IPS: another Chandler initiative with no evidence base

The signature education reform of Peter Chandler and the CLP Government is a dud.

At a recent election forum hosted by parent representative body COGSO, Education Minister Peter Chandler declared that all the reforms his government had made to education were underpinned by “science” and “evidence”.

When pressed, he states that his central reform was the introduction of increased autonomy for schools, in particular the Independent Public Schools initiative. Thirteen schools have become an IPS to date.

Chandler characterises these schools as being superior in quality to non-IPS schools within the public system: “These schools have opted to accept more accountability for delivering their services and are now operating with increased autonomy, including making local decisions in areas such as staff recruitment and selection. They are leading at the front edge of our public education system,” he said in a recent media release.

However, there is no evidence to support his assertion that IPS schools are superior to regular public schools, and most education ministers have caught on. As AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe stated last year, “Independent Public Schools have been rejected by most States and Territories because they recognise there is no evidence that introducing a two-tier public school system will lead to better results for students.

“NSW, Victoria, SA, Tasmania and the ACT have all accepted money from the [federal government] IPS fund but will not create a single Independent Public School.”

The only state that has taken up the IPS model with gusto is Western Australia, and a recent parliamentary report into the WA system was extremely critical [PDF link]. An ABC online report summarised its key findings as follows:

“The IPS initiative has exacerbated existing inequalities in the public education system, both perceived and actual, reinforcing a ‘two‐tiered system’,” the committee found in its report.

This meant that “more capable schools receive more benefits, and less capable schools fall further behind. Remote and hard-to-staff schools are particularly disadvantaged as a result”.

It found that while IPS schools “benefitted by being able to recruit the best teachers” this came at the expense of non-IPS schools, which were then forced to accept teachers rejected by independent schools “who are less suitable for the school environment and have less experience”.

Principals of IPS schools are given more targeted professional training opportunities than others, but the administrative burden imposed means they have less time for leadership responsibilities, the report said.

“The resultant effect is that high‐performing schools will continue to improve while lower-performing schools become residualised,” the report found.

It also found there was insufficient independent oversight of the system, since IPS schools were expected to assess and monitor themselves.

The AEU affiliate in Western Australia, SSTUWA, welcomed the findings of the parliamentary review. In a media release, SSTUWA President Pat Byrne said the union was not surprised the Health and Education Standing Committee found there was no evidence that the IPS model had in any way improved student outcomes.

“Improving student outcomes should be the main focus of any education reform. “However, the main outcome of the shift to autonomy for IPS has been to dramatically increase the workload and administrative burden on school leaders and other staff, which the Committee’s report acknowledged.

“The devolution model has significantly reduced central support including crucial professional support for Principals and teaching staff and replaced this with onerous compliance processes which actually get in the way of quality teaching and learning.

“This has occurred in an environment of savage cuts to many school budgets.

“Principals have repeatedly told us that the flexibility to determine how school budgets are used is less important than the amount of funding itself.

“Financial resources are the most critical factor in ensuring schools can deliver effective education programs through the provision of quality professional learning for teaching staff.”

Ms Byrne said the union was pleased that the Committee recommended the Department of Education change its policy so that both IPS and non-IP Schools had the same responsibilities when it came to accepting permanent employees requiring placement.

Currently, non-IP Schools are forced to hire teachers from the central staffing pool, while IPS are not.

The SSTUWA has been in dispute with the Department over this matter, and called on the State Government to immediately implement the Committee’s recommendation.

“IPS have the ability to refuse to accept teachers who are seeking to move to new schools, from the country to the city, for example, as well as those whose positions have been abolished through “reprofiling” within the school, or those who have been on workers’ compensation or long term parental leave who need to be placed,” said Ms Byrne.

“This ability for IPS to refuse to accept these teachers has a detrimental effect on the individuals themselves and also on the dwindling number of schools who have no choice and are sometimes directed to take teachers without suitable subject qualifications or experience.

“There is no equity in this particular policy, which undermines the commitment to equitable provision of quality education across the state.”

Ms Byrne said the union also agreed with the Committee’s finding that IP Schools had created a two-tier education system in WA which unfairly disadvantaged non-IP Schools.

“The State Government’s championing of the IPS model has resulted in a community perception that these schools are elite, when the reality is that all schools are operating in the same public education system and should be treated according to the needs of their students.”

Given the vast educational divide that already exists in the NT, the AEU NT is extremely concerned about any policies or measures that would further exacerbate divisions within the public education system.

Thirteen NT public schools operate as IPS, including all senior secondary schools in Darwin and Palmerston. These schools have no obligation to accept transferees from other schools, such as teachers who qualify for a remote incentive transfer.

The union has written to the Department seeking more information about the impact of exempting Independent Public Schools from accepting transferees on staff movement and selection.