Fighting for Equity in Education

The struggle is long but hope is longer

More Deceit by Pyne on Independent Public Schools

Wednesday February 5, 2014

Christopher Pyne’s deceit about the research evidence on the impact of independent public schools on student achievement has been further exposed by an academic from Melbourne University and by the Grattan Institute.

Pyne claims that:

The more autonomous a school, the better the outcomes for students. This is because the more a principal and his or her leadership team have control over the destiny of their own school, the more that seems to lift the school performance.

In an article in The Conversation, Glenn Savage, Lecturer in Education Policy at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education in the University of Melbourne, said that Pyne’s claim is based on “a range of cherry picked quotes from a diverse range of reports to argue that school autonomy positively influences student performance”. They included the following reference to the OECD’s 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data:

PISA 2009 finds that: In countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better.

Savage said that this is a very misleading use of the OECD’s data, as the quote refers specifically to the relationship between student performance and curricular autonomy. Independent public schools will have very little autonomy over what is taught, as all Australian schools are now required to deliver the national curriculum in core subjects. Instead, independent public schools will have more autonomy over budgeting and staffing matters.

Savage pointed out that when it comes to autonomy over operational matters such as staff hiring and budget allocations, the same OECD document to which Pyne referred states, “there is no clear relationship between autonomy in resource allocation and performance at the country level”. In other words, the OECD’s data provides little basis upon which to claim that the form of school autonomy promoted by independent public schools will have any impact on student performance.

Pyne also claimed that the Grattan Institute has supported independent public schools. However, this was contradicted by the director of school education at the Grattan Institute, Ben Jensen. He said:

If you just look at autonomy, the evidence on school improvement is, at best, very mixed. Victoria has gone very far down the autonomous path – it was one of the first in the world to do so – while NSW has had a very centralised system and they have, essentially, the same results.

Pyne is now thoroughly exposed as a serial deceiver on the evidence about school autonomy. Many overseas and Australian studies show that school autonomy in budgeting and staffing has little to no effect on student achievement. Pyne continues to ignore this evidence in what can only be seen as an ideological mission to impose more autonomy on government schools.

Trevor Cobbold

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