Saturday, August 15, 2009

Independent Public Schools

There is a lot of talk in the papers about independent public schools in WA. Independent public schools would be given increased independence from DET and the ability to manage their own affairs.

This could be a wonderful thing:
  • Schools given ability to hire and fire staff on a needs basis
  • Schools better able to pay according to need within the school
  • Schools able to seek maintenance independent of bureacracy
  • Schools able to advertise based on strengths of school to attract students
  • Schools better able to remove difficult students, bullying decreases
  • Schools results gain on independent school sector

so on and so forth but ..

Schools become semi-autonomous Qwangos.. organisations that are paid for by government but that government is not directly responsible for. Typically these organisations start out well and then have their funding squeezed (typically by inflation) until they are inoperable. A very nice political manouver that brings about an expensive government rescue in a few years time..

So let's make some predictions about what happens when wholesale efficiencies are lost (such as staffing, maintenance, curriculum and payroll) and these roles are now paid for by schools with existing budgets.

  • less FTE available for face-to-face teachers due to increased administrative requirements
  • class sizes increase or time in class trade offs occur (see current private sector)
  • lower availability of relief and PD
  • fewer subjects available for students (especially where high teacher:student ratios are required)
  • increased reliance on "online learning"/SIDE
  • staff bullying increases ("managed exits" becomes a common euphemism)
  • non-independent public schools are saddled with students unable to exist in independent public schools; rather than shared across all schools (non-independent public schools become safety net for disaffected youth)
  • capable teachers move to independent public school sector
  • schools exceed budget and seek emergency funding in term four
  • inflation erodes school budget
  • increased audit requirements
  • increased pressure on parents and corporate sector to fund public schools with non tax dollars
  • hiring in regional areas becomes more difficult (non-centralised staffing)
  • schools expected to perform as businesses but run by administrators

DET is less than perfect, but asking schools to do more with less may not be the answer. If we know the issues upfront maybe we can sidestep most of them and initiate change within DET bureaucracy rather than creating larger administrative teams in schools!


  1. HI
    I teach in an affluent area and am the only coloured teacher- things have been tuff but with the introduction of the Public Independent school I am sure that my job at this school will go to one of the Principal's prefferred cronies and will have to take a referred transfer whether I wish to or not after having worked at several hard to place school for most of my teaching career.
    Teacher from the Southern suburbs of Perth

  2. Your job should go to someone else on the grounds that you spelt tough as "tuff".

  3. Hi
    I am also the only coloured teacher in my school and most of the staff have never sat or talked with me in the eight years I have been there and like the previous teacher I can see things only get worse if the school becomes an Independent Public School. Again, I know that the Principal will surely choose more croonies as soon as he gets the chance.
    No matter what you say Racial discrimination is still taking place in schools.
    A teacher from the Southern suburbs of Perth.

  4. It is a real concern attached to IPS that "it's who you know" will become the norm, as it is to a large extent in the private system.

    Finding an environment with the right dynamics will become more important and sadly for many, union membership will become a real necessity. I really feel sorry for the teachers in regional areas that will become stuck and find it difficult to regain access to Perth.

    I would suggest that personality discrimination will be more common than race discrimination - the want for type A teachers, rather than a mixture of disciplinarians, carers, academics etc, leads to a poorer experience for our students.

    1. What happens, is when any system is abused by the people who run it, as in "who you know " rather than "what you know" then people just leave the employment. Then you have the shortage problem , and you get the principals who worry more about a budget than teaching.

  5. At a recent "parent information evening" at our children's Primary School the Principal showed a slide series including one that mentioned funding for an extra management position, for each IPS. A figure of $50,000 was indicated.

    With 700+ Public Schools in WA, that represents some $35 million of recurrent funding that could be better spent on educational resources - in the classroom. No?

  6. An extra administration position in each school??!!??

    I imagine that the intent is to remove silver city staff and employ replacements within schools (for no net cost). I would love to know if the cost of silver city has been reduced by enough to cover the new school administration costs.

    If you really think about it, decentralisation should cost more (as economies of scale are lost) so a multiple of 1.5x to 2x should be applied to schools for every centralised staff lost to maintain current levels of service.

    The effect on the classroom of lost deputy and principal time covering gaps in school administration should not be underestimated . Staff monitoring, planning and behavioural assistance is put back onto classroom teachers as balancing budgets, staffing profiles and compliance becomes priorities.

    I'm no fan of bureaucracies but decentralisation is no panacea either! I suppose we have to be mindful of the issues to sidestep them.

  7. Yes, one member of the audience (who, it was stated, had inside knowledge because her husband was somehow involved in Silver City) also remarked on the "no nett cost" aspect.

    So... with 700+ Public Schools and a no nett cost approach, Silver City has (the equivalent of) 700 management positions to cull!!??!!

    P&Cs' fundraising (i.e. after-tax dollars) is then having to be used for things like classroom airconditioning.

    Not to mention the other benefits that the $35million per annum could yield up to our students.


    So why not do a half-way house approach?
    Hire a management-type for a group of schools in one geographial area. Say five to ten schools per manager? Same "benefits" of IPS without the excessive recurrent cost.

  8. Airconditioning is another area where public schools have difficulty competing with private schools. Anyone currently having 30 high school bodies in rooms 35+ (especially after PE) for extended periods knows that it is a sub optimal learning environment.

    The geographical approach is being attempted in different areas - but mainly with shared subject offerings (not shared admin services). I raised (tongue in cheek) that it would be interesting if two schools were run by roving principal and deputies between two schools (with different start times and extended days) creating extra FTE in each for classrooms. Needless to say it wasn't half as popular as busing students and teachers between schools :-)

  9. I have just been made a referred teacher from a newly appointed independent public school. The last gave me hard time coming back from maternity leave and so when it became IPS I put in for the transfer. I have left a exptremely toxic environment. The principal re-profiled positions, axed the deputy principal and is encouraged existed staff to leave. She favours the young new people who have only been teaching a couple of years. They were treated like gold while us experienced teachers were treated like "rubbish". The work place bullying is still going on there so I believe. I have now been transfered to another which I like but unfortunately that is they have applied for IPS as well. I'm just going to have to keep moving until I find a school which won't become IPS. I can't see how this is going improve quality education in the public sector when schools are expected to budget on a certain amount of money. That is probably why they will hire teachers (new grads) that they can pay less. Like most teachers, I have done my time in the country and in tough schools. I am an "X" generation child and I feel like the "Y" generation teachers are going to gain all benefits by not having to work in the country and in difficult to staff schools
    They will get the jobs in the leafy green schools.

  10. IPS schools face a real dillemma. Autonomy is a two edged sword - there is a freedom to implement strategies previously dependent on head office (such as staffing) but with freedom comes the potential for abuse. As a gen X'er myself, I find your statement concerning as experience is always needed to balance the enthusiasm brought by young staff. I share your concern about hiring less experienced staff being cheaper, where funding moves from FTE basis to dollars, a balance will need to be found in schools top heavy with experienced staff.

    Without controls from head office, there is no reason to take country postings. Staff that have taken them on the proviso of permanency, need to be careful that this does not become a tradeoff for establishing IPS schools. It is a question for union leadership, as it is a collective bargaining position.

    Unless a purpose is found for non IPS schools, sadly we will all become IPS shortly or without additional funding non IPS schools will become the bottom tier of WA education.


Hi, thanks for leaving a comment.. it's good to hear what people think!