The Barnett Government released to the community its intention to introduce the Independent Public Schools Program into the Government Schools’ System on 12 August 2009. This was the Barnett Government’s implementation of proposals in its pre-election policy paper Empowering Local Communities.
The SSTUWA was extremely dispappointed with the announcement. The direction of the program which appears to be intent on splintering the government school sytem is a major concern to the Union both with regard to the provision of quality education for all students as well as the possible impact on our members’ working conditions. We are further concerned that the consultation assured to the Union Executive early in the year by the Minister for Education Dr Liz Constable was in no way forthcoming.
On announcing the IPS program, school communities were then provided with a mere 19 days to consult and consider if they would put in an application. It is evident that the requirement to assure that there was ‘broad community support’ for the application is questionable in some school communities. It could be argued that there was no explicit guide to how this should be evidenced.
I sit on the DET IPS Working Group along with a number of other groups including WACSSSO. WACSSO is represented by your President Mr Robert Fry. I will be encouraging the group, chaired by the Director General, to ensure clearer expectations are set in place with regard to consultation for any further application processes and trust WACSSO will support such a request.
DET & UNION UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE WESTERN AUSTRALIAN INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS COMMISSION [WAIRC]
The Union is also engaged with DET on the DET-SSTU IPS Reference Group. This group has arisen out of a dispute the Union raised in the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission [WAIRC]. This group is enabling the parties to raise concerns and issues about directions being taken in the IPS which may contravene various Agreements or legislation.
A couple of areas we have concerns with include:
 The capacity of an IPS to ‘opt out’ of a policy. We are asking DET to draw up a list of policies which may be ‘opted out of’ and a list which cannot be ‘opted out of’. We need to have mechanisms in place for the IPS to notify the Union of changes and the IPS will need to put in place measures to advise relief teachers and short term placement staff of any policies which are different to the main schooling system; and
 The need to clarify the powers of School Councils, to advise if any legislative changes are required and to identify what are the liabilities to which members of a school council maybe subject.
UNION POSITION RE INDEPENDENT PUBLIC SCHOOLS [A PERSPECTIVE]
It is evident that the Barnett Government has the intention to expand the IPS program. The IPS program reflects an ideology driven by “choice”. Just in the name one reads inferences which play to the insecurities of a community which does not have strong messaging from government that public provision of education is valued and valuable, that it will fully and appropriately resource education delivery in government schools.
The Union makes it clear that it will continue to take a position opposing the introduction and expansion of the IPS program. At the same time Union commits to supporting and working with members in the nominated schools.
The Union’s positioning against the creation of a “system within a system” is not a knee jerk response. It is a well thought out and principled position. It is a position based on a view that the Western Australia community must continue to have provided a quality public education system. It is based on the clear evidence from international experience and research that the splitting off of schools from within the system, commonly known as Charter Schools, does not at the end of the day benefit students and community objectives.
Broadly, the Union has concerns about the IPS program on two fronts:
• The equity and access impacts arising out of the establishment of a “system within the public education system”; and
• The potential risks in eroding of conditions in the current The School Education Act Employees’ (Teachers and Administrators) General Agreement 2008 and Teachers (Public Sector Primary and Secondary Award 1993. Many of these conditions of course impact directly on students e.g. class size maximums.
The Union continues to bring to the attention of the community and government that there is an element of ‘smoke & mirrors’ in how the program is being promoted. The notion that schools can cater to the needs of students and the local context – What do we do now? The notion that schools can select their own staff – That’s funny, I thought we had the option of local selection? The notion that we can shed unnecessary bureaucratic burdens – Well, we’ll all have some of that! And it goes on.
Key issues which have been identified to date include:
• What legislative changes will Government/DET need to put in place to enable independent decision making to occur in the IPS?
• What are the potential liabilities for members on school councils?
• School policies impact on students, how will proposals to change school policies be discussed with the school community?
• The consultation process was not clear in this round. How can clear and unambiguous guidelines be prepared for schools to ensure that the voices of parents and the staff are considered?
As time progresses, I will provide further updates for your consideration.