Education policy and funding in the federal system

I’ve read a couple of articles this week about proposals to introduce a Victorian Baccalaureate and an Australian Baccalaureate, as an alternative to the exam-focused VCE Certificate and interstate equivalents. In Victoria, and I believe in most other states, the International Baccalaureate is already offered, though usually only by the top, most exclusive private schools (of course in metro areas). There was also an opinion piece by Brian Caldwell in support of the Victorian proposal. These baccalaureates would be more focused on longer, thesis assessments and include an element of public service.

Caldwell highlighted the history of Victoria’s innovation in education, comparative to the rest of Australia particularly, citing Kennett in particular. He also focused on what I found most striking about The Age article I referred to earlier – that Martin Dixon, Victorian Education Minister, said the Victorian Government would not wait around for the Australian Government to enact reforms. Anyone who follows education reform would know how slowly the Australian Government moves on such matters. The current model of federalism in Australia leaves a lot of responsibility with state governments to run the educations systems – I believe this is good. This has led to innovation and differentiation between states and has allowed localised solutions to be found for local problems. However, the funding still comes from the Australian Government, and the cumbersome bureaucracy this brings leads to stifling innovation and a very slow, reactive approach. I am sure that this two-tiered system of double bureaucracy for the one system also leads to a lot of education funding actually being bureaucrat salary – particularly at the Commonwealth level which doesn’t provide direct education services itself.

I’m not advocating, as many current Republican presidential nominees would, to completely abolish the Commonwealth Education Department, however it’s clear from the history of education provision in Australia that the real innovation and reform of service delivery comes from the states. Victoria has the most efficient primary and secondary education systems, and (I can’t remember this reference as I read it a few years ago) studies have shown that it’s the empowerment of local schools to decide how their funding is spent which has driven this efficiency and good outcomes, comparative to other states in Australia. A Commonwealth bureaucracy telling states how to spend their money, instituting national curricula and creating uniform national systems flies in the face of such evidence for localising the system and allowing local experts to make decisions which suit the local community best.


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