The New South Wales Liberal government said on March 11 that it planned to force schools to bear the responsibility for its latest funding cuts.
The government did not consult the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) before releasing the “Local Schools, Local Decisions” and “Empowering Local Schools” initiatives, which it claimed would deliver “autonomy” to local public schools.
In reality, the move is a smokescreen that forces public school principals to implement the government cuts of $250 million a year.
It aims to pass on responsibility for staffing and school maintenance from state and regional offices to local schools, and blame school principals for the inevitable problems that will arise.
In the US and Britain, this strategy has led to mass sackings of principals and teachers. In the US, it led to the introduction of private “Charter Schools” in the US.
Premier Barry O’Farrell’s attacks are motivated by slashing public sector spending rather than improving student learning outcomes. If implemented, O’Farrell’s cuts will make the recent Gonski review, which recommended a huge injection of government funding into public education, meaningless.
The O’Farrell government is slashing 5000 public service jobs and cutting spending on all government departments.
The NSW Department of Education and Communities plans to deliver its share of the cuts by dramatically raising teachers’ and principals’ workloads and forcing local schools to do the work of state and regional education offices.
O'Farrell's cuts threaten limits on class sizes, school equity programs, special education and specialist teachers and support staff. This will leave the most vulnerable and disadvantaged public school students at risk.
Teachers' working conditions, entitlements, permanency and security of employment, as well as service and compassionate transfers, are also in O’Farrell’s firing line.
In a document prepared by the NSWTF for its members, the union said: “Devolution is used by governments to de-fund public schools.”
The devolution agenda, which has had disastrous results in the US and Britain, has been developed over a long period by the NSW treasury. This was revealed in reports commissioned by the former NSW Labor government and prepared by Boston Consulting Group and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
NSWTF said: “The Boston Consulting Group report (29 January 2010) used Victoria as the benchmark for cuts, where they now spend 12% less per student than NSW. This equates with a cut of 7500 teachers and 1500 support staff.”
While in opposition, the Coalition ruled out implementing the Boston Consulting Group report. But O’Farrell is now implementing many of these cost-cutting strategies, including merging different schools and selling off lucrative school sites.
The government plans to relocate Gosford Public School and sell off the site, next to waterfront views and on prime real estate, to serve a commercial development.
This is despite a 10,000-strong petition against the plan, collected by the Gosford community.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers report said closing more than 100 schools, axeing 7500 teachers, selling surplus land and slashing spending on disadvantaged students would save the government millions.
The devolution agenda is not about improving student outcomes. Rather, the report said the government can save money by pushing more responsibility and accountability onto principals.
Alarmingly, the PricewaterhouseCoopers report said the selection process for principals is “heavily oriented towards educational leadership”. Instead, the government should put emphasis on “commercial and management capabilities”. That is, hire business managers, not educators.
Another of O’Farrell’s cost-cutting measures, used in Victoria to drive down staffing budgets, is to pressure principals to hire casuals rather than permanent teachers, and employ less-experienced teachers on lower pay to reduce local staffing costs.
O'Farrell's cost-cutting package also includes removing the nominated teacher transfer system, which now helps guarantee professionally trained teachers in difficult-to-staff areas of NSW, and the introduction of performance pay for teachers, which has no evidence of improved student learning outcomes.
The NSWTF said teachers should refuse to take part in the devolution process and withdraw any expression of interest in the “Empowering Local Schools” program.
The union has demanded the state government guarantee full funding, staffing and resources to public schools. This includes all costing and details of all policies and documentation that relate to the implementation of “Local Schools, Local Decisions”.