Big changes for NSW education

The big news over the weekend were the reforms announced by NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli linking teacher pay to professional standards and giving principals greater control of their school funding budget.  It’s been described as the ‘greatest revolution to hit NSW education in 50 years” and while I don’t wish to disagree with the intent here, I think we need to see this policy position as the next stage in an iterative process that has been underway for sometime.

The policy recognises what we already know about effective teaching and teachers.

In some ways, these reforms are moving closer to Finland’s model where for the past 20 years schools are autonomous and teachers have the authority to do what is needed to improve student learning.  Pasi Sahlberg, Finland’s Director General of Education said recently that this was one of the keys to their international success.

I think we have reached a general consensus that:

  1. The school community is where learning is improved
  2. Good teachers supported by instructional leaders influence student learning outcomes
  3. The industrial model of school will become irrelevant as we develop and promote professional learning communities
  4. We find new ways to recognise and reward teacher excellence by encouraging greater investment in professional learning
  5. Highly centralised systems stifle innovation

The government sector is able to draw upon examples from international and local education sector experience in moving towards a model where principals and teachers are given greater autonomy where it counts – in schools and learning spaces.

As Minister Piccoli said, the reforms will set “principals and teachers with great ideas free from the bureaucracy to try them.”

2 thoughts on “Big changes for NSW education

  1. I read some of the press coverage yesterday and today with a lot of interest, because of my history in the UK education system. A similar programme happened in the UK, and the percentage budget numbers looked pretty similar to start with – about 70% of budgets were devolved to schools. But in reality, that means that almost no effective budget is initially devolved, as typically 70-80% of a school budget is consumed by staff.

    I think the true discretionary budget of a conventional school is only about 5-6% of their total budget, because of the high fixed costs (staffing, energy, maintenance). So a small change in staffing can make a big difference to the money available (or not available) for projects, new investments in equipment and learning resources etc.

    The other thing I noted was that in the UK system the funding was passed down from the national government through local authorities. At the start, approximately 30% of the school budget was held back at the local authority level, but by publishing the statistics and make national comparisons across different areas, this eventually moved up to over 95% (and 99% in some areas), and the local authorities had to eventually ask their schools to ‘buy back in’ to their services – eg IT support, curriculum support, special needs support. In some cases this had a negative impact (if schools decided to try and do without some of those services), but overall the impact was that schools were able to choose their own mix of services, and not be forced to pay for services they didn’t need. And the hidden costs of central services (like HR, IT, facilities management) became a lot more transparent.

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