2 October 2010

The Kennett public school closures of the 1990’s (remember the battle for Richmond?) and the sale of prime public lands to sectarian schools and developers now means a chronic dearth of public school places in Melbourne. The Age of 20 October 2010 revealed these shortages in the inner northern region of Melbourne. However, the Press have not yet revealed the dearth of public school facilities in the newly developing areas of Melbourne where the sectarian, private sector, for example, have duplicated their own facilities. But the choice of a public education is not yet available to large numbers of young families in the heavily mortgaged McMansions of outer Melbourne.

In Mernda for example, there is a small public primary school in the old suburb, a brand new Catholic primary school in the new development across the road, Ivanhoe Grammar and Acacia College, and the Plenty Valley Christian School for those who can pay and pass religious tests. And now a Muslim Shia (as opposed to Sunni or Druse) school is planned in a heritage building, an old State school abandoned by the Education Department in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, out in the country areas, with the closure of many little bush schools, cash strapped Victorian farmers have the choice of home schooling or hours of travel on dangerous roads to the nearest public school. You don’t find too many sectarian schools in these ‘uneconomic’ areas.

What price choice? What price the education of the nation’s children?

The Victorian Labor Party in general, and the Minister for Education, Bronwyn Pike in particular, will discover widespread disaffection of members of the radical middle class in inner Melbourne in the State election.

No matter how loud the insecure middle class demands for “choice”; no matter how many times politicians want to preach “transparency and accountability” and beat students, teachers, principals and their schools with the NAPLAN stick; funding remains the key determinant of quality educational provision.

The sectarian school lobby knows this only too well.

Our Labor and Coalition politicians have caved in to middle class self-interest, a nasty pill coated with religious hypocrisy served up to taxpayers and children of low income families. Our Green politicians are happy to receive the public school vote, but speak with uncertain voice. Although the Australian Education Union has been strong in its support of public funding for public education, only the New South Wales Teachers Federation is prepared to do something really constructive about the current situation. As their Deputy President, Gary Zadkovich, writes in the August edition of Education,

Equal opportunity for all children, regardless of one’s circumstances of birth, needs and abilities, socio-economic status, religion, race, class and gender, is surely an ideal by which the betterment of mankind is measured.

They are concerned about the future of the Schools Funding Review, although DOGS have no illusions about the outcome of a panel that is stacked with private school free market ideologues and a report determined by inadequate terms of reference. The Teachers Federation urges public school parents, teachers and principals to work to ensure that the call for a new, fairer system becomes politically irresistible in the lead in to the next federal election.

Meanwhile, on August 14, Federation Council endorsed a proposal to investigate the commissioning of an independently conducted review, should the federal government review not proceed. This would be conducted in a similar vein to the successful Inquiry into the Provision of Public Education in NSW, conducted by Tony Vinson in 2001-2.

DOGS wish them well in their effort to mobilize public opinion in favour of a new, fairer funding system.

 However, DOGS also note that a fairer funding system will only be possible when the heavily funded sectarian sector is taken over and made public in purpose, public in outcome, public in access – with no entrance tests for students, staff, or administrators – public in ownership and control, public in accountability and therefore enjoying sole public funding. It should also be public in provision, with governments taking responsibility for a high quality education of every child in the nation. It is national suicide to contract this essential provision out to religious organisations with a vested interest in peculiar beliefs and tribal loyalties.

Germany, Finland, France, America and other nations do not make this mistake. Even the UK is demanding public enrolment with no religious tests in British ‘faith’ schools. Australia learnt this basic lesson for nation building in the years 1880 to 1964. Do we, our children and our children’s children have to learn the lesson all over again – the hard way?



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