Bloomsbury Education and Childhood Studies-Government, Policy and the Role of the State in Primary Education (Aus
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Government, Policy and the Role of the State in Primary Education (Australia)

Government, Policy and the Role of the State in Primary Education (Australia)
by Emma Rowe

Emma Rowe is a lecturer in education at Deakin University, Australia . Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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DOI: 10.5040/9781474209434.0021

  • Editor(s):
    Laura Perry (Regional Editor), Maria Teresa Tatto (Editor in Chief) and Ian Menter (Editor in Chief)
  • Publisher:
    Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
  • Identifier:
    b-9781474209434-021
  • Published Online:
    2019
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Research on government, policy and the role of the state in primary education

In Australia, the Australian or Commonwealth government maintains a significant role in directing and managing primary education. This management, direction, and administration occurs through both the federal (central) government, in addition to the respective state (or territory) government in which the primary school is located (Marginson 1997; Whitty, Power, and Halpin 1998).

Under the Australian Constitution, the state and territory governments are principally responsible for the provision of schooling to all children deemed to be of school-age (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012). However, Section 96 of the Australian Constitution allows the federal government to provide financial assistance to the states where “the Parliament thinks fit” (Commonwealth Consolidated Acts 2017).

The role of the state or territory government is mainly experienced in primary schools through practical day-to-day decisions (such as funding, staffing, and curriculum). The federal government also oversees the standardized testing program in primary schools. Particular research suggests that standardized testing may have a negative impact on teachers’ pedagogical decision-making and the learning experience of students (Howell 2017; Lewis and Hardy 2017; Mayes and Howell 2017).

The years of primary schooling differ across the states and territories. For South Australia and Queensland, year seven is the final year of primary school, whereas in the remaining states and territories, year seven is the first year of secondary school.

Policies

Many of the major policies which influence primary schools and primary education in Australia are managed and directed by external stakeholders and independent statutory authorities, overseen by the federal government (the Council of Australian Governments) (Savage 2016). These authorities are the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) and the Australian Institute for Teachers and School Leadership (AITSL).

Australia maintains a national testing program, called the “National Assessment Program” (NAP). The National Assessment Program includes the “National Assessment Program—Numeracy and Literacy (NAPLAN)” in addition to three-yearly sample assessments (in various domains) and participation in international sample assessments (see, ACARA 2016).

NAPLAN is a mandated annual standardized test for all schools and students, managed and administered by the ACARA. It tests students in years three, five, seven, and nine, in five domains including: reading; persuasive writing; spelling; grammar and punctuation; and numeracy. The results are then published on a website called “My School” to enable parents to compare and contrast a school’s average results with other schools that are considered to be “statistically like” schools. The “My School” website (see My School n.d.) is also managed by the ACARA.

Policy agendas stipulate that both levels of government are to take up an active role in terms of support in the following areas: Indigenous primary school achievement; regional, rural, and remote primary education; and increasing student uptake of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects in primary schools (Australian Government Department of Education and Training 2017b). The federal government provides additional literacy support for remote and rural primary schools (Australian Government Department of Education and Training 2017a).

Governance

Many of the major education policies are made at the federal government level, such as the Australian Curriculum and standardized testing programs. Many of these overarching mandates are overseen and managed by the ACARA. The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority is an independent statutory authority legislated at the federal level, within the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority Act 2008.

All teachers must be registered through the AITSL and maintain their registration through ongoing professional development.

The state or territory government assists primary schools with funding, staffing, curriculum (within the overarching Australian Curriculum), and support. The federal government also provides funding to schools, with the majority attributed to private schools. Furthermore, within each school exists local governance such as staff and parent school boards and councils. Staff and parent school boards maintain various degrees of input into raising donations (funding) for the school and may influence curriculum choices and staffing decisions.

It is important to note there are differences in terms of the governance of a school and how policies are implemented at the school level, according to the way the school is classified as either non-government (private) or government (public). Overall, 70 percent of all primary schools in Australia are classified as government (public), with the remaining classified as non-government (private).

Within the private sector are Catholic schools and independent schools (although independent schools can also be affiliated with the Catholic religion). Catholic schools are governed by their respective department (similar to public schools), and are subject to the policies and processes of the National Catholic Education Commission. Catholic schools charge modest fees and retain religious expectations of their students and staff—although these expectations largely differ from school to school. High-fee and exclusive schools in Australia tend to be part of the independent school sector, although there are wide variations (Perry, Lubienski, and Ladwig 2016; Rowe 2017). Independent schools are afforded greater flexibility to respond to their specific school community of parents and students, in terms of religious instruction, class sizes, parent fees, student support, and staffing.

The majority of children in Australia are enrolled in public primary schools. Technically, the government (public) primary schools are under the governance and management of the state government. However, there is a high amount of diversity within the public school sector in terms of governance. Certain public schools in Australia are governed as independent public schools, with the staff given greater power and authority to determine decisions around their school, including staffing, financing, and student support. The legislation governing independent public schools was launched by the federal government in 2014, although similar legislation was introduced in the state of Victoria many years earlier.

The governance of a school also differs according to whether the school is classified as urban or rural and remote, with federal policy stipulating that government take up a more proactive role in supporting rural and remote primary schools (Australian Government Department of Education and Training 2017a,b).

Links with other organizations

The Australian Education Union is active in terms of representing primary school teachers, school leadership staff and support staff, and working to improve their working conditions. The Australian Education Union is frequently active in challenging the increase of standardized testing, challenging reward payments for teachers (on the basis of standardized test results), and calling for fairer funding systems for public schools.

The National Assessment Program is collected and assessed by an external provider, Pearson Education Group. Furthermore, at the time of writing, the National Assessment Program is being relocated online. Students will complete the test online and it will be delivered by an externalised provider, Education Services Australia (see ACARA 2016).

Autonomy

All primary schools, whether they are public or private, are expected to implement and teach according to the Australian Curriculum. There are numerous roles regarding the construction and take-up of the curriculum, and how it corresponds with the National Assessment Program. Whilst ACARA is responsible for designing the Australian Curriculum, in negotiation with key stakeholders, the states and territories are to guide how standards and policies are implemented within their respective state or territory. Teachers then, theoretically, retain the autonomy to make day-to-day pedagogical choices around texts and resources, to effectively meet these various accountability points. All primary schools are to implement the National Assessment Program and test students at common age points (years three, five, seven, and nine).

The Australian Curriculum was first initiated in 2008 and includes “General Capabilities” and “Cross-Curriculum Priorities.” The aim of the primary school curriculum is to equip students with basic skills within the core learning areas (English, mathematics, science, health and physical education, humanities and social sciences, the arts, technologies, and languages). The primary school curriculum should also prepare students to enter secondary school and make an effective transition (VAGO 2015).

However, within these mandates, there is freedom and flexibility for schools in a number of different areas: school uniforms; school voluntary fees and parent contributions; teachers’ pedagogical decisions within the classroom; choice of textbooks (if any); and choices the school makes in terms of religious classes and religious instruction.

Historically speaking, and according to the constitution, Australia is a secular country. Following this, each state and territory maintains slightly different policies around the inclusion or exclusion of religion in primary schools. In the state of Victoria, for example, the state department follows the Education and Training Reform Act (2006). This act stipulates that public school education must be secular. Public primary schools are not permitted to promote “any particular religious practice, denomination or sect, and must be open to adherents of any philosophy, religion or faith” (Victoria State Government Education and Training 2017). However, religious practice differs between states. Certain states include religious instruction classes within their curriculum (public and private primary schools) during classroom hours. The majority of these religious instruction classes tend to represent the Christian faith.

Globalization

Global trends have certainly impacted Australia and the role of the state in primary education policy. The uptake of standardized curriculum reform across the globe, standardized national testing, and the so-called “PISA effect” has arguably contributed to the enactment of these reforms in Australia (Baroutsis 2016; Baroutsis and Lingard 2017; Savage and O’Connor 2015; Volante 2017).

Australia was a relative latecomer to these reforms when compared to the United States or England. Standardized national testing was first introduced to Australian primary schools in 2008 and schools’ standardized test results were published on a website called “My School” in 2010. The aim of the website is to enable parents to make better school choices, by comparing a school’s test results (Rowe and Lubienski 2017).

The Australian Education Act 2013 stipulates its primary objective as a competitive placement in the Programme for International Student Assessment results (PISA). The first objective states “for Australia to be placed, by 2025, in the top 5 highest performing countries based on the performance of school students in reading, mathematics and science” (Australian Education Act 2013).

Further reading and online resources

Australian Education Act 2013. Department for Education and Training. Accessed January 5, 2014. www.education.gov.au/australian-education-act-2013 .

Australian Government Department of Education and Training. 2017. "Quality Schools Package." Accessed March 5, 2016. www.education.gov.au/quality-schools-package .

Hardy, I., and S. Lewis. 2017. "The ‘Doublethink’ of Data: Educational Performativity and the Field of Schooling Practices ." British Journal of Sociology of Education 38 (5): 671–685 .

Howell, A. 2017. "‘Because Then You Could Never Ever Get a Job!’: Children’s Constructions of NAPLAN as High-stakes ." Journal of Education Policy 32 (5): 564–587 .

Lamb, S., J. Jackson, A. Walstab, and S. Huo. 2015. Educational Opportunity in Australia 2015: Who Succeeds and Who Misses Out . Centre for International Research on Education Systems, Victoria University, for the Mitchell Institute. Melbourne: Mitchell Institute.

Lewis, S., and I. Hardy. 2017. "Tracking the Topological: The Effects of Standardised Data Upon Teachers’ Practice ." British Journal of Educational Studies 65 (2): 219–238 .

Marginson, S. 1997. Educating Australia: Government, Economy and Citizen since 1960 . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mayes, E., and A. Howell. 2017. "The (Hidden) Injuries of NAPLAN: Two Standardised Test Events and the Making of ‘At Risk’ Student Subjects ." International Journal of Inclusive Education 22 (10): 1–16. doi: 10.1080/13603116.2017.1415383 .

Whitty, G., S. Power, and D. Halpin. 1998. Devolution and Choice in Education: The School, the State, and the Market . Buckingham: Open University Press.

References

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). 2016. “National Assessment Program.” Accessed September 1, 2016. www.nap.edu.au/home .

Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2012. “1301.0- Year Book Australia, 2012. Education and Training: Government Responsibilities in Education.” Accessed December 4 2017. www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/1301.0~2012~Main%20Features~Government%20responsibilities%20in%20education~103 .

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority Act 2008. Accessed March 16, 2015. www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2008A00136 .

Australian Education Act 2013. Department of Education and Training. Accessed February 2, 2016. www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2018C00012 .

Australian Government Department of Education and Training. 2017a. “Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education (Quality Schools Review).” Accessed December 5, 2017. www.education.gov.au/independent-review-regional-rural-and-remote-education .

Australian Government Department of Education and Training. 2017b. “Quality Schools Package.” Accessed March 5, 2016. www.education.gov.au/quality-schools-package .

Baroutsis, A. 2016. “Media Accounts of School Performance: Reinforcing Dominant Practices of Accountability .” Journal of Education Policy 31 (5): 567–582 .

Baroutsis, A., and B. Lingard. 2017. “Counting and Comparing School Performance: An Analysis of Media Coverage of PISA in Australia, 2000–2014 .” Journal of Education Policy 32 (4): 1–18 .

Commonwealth Consolidated Acts. 2017. “Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Acts—Sect 96 Financial Assistance to States (Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act—Sect 96).” Accessed November 7, 2017. www8.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/legis/cth/consol_act/coaca430/s96.html .

Education and Training Reform Act 2006. Parliament of Victoria, no. 24. Accessed September 18, 2018. www.legislation.vic.gov.au/Domino/Web_Notes/LDMS/PubStatbook.nsf/51dea49770555ea6ca256da4001b90cd/575C47EA02890DA4CA25717000217213/$FILE/06-024a.pdf .

Hardy, I., and S. Lewis. 2017. “The ‘Doublethink’ of Data: Educational Performativity and the Field of Schooling Practices .” British Journal of Sociology of Education 38 (5): 671–685 .

Howell, A. 2017. “‘Because Then You Could Never Ever Get A Job!’: Children’s Constructions of NAPLAN as High-stakes .” Journal of Education Policy 32 (5): 564–587 .

Lamb, S., J. Jackson, A. Walstab, and S. Huo. 2015. Educational Opportunity in Australia 2015: Who Succeeds and Who Misses Out . Centre for International Research on Education Systems, Victoria University, for the Mitchell Institute. Melbourne: Mitchell Institute.

Lewis, S., and I. Hardy. 2017. “Tracking the Topological: The Effects of Standardised Data Upon Teachers’ Practice .” British Journal of Educational Studies 65 (2): 219–238 .

Marginson, S. 1997. Educating Australia: Government, Economy and Citizen since 1960 . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mayes, E., and A. Howell. 2017. “The (Hidden) Injuries of NAPLAN: Two Standardised Test Events and the Making of ‘At Risk’ Student Subjects .” International Journal of Inclusive Education 22 (10): 1–16. doi: 10.1080/13603116.2017.1415383 .

My School. n.d. Accessed November 7, 2017. www.myschool.edu.au .

Perry, B., C. Lubienski, and J. Ladwig. 2016 “How Do Learning Environments Vary by School Sector and Socioeconomic Composition? Evidence from Australian Students .” Australian Journal of Education 60 (3): 175–190 .

Rowe, E. 2017. Middle-Class School Choice in Urban Spaces: The Economics of Public Schooling and Globalized Education Reform . New York: Routledge.

Rowe, E., and C. Lubienski. 2017. “Shopping for Schools or Shopping for Peers: Public Schools and Catchment Area Segregation .” Journal of Education Policy 32 (3): 340–356 .

Savage, C. 2016. “Who’s Steering the Ship? National Curriculum Reform and the Re-Shaping of Australian Federalism .” Journal of Education Policy 31 (6): 833–850 .

Savage, C., and K. O’Connor. 2015. “National Agendas in Global Times: Curriculum Reforms in Australia and the USA since the 1980s .” Journal of Education Policy 30 (5): 609–630 .

Thompson, G., and I. Cook. 2014. “Manipulating the Data: Teaching and NAPLAN in the Control Society .” Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 35 (1): 129–142 .

Thompson, G., and A. G. Harbaugh. 2013. “A Preliminary Analysis of Teacher Perceptions of the Effects of NAPLAN on Pedagogy and Curriculum .” Australian Educational Researcher 40 (3): 299–314 .

Victorian Auditor-General (VAGO). 2015. Education Transitions: Victorian Auditor-General’s Report . Melbourne: Victoria Government Printer. March 2015. 2014–15:23. Accessed July 22, 2018. www.audit.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/20150318-Education-transitions.pdf .

Victoria State Government Education and Training. 2017. “Special Religious Instruction.” State Government of Victoria. Accessed January 8 2017. www.education.vic.gov.au/school/principals/spag/curriculum/Pages/sri.aspx#link47 .

Volante, L., ed. 2017. The PISA Effect on Global Educational Governance . New York: Routledge.

Whitty, G., S. Power, and D. Halpin. 1998. Devolution and Choice in Education: The School, the State, and the Market . Buckingham: Open University Press.

The Australian government is also referred to as the Commonwealth government, or the federal government. Australia is a monarchy and representative democracy, with a constitution.