Examining the education policy context in Australia by looking closely at the Melbourne Declaration

This post is a part of a series being written for my EDUC6352 online masters students.


One of the themes of policy in Australia (over the past 40 years or so) is the increasing influence of neoliberalism. This is particularly apparent in education, which has become increasingly marketised. Teachers’ work is increasingly subject to economic principles – made visible through the focus on accountability and standardisation; and performance pay which is perennially proffered as the a means of increasing teacher quality.

Nearly ten years after its signing, the 2008 Melbourne Declaration remains a useful case study which illustrates some of the ways that neoliberalism is manifest in Australian schooling.

One facet of this process of neoliberalism is that it ‘joins up’ (Ball, 2008, p. 13) previously discrete policy domains. The Melbourne Declaration provides an excellent example of this process. Not only does the agreement reached by the signing of the increase the process of federalism (shifting control of education from the states to the national government) but it joins up social problems to educational ones and brings the early childhood sector under a federal umbrella of education policies covering people from early childhood through to the end of their lives (i.e. through the utilisation of the concept of ‘life-long learning’).

Investment in early childhood is justified in the Melbourne Declaration on two grounds. Firstly the critical early years in children’s development is cited as ‘setting the foundations for every child’s social, physical, emotional and cognitive development’ (MCEETYA, 2008, p. 11). Participation in the economic workforce is the second reason why investment in early childhood education is justified; children ‘who participate in quality early childhood education are more likely to make a successful transition to school, stay longer in school, continue on to further education ad fully participate in employment’ (p. 11).

The commitment to early childhood education and this justification in terms of
increased productivity demonstrates the use of Human Capital theory in
education policy. The influence of Human Capital theory can is also evident in the expressed  commitment to supporting senior years of schooling and youth transition. This commitment includes among other things, the development and implementation of the Australian Blueprint for Career Development.

The senior years of schooling should provide all students with the high-quality education necessary to complete their secondary school education and make the transition to further education, training or employment. Schooling should offer a range of pathways to meet the diverse needs and aspirations of all young Australians, encouraging them to pursue university or post- secondary vocational qualifications that increase their opportunities for rewarding and productive employment. This requires effective partnerships with other education and training providers, employers and communities. (MCCEETYA, 2008, p. 12)
While the Melbourne Declaration makes explicit the influence of human capital theory,  marketisation in education is not articulated so directly. It is, however, clear in the subsequent policies (and policy failures) in the further education and early childhood sector.
In an attempt to offer a range of pathways to students to transition from school to work and further training, a policy change was implemented which allowed private providers to offer FEE – HELP to VET students while simultaneously cutting funding to the TAFE sector. It did not go well.
Likewise, using the marketplace to manage the Early Childhood sector is not going well either. The consulting firm PwC are now calling for the Australian government to invest more in early years education:

David Sacks, PwC’s education lead partner, said he believed Australia’s “really low” participation levels in early childhood education were a root cause of other school education problems.

“Our relative performance [in school education] has dropped over the years and we seem to spend more with not the attendant upside in performance,” he said.

“Given all the evidence is that early years is the biggest bang for buck, why don’t we try and fix that.”

While the Melbourne Declaration articulates a range of purposes for education that go beyond the instrumental:
Schools play a vital role in promoting the intellectual, physical, social, emotional, moral, spiritual and aesthetic development and wellbeing of young Australians, and in ensuring the nation’s ongoing economic prosperity and social cohesion (p.4)
the effects of these policies suggest that the priority for the government has been on those aspects of schooling which can be justified through their role in “the nation’s ongoing economic prosperity”.
Ball, S.J. (2008). The Education Debate. Bristol: The Policy Press.
MCEETYA. (2008). Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, December 2008.

3 thoughts on “Examining the education policy context in Australia by looking closely at the Melbourne Declaration

  1. Pingback: Teachers decry the marketisation of education | Dr Rachel Buchanan

  2. Pingback: Through Growth to Achievement #Gonski Review 2.0 | Dr Rachel Buchanan

  3. Pingback: Will we get an updated Melbourne Declaration? | Dr Rachel Buchanan

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