucrat,
Travis, Vic) and, in particular, equity funding. Many stakeholders referred to the Gonski
reforms (Gonski, et al., 2018; Gonski, et al., 2011) which are policy attempts to remedy the
highly inequitable funding models for Australian public schools which have arisen since
2000. These reforms have been aimed at returning to an equity model of needs-based funding
11
provision across all education systems in Australia that the Karmel report initiated in 1973
(Kenway, 2013). While welcoming these reforms, participants highlighted their limitations in
the lack of transparency about how this funding was used to support particular groups of
disadvantaged students. For instance, Kurt (bureaucrat, QLD) noted that ‘money doesn’t
always go to the [areas] that the formula provides’ (i.e. Indigeneity, geographic location,
school size, SES, disability). Kurt also spoke of the lack of nuance in the Gonski reforms in
failing to adequately recognize the needs within rural or remote area schools:
So, you can be in a remote Indigenous school and you will get more money per head than
[other] State Government school[s] but you don't get enough to fly those teachers to a
regional or metropolitan capital to do regular [professional development]; and you don't get
enough to fly your psychologist. So, all the reasons behind Gonski about "being able to get
equity of services in those regional and remote areas"----- It is not happening. -----it doesn't
come to fruition; because there's still not enough money in the system.
Other issues stakeholders raised in relation to resourcing were associated with the
lack of support for school leaders to manage their extra responsibilities within more
autonomous systems and to cope with the increasing stress levels of ever-increasing work-
loads (McGrath-Champ, Stacey, Wilson, & Fitzgerald, 2018; Riley, 2018). While Nancy
(teacher union, Vic) noted that in Victoria there had been a recent injection of ‘funds and
effort to better support our school leaders’ by a progressive state government, this was not
always the case. She spoke of ‘inadequate training’ for principals in the past, as she
explained:
…they were thrown into this role in the '90s. And our new principals, who are teachers,
who have come through the system, who may or may not have had great levels of
experience in managing a budget - in many cases, multi-million dollar budgets - and
staffing, are thrown into those roles; with, I think in the past, little training and little
support.
Other stakeholders highlighted problems with how school leaders used or misused
their resources/funding. Charles (principal, Vic) for example, noted that ‘autonomy is great if
you know what you are doing’ but that not all principals did, as evidenced by a recent report
into the use of equity funding in NSW schools (New South Wales Auditor General, 2020).
This played out, according to Uberta (bureaucrat, Vic), with some schools accruing a ‘big
deficit’ through miscalculation of student-teacher ratios and over-employing staff. Using
funds wisely, Christopher (professional organization, WA) stated, required ‘capacity for
schools to plan strategically for their ongoing needs, long-term’. At other schools, however,
there was a reluctance to spend money. Edward (teacher union, NSW) noted, for example,
that ‘some principals are very, very worried about spending the money that is coming their
way and … have … locked [it] up in school bank accounts … because [they] are worried that
it might go away.’
In sum, stakeholders noted that the discourses and practices of needs-based funding reflected
a lack of transparency and nuance in distribution. When coupled with a lack of support for
administration of funding, this constitutes school autonomy in ways that create economic
injustice. including in some cases, the misappropriation and misuse of funds by school
leaders.
Discussion and conclusion
While the parameters of school autonomy reform have varied markedly across Australian
state education systems, the official aims of this policy are consistent – that granting schools
12
greater freedom in decision-making over matters such as finance, resourcing and staffing will
lead to school and system improvement. This paper builds on the long history of research
findings that counter and complicate this thesis by drawing attention to the discourses and
practices of marketization constituting school autonomy in ways that compromise social
justice. For the stakeholders in our research, the discourses and practices of devolution,
economic efficiency, competition and individualism constitute school autonomy in ways that
have decimated structural support for public schools, exacerbated stratification and
residualization within the sector, undermined a collective approach to education as a public
good and disadvantaged rural/remote, low SES and small schools. These discourses and
practices, as much research before us attests, continue to be paradoxical to a socially just
mobilization of school autonomy in Australia as they are elsewhere (e.g. the UK, the USA,
Sweden and Norway).
Compensatory mechanisms such as needs-based funding can, as we argued, go some
of the way to alleviating the constitutive power of these discourses and practices to
undermine social justice. However, the compensatory capacity of needs based funding is
undermined when there is a lack of transparency and nuance in redistribution and a lack of
administrative support for fair redistribution. Current approaches to needs-based funding in
Australia, we would also argue, can do very little to alleviate the structural maldistribution
embedded in our education systems produced 1) through a school funding model where non
government sectors (Catholic and Independent schools) are generously funded by the public
purse and 2) given the vast differential capacities of schools to accrue resources from their
communities and other sources (e.g. business, philanthropy and parent fundraising). Indeed,
education policy at the federal level maintains such maldistribution, with any additional funds
from the Gonski reforms when distributed across all three systems, guaranteeing that no
school (including the already well-resourced schools in the private sector) would be worse off
(Gonski, et al., 2011).
The language of paradox (Dolan, 2020) reflects the enduring oppositional politics
hindering redistributive justice within the Australian education context. In presenting these
oppositional politics we do not presume that they are representative of all tensions between
school autonomy reform and social justice. We have tried to capture the key discourses and
practices arising from school autonomy located as they are within complex histories and
geographies, and thus we question the dominant policy rhetoric that aligns school autonomy
reform with school improvement and social justice.
We conclude by asking: How are these discourses and practices changing what is
meant by the public in public education in Australia? How are they shifting ideas of public
education for the public good? The argument that such discourses and practices are eroding
the political claim of education as a common good (in terms of its deep tradition to
democratic participation and active informed citizenship) is well recognised in relation to the
social justice issues canvassed in this paper (see Smyth, 2011; Gerrard, 2018; Boyask, 2020).
What needs to be problematised is how public and private interests in education are
becoming increasingly enmeshed in ways that compromise social justice. What are the
consequences of the increasing infiltration of the private sector in the governance of public
education (e.g. philanthropy, outsourcing of operations to the business sector) (see Lingard et
al. 2017)?. The business (rather than educative) imperatives driving this infiltration, as well
as the uneven and differential capacities for schools to take advantage of philanthropic
support, have tended to increase the systemic inequities of stratification and residualization.
In Australia public and private interests are enmeshed with the generous public
funding allocated to the private schooling sector. This allocation is clearly compromising of
redistributive justice and raises important questions such as: are schools in this sector public?
13
And, if so, how should they be held more accountable to the public? The private sector in
Australia is not held to public account to the same degree as the public sector (e.g. the private
sector is far more autonomous than the public sector and can deploy all manner of exclusions
– on the basis of ability, class, gender and religion). This enmeshing of public and private at
the very least highlights Boyask’s argument (2020, p. 4):
To further public education as both ideal and practice (for the common good), we need a
much more nuanced understanding of what is in the public interest, how the public is
constituted and how we might define public education.
The conceptualization of public education for the common good is an ongoing project
(Boyask, 2020). School autonomy reform has been positioned in policy discourse as aligned
with this common good in terms of its intention to devolve decision making and
responsibility for education to schools themselves. In this sense, policy discourse has also
aligned school autonomy reform with social justice. The language of paradox drawn on in
this paper enables a complication of this picture in considering the discourses and practices of
economic efficiency, competition and individualism constituting school autonomy in
Australia that undermine social justice. In the ongoing project of re-conceputalising public
education for the public good, amid a shifting terrain between what is public about public
education, critically engaging with questions arising from these areas of paradox remains
imperative.
14
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... Consistent with decades of research (see Blackmore et al., 1996;Smyth, 2011) there was consensus across the group that school autonomy reform creates further inequities at school and system levels when driven by the logics of marketisation, competition, economic efficiency and public accountability (e.g., these logics force public schools to run themselves like businesses, prioritise narrow outputs and compete for students which leads to stratification and residualisation within education systems and inequitable resource allocation for students) (Constantinides, 2021;Fitzgerald et al., 2018;Karseth & Møller, 2020;Keddie et al., 2020aKeddie et al., , 2020bLundahl, 2019;Wilkins et al., under review). Consistent with ongoing concerns in this space, there was a questioning of the idea of the public in public (Gerrard, 2018) and private education (Boyask, 2020(Boyask, , 2021 in terms of who and how education operates for the public good and relatedly; about how private sector interests and logics have permeated public school governance to prioritise market imperatives at the expense of educative imperatives (Hursh, 2017;Lipman, 2017;Lubienski, 2009;O'Neill, 2021;Skerritt, 2019;Skerritt & Salokangas, 2020;Thrupp, 2020;Yoon et al., 2020); about how the increased expectations and responsibilities associated with school autonomy reform were continuing to take an enormous physical and mental toll on teachers and school leaders in relation to untenable work intensification Heffernan & Pierpoint, 2020;Keddie et al., 2020aKeddie et al., , 2020bSkerritt, 2020;Wilkins et al., under review;Wylie, 2020); and about how these reforms as they are driven by a narrow performative culture, continue to degrade pedagogy and curriculum towards a teach-to-the-test mentality (Hursh et al., 2019;McGrath-Champ et al., 2018). ...
... Consistent with decades of research (see Blackmore et al., 1996;Smyth, 2011) there was consensus across the group that school autonomy reform creates further inequities at school and system levels when driven by the logics of marketisation, competition, economic efficiency and public accountability (e.g., these logics force public schools to run themselves like businesses, prioritise narrow outputs and compete for students which leads to stratification and residualisation within education systems and inequitable resource allocation for students) (Constantinides, 2021;Fitzgerald et al., 2018;Karseth & Møller, 2020;Keddie et al., 2020aKeddie et al., , 2020bLundahl, 2019;Wilkins et al., under review). Consistent with ongoing concerns in this space, there was a questioning of the idea of the public in public (Gerrard, 2018) and private education (Boyask, 2020(Boyask, , 2021 in terms of who and how education operates for the public good and relatedly; about how private sector interests and logics have permeated public school governance to prioritise market imperatives at the expense of educative imperatives (Hursh, 2017;Lipman, 2017;Lubienski, 2009;O'Neill, 2021;Skerritt, 2019;Skerritt & Salokangas, 2020;Thrupp, 2020;Yoon et al., 2020); about how the increased expectations and responsibilities associated with school autonomy reform were continuing to take an enormous physical and mental toll on teachers and school leaders in relation to untenable work intensification Heffernan & Pierpoint, 2020;Keddie et al., 2020aKeddie et al., , 2020bSkerritt, 2020;Wilkins et al., under review;Wylie, 2020); and about how these reforms as they are driven by a narrow performative culture, continue to degrade pedagogy and curriculum towards a teach-to-the-test mentality (Hursh et al., 2019;McGrath-Champ et al., 2018). There were also concerns raised about the new articulations of the governing parent-citizen within the context of education devolution as reconfiguring what a 'good' parent-citizen looks like along strongly classed and professionalised lines (Gerrard & Savage, 2021) and finally, concerns were raised about how union power might be mobilised to resist the processes of devolutionary reform (Gavin et al., 2022). ...
... The increased external public auditing of education has reduced school improvement to narrow performative outputs and promoted competition between schools. These conditions have increased (classed and racialised) stratification and residualisation within the system advantaging already advantaged schools and disadvantaging already disadvantaged schools (Keddie et al., 2020a(Keddie et al., , 2020bLamb et al., 2015). As many scholars have argued, these conditions and forces have undermined a collective approach to education as a public good. ...
Article
Full-text available
The series of responses in this article were gathered as part of an online mini conference held in September 2021 that sought to explore different ideas and articulations of school autonomy reform across the world (Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, the USA, Norway, Sweden and New Zealand). It centred upon an important question: what needs to happen for school autonomy to be mobilised to create more equitable public schools and systems of education? There was consensus across the group that school autonomy reform creates further inequities at school and system levels when driven by the logics of marketisation, competition, economic efficiency and public accountability. Against the backdrop of these themes, the conference generated discussion and debate where provocations and points of agreement and disagreement about issues of social justice and the mobilisation of school autonomy reform were raised. As an important output of this discussion, we asked participants to write a short response to the guiding conference question. The following are these responses which range from philosophical considerations, systems and governance perspectives, national particularities and teacher and principal perspectives.
... In a three-year qualitative study investigating the social justice implications of school autonomy reform, conflicting stories emerged in interviews across multiple case studies about how school autonomy enabled principals to produce policies, install organisational structures and processes and establish priorities. Principal agency operated within systemic parameters to enact autonomy in ways that had significant implications for teacher practice and their professional autonomy (Keddie et al., 2020a(Keddie et al., , 2020bNiesche et al., 2021). ...
... A significant body of literature studying principals' views of school autonomy, including principals in our study, shows that school principals generally favour greater autonomy over school budgets and staffing (Keddie et al., 2020a(Keddie et al., , 2020bNiesche et al., 2021;Thomson, 2009). What principals in nearly all Australian and international studies find most difficult about school autonomy reform is that all the risk and responsibility is devolved to them, along with the administrative overload associated particularly with recruiting staff. ...
... Principals can mobilise the freedoms of school autonomy in ways that undermine teacher professional autonomy (e.g. through adopting a managerial and hierarchical approach) and/or enable teacher autonomy (e.g. through inclusive decision-making processes and respect for teacher professionalism) (see Keddie et al., 2020aKeddie et al., , 2020b. ...
The articulation of school autonomy into practice nationally, regionally and locally is highly situated in terms of what it enables or impedes with regard to the professional autonomy of principals and teachers. Principal autonomy does not necessarily mean greater teacher professional autonomy. In this paper, we draw on a three-year qualitative study investigating the social justice implications of school autonomy reform in Australia. We present interview data from a case study of a large secondary college to present two conflicting stories of autonomy. Supported by a managerial restructure reflecting distributed leadership, we juxtapose the positive account of autonomy expressed by the leadership team with the negative one expressed by teachers. We explore the justice implications of this disjuncture and argue the importance of critically examining the complex ways in which the intentions and enactments of distributed leadership can be differently articulated and understood within the context of school autonomy reform.
... The English studies (Norwich and Black 2015;Black et al. 2019;Davies, Diamond, and Perry 2019;Liu et al. 2020) all analysed large, national datasets to answer research questions about the inclusion of students with disability (those classified as having 'special educational needs' [SEN]) in various types of schools. In contrast, the studies reported in the Australian articles (Keddie, Gobby, and Wilkins 2018;Keddie et al. 2020) used qualitative approaches involving interviews with stakeholders. ...
... The search identified no Australian studies that specifically examined associations between school autonomy and students with disability. The two Australian articles (Keddie, Gobby, and Wilkins 2018;Keddie et al. 2020) included in the review focused on relationships between school autonomy and equity or social justice in general, but did give some indication of the potential effects of increased autonomy on schools' inclusion of students with disability. Both articles reported qualitative studies with data from interviews with school leaders or other education professionals. ...
... The second of the articles, Keddie et al. (2020), reported preliminary findings from a 3year study investigating the social justice implications of school autonomy reforms across four states: Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia. The article reports findings from interviews with 42 education stakeholders, comprising representatives from educational bureaucracies (n = 12), principal associations (n = 7), teacher unions (n = 6), academia (n = 4), professional organisations (n = 3), parent organisations (n = 3) and school principals (n = 4). ...
Article
It is unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) for Australian schools to discriminate against students based on disability. Yet discrimination against students with disability is on the increase in Australian schools, and so is the decentralisation and autonomy of schools. This scoping review set out to determine what evidence exists of an association between school autonomy and discrimination against students with disability, primarily in Australia but with an additional examination of studies conducted in England. It further examined the type of research methods that have been used to investigate this topic. Included studies did not provide direct evidence of a causal association between school autonomy and discrimination against students with disability; however, the findings uncovered worrisome trends suggesting that an association may exist. Examination of the included studies’ research methods suggests that a more fit-for-purpose methodology is required to determine the association between school autonomy and discrimination against students with disability in primary and secondary education settings.
... The core belief is that freedom from centralised authority in which markets determine "good" schools within external forms of state and federal regulation will create conditions for school leaders to better respond to local needs, promote innovation and produce resource efficiencies at the school level, aggregating to system-wide efficiencies and improvements (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2020). Globally, autonomy reform policies have been shaped by the market imperatives of economic efficiency, competition and choice, and governance demands for external auditing (Keddie et al., 2020). Together with this accompanying suite of accountability and choice policies, autonomy reform seems to have been widely accepted as a panacea for school and system improvement. ...
... On the one hand, supporting principal autonomy together with local decision making including parents, teachers and students in schools reflects a form of representative justice. Certainly, most principals welcome the flexibility enabled by such reforms especially around the greater autonomy to manage budgets and recruit staff (Keddie et al., 2020). On the other hand, the freedoms accorded to principals can undermine representative justice as they do not necessarily lead to teacher autonomy or forms of democratic participatory governance that accord voice to parents and the school community. ...
Article
This paper provides an overview of the policies of school autonomy in Australian public education from the Karmel report in 1973 to the present day. The key focus is on the social justice implications of this reform. It tracks the tensions between policy moves to both grant schools greater autonomy and rein in this autonomy with the increasing instatement of external forms of regulation. Utilising Nancy Fraser’s concepts of dis-embedding and re-embedding markets, we track key policy moments in three Australian states (Victoria, Western Australia and New South Wales) along with federal interventions. We draw attention to the redistributive and representative justice implications arising from these policy moments as occurring within a consistent trajectory towards a market agenda and argue that future policy needs to consider the effect of past policy.
... In particular, the study examines how school autonomy is understood by key education stakeholders, how it is enacted in public schools, and the implications of this enactment for social justice. Building on the work of other project papers presenting a conceptual piece on school autonomy and social justice (Keddie et al., 2022), commentary on the market imperatives of autonomy reforms , and the implications of school autonomy in responses to COVID-19 , the contribution of this paper is to investigate whether the LSLD reforms generate the opportunity for greater instructional leadership in NSW public schools. The sample drawn from are the NSW interviews (n= 7), a sub-set of 42 purposively sampled key stakeholder interviews from across four states, with participants ranging from former government officials (Boris -all names are pseudonyms), retired principals (Erin), union organizers (Edward), professional associations (Noah), and former education department personnel (Miriam, Kyle, Norman). ...
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A persuasive solution for governments and systemic authorities seeking to improve the quality and equity of outcomes for students has been the localized management of schools. Believed to provide opportunities for context-sensitive decision-making, what remains unclear is how does shifting increasing management to the school-level generate the type of leadership necessary to improve outcomes? Drawing from a subset from an Australian study of school autonomy, we argue that reforms simply cannot improve outcomes as they generate work that takes leaders and educators away from teaching and learning activities and sustain if not advance enduring inequities in the system..
... Such decentralisation is constituted as affording schools greater autonomy and when combined with legislation and statutory guidance relating to inclusion (Wilkins and Olmedo, 2018) and pressures linked to performance league tables (Ball, 2003); then, buying in inclusion-related services and products is one solution to the problem faced by schools of fulfilling potentially conflicting policy demands (Done, 2019). As Ball (2003, p. 221) maintains, the school culture that subsequently emerges is one where 'impression management' prevails; the imperative is to be seen to be meeting legal requirements around inclusion, which is not the same as practising inclusively and ensuring social justice (Keddie et al., 2022). The 'twice exceptional' is likely to be doubly disadvantaged by such trends. ...
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‘Twice exceptionality’ describes the coexistence of a learning difficulty or disability (SEN/D) and exceptional performance in one area of learning. A popular discourse around autism and savantism in the US promotes a hierarchical differentiation of the ‘twice exceptional’ based on measured intelligence and commodifies support for this group. Such support is designed to appeal to a neoliberal ethos of seeking competitive advantage in a marketised system. Alternatively, Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCos) could raise awareness and promote a non-hierarchical understanding of ‘twice exceptionality’ in schools, thereby highlighting what is missed when allegedly science-based discourses become hegemonic within education and when governmentally-mandated accountability practices are prioritised over professional judgement and the interests of individual students. Calls for ‘twice exceptionality’ to be recognised as a SEN/D category risk additional pressures on SENCos at a time when governmental demands on SENCos throughout the Covid-19 pandemic have served to heighten existing tensions associated with the neoliberalisation of education (commercialisation, commodification, decentralisation, residualisation). Nevertheless, SENCos could play a key role in addressing longer-term processes affecting children with dis/abilities and learning difficulties such as stigmatisation and, in this instance, discriminatory configurations of ‘giftedness’ .
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This report, commissioned by the NSW Teachers' Federation, examines the work of teachers in primary and secondary schools and reports on work hours, work demands, work activities and how work is valued. It show intensification of teachers' work, with new and increasingly burdensome administrative and data-related work.
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Pluralist Publics in Market Driven Education opens a conversation on the nature of the public in education systems weary from market driven educational reform. Ruth Boyask observes the characteristic of publicness within contemporary education settings, a characteristic defined by tools from public sphere and democratic education theory. Boyask's investigations of publicness in educational sites are founded in conceptualising public education as pluralist, unbounded and conditional. These concepts of the public are important for ongoing and future debate on public education. The settings Boyask examines are different in structure, function and location yet each demonstrates the push and pull between market relations (including competition, efficiency and productivity) and the desire for social equality and democracy in education. Examples of educational settings are drawn broadly from an Anglo-American imaginary that has taken hold in educational systems transnationally, with detailed observation from three research studies of education policy enactment in England. The research studies (including research on curriculum reform in a private democratic school, privatisation of regional educational services and governance in English private schools) provide contexts for examining public accountability, public service and the public good as they relate to a reconceptualised public education. Boyask's argument is that by opening a conversation about the nature of the public within these sites we bring them into the spheres of a pluralist public education. They become open to public scrutiny and through their debate arise new ideas for challenging market-driven restrictions to contemporary public education. Ruth Boyask is Senior Lecturer at Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand, where she does research and teaches on postgraduate programmes in education. Previously, she was Lecturer in Education Studies at the University of Plymouth, UK, and remains a member of Council for the British Educational Research Association.
Book
This book proposes that paradox, as a theoretically rich and historically enduring concept, has significant potential for researchers in the field of critical leadership studies. By enriching its general form and infusing it with added complexity and theoretical influence, it is argued that paradox can be legitimately applied as a lens for examining and as a pedagogy for realising new learning possibilities. The book takes paradoxes as formed out of the constitutive practices of discourse rather than as representations of conflict or complexity. Using fifteen paradoxes derived from theoretical and empirical analysis, it provides insights into the competing forces that contradict simplistic positivist accounts of contemporary school leadership and reveal the presence of a political struggle for the soul of the principal in the neoliberal era. It considers these paradoxes in three categories: (1) principal subjectivity and authority, (2) neoliberal policy and (3) managerial practice. The book advocates critique, counter-conduct and agonistic thought and practice as resources for principals participating in such a struggle, and employs Foucault's 'care of the self' and 'practices of freedom' to promote more active involvement of principals in authoring their ethical and political selves.
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In this article, we introduce the special issue, entitled ‘Private Partners and Profits in Public Schools: New Challenges,’ that illuminates emerging and established cases of education privatisation in various forms, localities, and scales, which deserve greater attention. First, we synthesise challenges that are facing public education under privatisation identified by the authors in this special issue. Then, we discuss the benefits of examining education privatisation through diverse theoretical lenses and using cross-disciplinary methodologies. Following, we introduce a unique feature of this special issue: responses to the articles written by public education practitioners and advocates. We conclude this introduction by articulating the scholarly contributions of this special issue to the growing scholarship on education privatisation.
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Parent involvement in their child’s schooling is routinely celebrated and emphasised in government education policy in many countries. We take a critical lens to examining parent involvement by investigating voluntary parent fees in public secondary schools, and how these fees are patterned by school socioeconomic status (SES). In Australia, where this study is located, public schools may request ‘voluntary’ fees from parents to enhance education programmes and facilities. As public schools are increasingly situated in a competitive market, this has arguably augmented pressure for schools and their communities to generate funds. Our findings show large inequalities between public schools, with high-SES schools enjoying more than four times parent-generated income than low-SES schools. Parent financial contributions are a form of structural inequality that benefits socially advantaged students and schools, potentially serving as both a cause and consequence of socially segregated schooling. We conclude with recommendations for policy.
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This study examines the changing style, scale, and scope of raising private funds to provide resources for public schools. In particular, we focus on school fundraising, especially the role of discourse in scaling up school fundraising practices to facilitate education privatisation. Drawing from Stephen Ball’s policy sociology, and employing Maarten Hajer’s discourse analysis approach, we analyze a multi-million dollar fundraising campaign in one secondary school in a Canadian province. Our analysis shows how a discourse-coalition has emerged around Public Private Partnership Fundraising (PPPF) to legitimise an increasingly privatised effort to fund school infrastructure. In conclusion, we raise questions about the problematic nature of large-scale school fundraising, specifically, its impact on inequality between schools with different levels of community wealth.
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This study examines inequalities of school funding as exclusively generated by the parent community in urban public schools, and potentially illuminates a secondary impact of between-school segregation. For schools that are largely understood as free, the substantial injections of private financing into public schools indicates a concerning tension for fairness and equity. Using a census dataset of all public schools in one Australian capital city (n=150), we compare reported parent ‘contributions, fees and charges’ and how they are patterned by measures of school disadvantage and advantage. We found a statistically significant relationship between private financing and measures of school-based advantage or disadvantage, over a four-year period. Advantaged schools generate up to six times greater income in comparison to disadvantaged schools over a four-year period, and we argue that the substantial gaps function as another form of ‘compounded disadvantage’ for residualised public schools and a tiered effect of segregation.