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The current COVID19 pandemic has forced major adjustments, often at short notice, on schools and schooling. Educators have been working in a constantly changing environment to continue to deliver for students, families and communities all the while maintaining the necessary supports for themselves and colleagues. In Australia this has led to debates concerning when and who can close schools, the authority of schools to enact context-sensitive activities, and amplified existing inequities. Informed by a larger Australian Research Council grant focused on school autonomy and social justice, we argue that the pandemic and responses to it have highlighted the idiosyncratic nature of Australian federalism, drawn greater attention to the role of school autonomy, and amplified inequities in the access to quality education irrespective of location.
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Volume 48 Number 3 2020
International Studies in
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International Studies in Educational Administration
Volume 48, No. 3, 2020
Contents
Editorial Note
DAVID GURR 1
COVID-19 and Inequities in Australian Education Insights on Federalism, Autonomy, and Access
SCOTT EACOTT, KATRINA MACDONALD, AMANDA KEDDIE, JILL BLACKMORE, JANE
WILKINSON, RICHARD NIESCHE, BRAD GOBBY AND IRENE FERNANDEZ 6
Co-designing Educational Policy: Professional Voice and Policy Making Post-COVID
PAUL KIDSON, KYLIE LIPSCOMBE AND SHARON TINDALL-FORD 15
What Next? COVID-19 and Australian Catholic Schools Through a Leadership Lens
DAVID IVERS 23
Crisis Leadership: A Critical Examination of Educational Leadership in Higher Education in the Midst
of the COVID-19 Pandemic
JASON MARSHALL, DARCIA ROACHE AND RASHEDA MOODY-MARSHALL 30
School Leaders’ Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Two-Pronged Approach
KATINA POLLOCK 38
Leading in the Early Childhood Education and Care Sector in England During a Pandemic: Reality,
Relationships and Ruminations
LEWIS FOGARTY 45
COVID-19: What Have We Learned From Italy’s Education System Lockdown
CLAUDIO GIRELLI, ALESSIA BEVILACQUA AND DANIELA ACQUARO 51
Out of Classroom Learning: A Brief Look at Kenya’s COVID-19 Education Response Plan
PETER MOYI 59
Managing the Costs of Online Teaching in a Free Secondary Education Programme During the
COVID-19 Pandemic in Nigeria
OYETAKIN AKINROTIMI IYIOMO 66
Educational Leadership Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic Crisis in Nigeria
THERESA STEPHEN GYANG 73
Hold on Tight Everyone: We’re Going Down a Rabbit Hole. Educational Leadership in Turkey During
the COVID-19 Pandemic
PINAR AYYILDIZ AND HASAN ŞERIF BALTACI 80
COVID-19 and Unconventional Leadership Strategies to Support Student Learning in South Asia:
Commentaries from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan
NEELOFAR AHMED, PRERANA BHATNAGAR, MOHAMMAD SHAHIDUL ISLAM AND SARAH
ALAM 87
Learning to Walk All Over Again: Insights From Some International School Educators and School
Leaders in South, Southeast and East Asia During the COVID Crisis
REBECCA STROUD STASEL 95
Education in the Age of COVID-19: Educational Responses From Four Southeast Asian Countries
PRAVINDHARAN BALAKRISHNAN 102
Special Education Students in Public High Schools During COVID-19 in the USA
MATTHEW NELSON AND ELIZABETH MURAKAMI 109
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COVID-19 and Inequities in Australian
Education Insights on Federalism,
Autonomy, and Access
Scott Eacott, Katrina MacDonald, Amanda Keddie, Jill
Blackmore, Jane Wilkinson, Richard Niesche, Brad Gobby and
Irene Fernandez
Abstract: The current COVID19 pandemic has forced major adjustments, often at short notice, on
schools and schooling. Educators have been working in a constantly changing environment to continue
to deliver for students, families and communities all the while maintaining the necessary supports for
themselves and colleagues. In Australia this has led to debates concerning when and who can close
schools, the authority of schools to enact context-sensitive activities, and amplified existing inequities.
Informed by a larger Australian Research Council grant focused on school autonomy and social justice,
we argue that the pandemic and responses to it have highlighted the idiosyncratic nature of Australian
federalism, drawn greater attention to the role of school autonomy, and amplified inequities in the access
to quality education irrespective of location.
Keywords: Autonomy, federalism, access, equity, Australia, COVID-19
Introduction
The large-scale closure of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic has raised many issues and
concerns with the equity of school systems globally. It has challenged what we think of
schooling, how it is currently and what it can be. At the same time, it has elevated questions
such as who has authority over schools, where funding comes from, on what evidence
decisions are based, and for whom schools serve. These questions have illuminated many of
the nuances of inequities in our current school education systems.
With a specific focus on Australia, and informed by ongoing work as part of a large-scale
Australian Research Council funded project investigating school autonomy and social justice
(see: https://www.schoolautonomyandsocialjustice.org/), our attention in this paper is
centred on three issues: i) the idiosyncratic nature of Australian federalism and its impact on
schooling; ii) the autonomy of schools and/or school systems; and iii) the access to high
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7
quality schooling regardless of location. While schools remain the constitutional
responsibility of states/territories in Australia, the Federal Government has the fiscal capacity
to influence policy. The oversight of schools is complicated by funding mechanisms that see
the bulk of funds for public schools filtered through state/territory governments and
Departments of Education while Independent and Catholic schools/systems (which
compromise 11.45 and 18.48 percent respectively of Australia’s 9503 schools) receive public
funds (different to many other countries) directly from the Federal Government. The impact
of school closures and continued accessibility to teaching and learning is not equally
distributed across Australia or different systems (public, Catholic, independent). Put simply,
the pandemic has amplified many of the inequities of Australian education.
Our argument is that the public health crisis that is COVID-19 has highlighted the multiple
pathways and influence of schools and school systems courtesy of federalism and allowed
different systems (e.g. public, Catholic and independent) to engage with government and the
public differently entrenching existing inequities. The autonomy to engage, or not, with
government directives has varied greatly by sector and we focus in particular on equity issues
of decisions regarding when to close and open schools. Caught up in all of this is the access
to education for all students. This includes not only the availability of the technologies
necessary for ongoing engagement with schooling, but also what types of engagement are
considered acceptable for different groups of students and communities. In sum, our
argument is that COVID-19 has brought to the fore the inequities that have existed in
Australian school systems for some time. Prompted by the pandemic, this represents a
significant opportunity to not only raise these issues but to advocate for those students and
communities most disadvantaged.
The Idiosyncratic Nature of Australian Federalism
Australia is a federation of six states and two territories and school education is arguably the
‘oldest and deepest federalist artefact’ (Keating & Klatt 2013: 414). Constitutionally, education
is the responsibility of the states/territories however the primary source of funding is through
the Federal Government as the collector of income taxes. In short, the Federal Government
provides funds for schools through three main approaches: i) for public schools, constituting
close to two-thirds of all enrolments, funds are granted to state/territory governments who
then allocate through their budgets; ii) for the Catholic sector, the Federal Government
directly funds the system (comprising 19.5% of students) which then allocates to individual
schools; and iii) individual ‘independent’, largely faith-based, schools receive federal funds
directly. The intricacies of this complexity remain somewhat hidden in public discourses but
play out in a very specific way during a major (inter)national crisis as it enables different
levers to be pulled. A prime example has been school closures.
School closures were, and remain, a common intervention since the initial spread of COVID-
19. While the exact scale is still unfolding, UNESCO reports that over 140 countries and two-
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thirds of all students globally have been impacted (see: https://en.unesco.org/covid19/
educationresponse) and the OECD (2020) notes that some 1.6 billion children have been
directly affected. In Australia, the Catholic and independent schools sectors were able to close
in response to the initial outbreaks (with the most common action starting school holidays a
week early) whereas public schools were forced to remain open. The intimate relations
between schooling and the economy were emphasised with calls for schools to remain open
to allow parents to continue working. The federal intervention here was to threaten
withdrawal of funding for Catholic systemic and independent schools if they did not re-open.
This re-opening was for the most part through the provision of remote learning, with students
learning from home with content delivered via online platforms (e.g. Microsoft Teams) and/or
printed packages and phone calls.
Throughout the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the handling and messaging
resulted in public perception of state/territory governments growing in esteem compared
with the Federal Government (Wilson, Pallant, Bednall & Gray 2020). However, school
closures demonstrate how the financial power and policy reach of the Federal Government
has expanded in apparently irreversible fashion despite its constitutional responsibility
(Feena 2018). The Prime Minister and particularly the Federal Education Minister were
publicly critical of state governments closing public schools. The latter even had to publicly
apologise for critical remarks made about one state government’s decision to close public
schools as he had over-stepped on constitutional responsibility (No author, Federal education
minister Dan Tehan apologises for 'overstepping the mark' in schools closure criticism of
Victoria, The Guardian, May 5, 2020). Due to the idiosyncratic funding nature of Australian
school education, the Federal Government encouraged independent and religious schools to
re-open earlier than they had planned in exchange for an advance on $3 billion of already
committed funding. National statements such as the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Declaration
(Australian Government [Department of Education] 2019) and reform agendas such as the
Gonski Report (Gonski et al. 2018) are potentially compromised by the urgency of decision
making required by the pandemic and the fiscal powers of the Federal Government to pull
policy levers on different sectors to different degrees. What the COVID-19 pandemic has
brought to the fore is the complex tensions arising from the demarcation of responsibilities
for education across three systems and the six states/two territories, complicated by different
political persuasions.
The Autonomy of Schools and/or School Systems
The capability of independent schools and the Catholic system to close schools at a time when
the Federal Government was stating that schools are safe introduces questions about the
autonomy to enact such a decision. Australia has been a leading advocate of self-managing
schools through the work of Caldwell and colleagues (e.g. Caldwell & Spinks 1992), but also
home to some of its most vocal critics (e.g. Smyth 2008). This long and contested history
(MacDonald et al. 2020) has raised concerns for social justice (e.g. Keddie, MacDonald,
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9
Blackmore, Wilkinson et al. 2020) given the increasingly marketised context within which
school ‘autonomy’ operates (e.g. Keddie, Macdonald, Blackmore, Eacott et al. 2020). Despite
this, autonomy-based reforms have remained persuasive in policy and education discourse
in their association with improving school outcomes.
Across all major international (e.g. PISA, TIMSS) and national (e.g. NAPLAN) testing
regimes, Australia’s performance is at best stagnant and in all likelihood, declining (e.g.
Thomson, De Bortoli, Underwood & Schmid 2019). Increases in school level autonomy over
the past few decades have coincided with increasing administrative workload for school
leaders (Heffernan & Pierpoint 2020), less time for teaching and learning related matters
(Thomson & Hillman 2019), and heightened stress and well-being concerns (Riley, See, Marsh
& Dicke 2020). The pandemic has forced further administrative burdens and responsibility
on school level educators as they reacted to fast changing situations to best protect staff,
students and the community from the virus. The decisions (e.g. to close or remain open even
shifting to remote learning) have highlighted what schools have autonomy over (or not) and
provide evidence for whom schools serve. During the pandemic’s first wave in Australia,
only public schools have been seen as serving the public interest (Wilson et al. 2020).
Australia has a very divisive school sector with battle lines often based on sectors public,
independent, Catholic (Eacott 2019). Major reviews such as Gonski (Gonski et al. 2018) have
sought to introduce sector blind funding arrangements that are based on measures of
(dis)advantage. These have however proven politically difficult to implement and currently
growth in funding for the independent and Catholic sectors is out-pacing those to public
schools (Chrysanthos & Carey, Growth in money for private school students outstrips public
schools, Sydney Morning Herald, June 30, 2020). This funding distribution is part of a much
larger social policy move playing out in schools through what Cranston, Kimber, Mulford,
Reid and Keating (2010) describe as a shift from the public to private purposes of schooling
(see also Smyth 2008). What the pandemic has done is to amplify these issues. Therefore,
resulting from the class-based stratification of school systems (where access to different
sectors is limited by the fiscal capacity of families to pay) means that education cannot escape
issues of equity.
The Equitable Distribution of Quality Education
Policy decisions during the pandemic have required a careful balancing of choices and
implications across health, economic, social and education measures. No decision has been
made without consequences for a significant portion of the population (e.g. the double
burden of woman having to assume learning support roles for children at home while
sustaining usual roles, therefore exacerbating existing gendered inequalities). What the
pandemic has done is expose the many inequities in our education systems. These inequities
have been widely recognised (e.g. Gonski et al. 2018; Halsey 2018; OECD 2016), with UNICEF
(2018) noting Australia is one of the most unequal countries at the primary and secondary
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levels reflected in a long performance tail and a strong correlation between social
(dis)advantage and outcomes. School closures have brought these inequities to the fore. Some
groups have sought to quantify the impact of school closures on students’ learning, with the
greatest impact on the most disadvantaged (e.g. Joseph & Fahey 2020), and the Prime Minister
publicly argued that schools need to open to prevent children from falling behind while also
freeing parents up to restart workforce participation. Two matters brought to the fore through
COVID-19, and particularly school closures, are the inequitable distribution of resources to
support learning and the acceptance of variable quality experiences for different groups.
In shifting from face-to-face instruction to remote learning, significant pressures were moved
to families to provide the necessary resources for learning. Apart from the time and capacity
to assist children with their learning, the pandemic amplified the digital divide in Australia.
Based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data, 86 percent of Australian households have access
to the internet. The distribution is however not even across all social groups, with 33 percent
among the lowest income households not having access to the internet at home. While some
schools/systems sought to loan laptop computers or iPads to families, the additional costs
associated with devices, electricity, internet access and data charges combined with
availability to assist students at home, means that the pandemic has exposed many of the
enduring inequities in our school systems.
Not surprisingly, many of the calls to re-open schools (mindful that public schools never shut)
centred on equity. The key claim was that by not physically attending school, students were
having their education compromised. For a number of the reasons previously cited, this
compromise was felt greatest by already disadvantaged groups. At the same time, these calls
highlighted existing complicity with inequities. The Halsey Report (Halsey 2018), among
many others, draws attention to the inequities of Australian schooling based on location
notably regional, rural and remote education. For those in many rural and remote
communities, distance and online learning is the only way to access education and this has
been achieved for some 100 years (e.g. Downes & Roberts 2015). If the claim is made that it is
a deficit way of educating, what does this show about our acceptance of it for rural and remote
students (Downes & Roberts 2020)? Therefore, while the pandemic has created challenges for
educators, it has illuminated a number of the significant issues of education that have
remained somewhat obscured for many.
Conclusion
Since the initial outbreak and subsequent international spread of COVID-19, many
researchers, edu-preneurs and consultants have sought to capitalise on the opportunity by
appropriating their work and linking it to the pandemic. Various models, adjectival
approaches, or products have been advocated as the solution to the problems created by the
pandemic and/or the best path forward. In this paper we have adopted a different approach.
Finding stimulus in Anderson’s (2009) call for problem posers not problem solvers, rather
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than try and provide simple solutions (often mirroring those advocated prior to the
pandemic), we have explicitly articulated some of the issues that the pandemic has amplified
at least in Australia, but arguably elsewhere (see Figure 1). In particular, we have raised
issues of the politics of schooling (including relations to levels of government), the autonomy
of schools and systems to respond, and the inequities of access and resources. If any ‘new’
form of schooling is possible post-pandemic, then confronting the challenges of education is
arguably the only path. The insights provided in this paper, and the questions we raise, are
one step in engaging in a conversation about the problems and possibilities of education. This
is however not a one off, or individual endeavour. To that end, this is an ongoing project
which we hope you will join.
Figure 1: Reflective Questions Raised by COVID-19 Pandemic for School/System Leaders
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Author Details
Scott Eacott
School of Education
UNSW Sydney
Email: s.eacott@unsw.edu.au
Katrina MacDonald
School of Education
Deakin University
Email: katrina.macdonald@deakin.edu.au
Amanda Keddie
Research for Educational Impact (REDI)
Deakin University’s Strategic Research Centre in Education
Email: amanda.keddie@deakin.edu.au
Jill Blackmore
Research for Educational Impact (REDI)
Deakin University’s Strategic Research Centre in Education
Email: jillian.blackmore@deakin.edu.au
Jane Wilkinson
Faculty of Education
Monash University
Email: jane.wilkinson@monash.edu
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ISEAVolume 48, Number 3, 2020
Richard Niesche
School of Education
UNSW Sydney
Email: r.niesche@unsw.edu.au
Brad Gobby
School of Education
Curtin University
Email: brad.gobby@curtin.edu.au
Irene Fernandez
Faculty of Education
Monash University
Email: irene.fernandez1@monash.edu
... During the COVID-19 pandemic, scholars have quickly published conceptual and informative articles to guide educational leaders, policymakers, and other researchers on navigating the threats specific to this context. In this case, scholars have discussed tensions between school autonomy and levels of government (Eacott et al., 2020), the roles of leaders and teachers (Kidson et al., 2020;Pollock, 2020), emergency response plans (Moyi, 2020), costs for online learning (Iyiomo, 2020), technology infrastructure (Ahmed et al., 2020), inequities for special education students (Nelson and Murakami, 2020), and the value of communal caring (Stasel, 2020). These topics are examples of issues or tasks germane to crisis leadership that has manifested during COVID-19. ...
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Offline Distance Education (Already Happening All Around Australia) Can Be Highly Successful
  • N Downes
  • P Roberts
Downes, N., & Roberts, P. (2020). Offline Distance Education (Already Happening All Around Australia) Can Be Highly Successful, 4 May (retrieved from https://www.aare.edu.au/blog/?p=5473).