14 October 2010


The October 2010 issue of  Quadrant  Magazine is entitled ‘The Big State and the Servile Mind’. It contains two articles of interest of  to supporters of public education. These are The Case for Abolishing Government Schools by Michael Warby and The New Politics of Education by Alan Barcan.

The Quadrant magazine itself is edited by Keith Windschuttle and its editorial policy and articles generally represent an odd mixture of Roman Catholic style conservatism, Sydney libertarianism turned conservative, and neo-liberal ideology. It can be expected to be always anti-socialist unless common sense creeps into a search for reality. The early editions were subsidised by the CIA.

The first of the above mentioned articles, namely The Case for Abolishing Government Schools by Michael Warby is distinguished for the unsubstantiated propaganda on behalf of the ‘private is better than public’ ideology with no mention of the current funding structure which favours the private sector. It is symptomatic of the long-term goal of the sectarian system of education which peddles the catchcry of ‘choice’ when, for the majority, there is no choice.

The second article, The New Politics of Education by Alan Barcan is of more interest. Most of his factual material relates to the New South Wales Education Department and the Federal education bureaucracy. He owes a great deal to the research of the New South Wales Teachers Federation in recent decades.

He dislikes what he terms radical (neo-Marxist) sociological approaches to the curriculum, but charts the takeover of the New South Wales Education Department from above by politicians and those from the sectarian sector in detail.

The DOGS are particularly interested in this information. They have charted the same developments in the Victorian Department since the restructures of the early 1980’s. At no time have they ever been able to get a Director of Education to nail his colours to the mast of public education. This is symptomatic of the current risk-averse behaviour of departmental officials on short term contracts. They are busy looking over their shoulder at their political masters. So, given the political push and pull of sectarian interests, public school administrators are incapable of admitting any commitment to public education.

Alan Barcan’s analysis of what has happened at the upper echelons of the NSW State Education Department can be translated into administrations of public education in other State and federal jurisdictions. He writes:

A new type of administrator was being appointed as director-general. Under the old system, potential candidates were selected from the ranks of the teaching service by a prolonged process of filtration. Teachers of high ability could rise to the rank of school principal, then to inspectorial rank and thence to various administrative jobs, some in head office, where the fortunate few could aspire to the crown of director of education. …This selection process was slowly undermined after the role of inspectors was highly curtailed in the 1970s.

The last director-general appointed along recognisably traditional lines was Fenton Sharpe, in 1988. Even so, his occupancy was less secure than in the past; the public service was becoming politicised. As the historian Beverley Kingston puts it. ‘the dominant management theory asserted that management was management regardless of what was being managed; specialised expertise could be relegated somewhere far down the chain of command.’ This explains why some services began to lurch from crisis to crisis. In the past public servants had spent years in their professional area of expertise acquiring skills which could assist them. They had provided continuity despite political changes…. By 2003..the office of director-general had become a career stage for which teaching experience was no longer necessary. He was as much an assistant to the minister as leader of an educational bureaucracy. The post was the gift of the minister, but the occupant could resign from it to further his or her career elsewhere. Managerialism had a political as much as an educational character.

In passing, Barcan notes the collateral damage, administrators dedicated to the cause of public education made redundant or recycled in the managerial revolution of the last thirty years.

In his final section, Barcan has quoted from a Sydney journalist, Alex Mitchell. He placed politicisation of education into a broader context. ‘Patronage,’ he said, achieved art-form status’ under the New South Wales Labor Governments that followed Carr’s retirement in 2005.

But it is Barcan’s listing of the appointment of Catholic Education Directors as well as Ministers of Education in New South Wales that is of particular interest. He notes that this takeover from above came with Carr’s first Minister for Education, John Aquilina. He held office from 1995 to 2001.  Barcan notes:

Aquilina was the first of a series of Catholics to occupy the post. By the time of his appointment religious intensities had diminished. Aqulina was followed in November 2001 by John Watkins, another Catholic. Watkins gave way to Andrew Refshauge March 2003 to January 2005. Next came Carmel Tebbutt, the second woman and third Catholic to hold this office, from January 2005 till April 2007, when she resigned to spend more time with her family, This included her husband, the federal Minister Anthoyn Albanese. John Della Bosca, another Catholic received the ministerial baton in April 2007. He immediately replaced the incumbent director-general with one of his own choosing...when he was stood down while police investigated an altercation he and his wife had with staff at a Gosford nightclub, his portfolio passed to Verity Firth.

Verity Firth was a graduate of public schools, but neither she or any of the previous ministers had any knowledge of education and depended upon their directors-general. Unfortunately, under the new managerial ideology, most directors-general were also out of touch with education.

A similar analysis of the Victorian Education Department, its ‘managerial’ ideology, re-structures, power broking and political takeover is long overdue. It runs a close parallel to that of New South Wales, although even earlier than in New South Wales it was dominated at the top by men with private school affiliations. Director General Shears for example, sent his children to and was on the Council of a prominent Protestant school.

Public school supporters should note the commitment of those within the administrative structures to the traditional rival of public education. This would never be tolerated in a company or sporting organisation. Why should it be tolerated by the majority of citizens and taxpayers, the quiet majority who send their children and grandchildren to the public schools in this country?








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