Call to end 'empowered' experiment

No evidence devolution improves outcomes

Maurie Mulheron

Federation continues to receive daily reports of flaws, problems and shortfalls from schools involved in the former federal government’s Empowering Local Schools (ELS) policy, a radical experiment that was initiated through a National Partnership that no longer exists.

It should be remembered that the ELS experiment was announced as a political gimmick at a media conference in the midst of the 2010 federal election campaign. It was a rushed announcement without any consultation and in contradiction of OECD research that confirms devolved decision-making on staffing, budgets and resourcing does not improve student learning outcomes.

Some time later, the state government was looking for a vehicle to trial how work that was undertaken by public servants in the NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC), whose jobs were being lost, could be imposed upon schools. The ELS provided the state government with perfect cover and thus the 229 trial was invented. (It is sometimes referred to as the LMBR trial, named after the Learning Management Business Reform software that is designed to eventually lead to reductions in front office staff).

In essence, the 229 trial is the marriage of a federal election stunt and a state government jobs slashing agenda. It has little to do with replacing software and everything to do with replacing people.

Ken Dixon, the former DEC general manager of finance and administration, warned that the LMBR software program was being introduced to manage human resources, finance and payroll systems and was to take the place of 1600 administrative and support staff. He described the DEC job losses at the time as the “tip of the iceberg”, going on to say, “There were 1600 jobs factored into the business case.’’ (Sydney Morning Herald, September 12, 2012)

In light of reports from the public schools involved in ELS and the OECD Education Policy Outlook 2015 report that found only one in 10 major education policy changes by government and/or education employers has ever been evaluated, Federation is calling for an end to this experiment and its evaluation by independent education experts.

Federation wrote to the Department to request such an evaluation, proposing that the terms of reference should address factors such as:

  • student learning outcomes
  • student enrolments
  • school organisation, including class sizes
  • classroom teaching and learning practices
  • physical teaching and learning environment
  • school staffing, including teacher staffing entitlements, permanency, promotion, transfer
  • staff working conditions
  • school budget and resources
  • workload, wellbeing and morale of principal and staff
  • effects on other public schools
  • relationships with parents/local community.

The Department’s response offered discussions on the matter but no commitment to undertake an evaluation of the above factors as they pertain to the public schools involved in the trial.

Aware that NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli has stated that educational change should be underpinned by evidence-based research, and that he has chosen not to implement the Independent Public Schools policy because there is no evidence it improves student results, Federation will continue to press for an end to ELS and an independent evaluation.