A History of Opposing School Choice and School Autonomy Down-Under

Jan 2, 2016 by

(2015). The Australian Education Union: A History of Opposing School Choice and School Autonomy Down-Under. Journal of School Choice: Vol. 9, Collective Bargaining in Education, pp. 626-641. doi: 10.1080/15582159.2015.1079465

In this article, I chronicle the recent history of efforts to broaden school choice in the Commonwealth of Australia and the opposition to these efforts put forth by Australia’s largest teacher union, the Australian Education Union (AEU). Evidence is presented on the positive effects that flow from the public funding of nongovernment schools and of the perception held by principals that less external regulation improves school functions. In spite of this, the Union continues to oppose choice efforts. I conclude that, at least in Australia, the influence of the AEU has placed impediments in the way of increased school choice and autonomy. Readers in other countries may draw their own conclusions from these observations in Australia.

Similar to many overseas education systems, illustrated by Charter schools in the United States and Free schools in England, Australian government commitment at the Commonwealth, state, and territory level to school choice is represented by both public funding of nongovernment schools, including those which are faith based, and by programs which aim to give government controlled schools increased autonomy in an attempt to raise standards and better to reflect the needs and aspirations of their communities. Then Independent Public Schools initiative funded by the Commonwealth government, for example, has been justified by the argument that giving government schools greater autonomy in staffing, budgets, and curriculum focus will lead to improved outcomes (Australian Government, 2015).
While the major political parties (the left-of-center Australian Labor Party [ALP] and the more conservative Liberal and National parties [LNP]) support school choice, the major teacher union representing government school teachers, the Australian Education Union (AEU), has been opposed to governments funding nongovernment schools and to giving government controlled schools greater autonomy. The official ALP campaign policy (The Melbourne University, 2013a) taken to the 2013 federal election promised to give government schools greater freedom over staffing and budgets while the LNP policy (LNP, 2013) taken to the 2013 election also promised increased autonomy to government schools. The AEU, on the other hand, has been opposed to such policy initiatives (AEU, 2013).
The AEU couches its opposition to nongovernment schools in equity terms—financing such schools reduces funding to government schools and competition and choice in education are said to exacerbate disadvantage (AEU, 2013). The AEU has also announced opposition to recent initiatives like the Commonwealth Government’s Independent Public School program; a program designed to give government schools greater autonomy over budgets, staffing, and curriculum focus (AEU, 2013).

While the AEU argues that its opposition to school choice is based on sound philosophical and practical grounds; that, education should be free and secular and that not all parents can afford nongovernment school fees, I find that the reality proves otherwise. The AEU is a cultural-left organization and is affiliated with the Australian Council of Trade Unions. As argued by Ken Gannicott (Gannicott, 1997) the AEU’s primary goal is centered on self-interest as proven by its advocacy of centralized Enterprise Bargaining Agreements that stifle school autonomy and innovation and flexibility in education.

Source: The Australian Education Union: A History of Opposing School Choice and School Autonomy Down-Under – Journal of School Choice – Volume 9, Issue 4

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