Monday, November 08, 2010

Independent Public Schools

There is a growing trend in the western world for the provision of independent state schools. To me, that sounds like an oxymoron – how can they be independent if they are paid for by the state? But then I remembered that here in Australia private schools allegedly receive more funding per student than state schools, which means that private education is paid for by taxpayers as much as it is by the parents of private school students. Unlike state schools, however, private schools are able to manage the schools the way they want, and this includes determining how they deliver the curriculum. Some are even able to write their own curricula. And that’s the thrust behind the creation of independent state schools.

Since the early 1990s I’ve watched the debate about giving state schools greater autonomy with some interest. On the one hand it places greater responsibility on school councils which have positions usually filled by volunteer parents of varying management experiences and abilities. This generally translates into areas with a wealthier and/or tertiary educated parent body managing quite well, whereas schools in financially depressed suburbs or towns find it a struggle to get ahead. Even though we home educated, the health and prosperity of a community is related to quality of education available.

In the UK, the new ‘free school’ template allows schools set their own curriculum and control admissions, as well as selecting staff. The UK model was inspired by the charter school movement in the USA, where more than one million children are educated. In Australia, Western Australia moved to implement independent public schools with over 30 schools trialing the concept throughout 2010, giving principals greater control over staffing and budgets.

Research from the USA on the charter school movement offers mixed results: good for students in lower socio-economic areas because of better quality teaching, but with some in other areas schools underperforming compared to their state or private counterparts. The ability of private and independent state or public schools to pay teachers more may eventually impact on the availability of quality teachers in the public education system.

What is obvious from the movement is that governments are beginning to investigate different approaches to delivering quality education to children and young people. Home education should be one of the options in the mix. Sadly it is still overlooked. Although recognised as a viable alternative to school based education there is no official recognition and thus no funding provision. Home educators need to keep pressuring their local member of parliament, both state or territory and federal to put home education on the education funding agenda.

© Beverley Paine

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