Teachers decry the marketisation of education

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

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12 months ago I blogged about the Australian education policy context by providing an overview of the Melbourne Declaration. Today, The Age has published an anonymous piece by three teachers from Victoria who provide a scathing critique of the same context, and the education policies proposed by the opposition party in Victoria. In reference to the latter, they note that the:

draconian plans – which include installing police in our 10 most “high-risk” schools, abolishing the Safe Schools program, pumping up parochial Australian nationalism and stamping out celebration of diversity in the curriculum – are bound to have a devastating impact on the educational opportunities of our most disadvantaged and marginalised students.

For these teachers however, the half baked idea of putting police in disadvantaged schools does not represent the real problem. What they are really concerned about is the marketisation of education that’s been orchestrated by both the Labor and Liberal parties over the past ten years. They note the failure of the Education Union to address both the marketisation of education and the status of the teaching profession. They describe the funding shifts that have seen an increase in government money go to private schools at the expense of public schools, and students from wealthier families have gone where the funding has gone. For the authors, the pitting of private against public is not the only affect of current policy.

But the problem of marketisation runs deeper. Public schools have been set in competition not just with private schools, but also with each other.

We have had nearly 10 years of Labor’s MySchool website, which encourages parents to play the school system like the stock market. Low scores are punished with low enrolments, as privileged families flock to high-performing schools, and the least socially mobile remain at schools with the least resources to support them.

As a result, when public schools in Victoria have received meagre funding increases, these are too often wasted on programs that principals think will boost scores and reputation – even if they undermine real learning. Despite plenty of evidence that streaming actually reduces student achievement, select-entry programs are breaking out like algae plagues around the state. As are uniform policies that mimic private schools in pettiness and pricing.

Marketisation, schools competing in an education market for students, has led to corporatisation. That is, schools are becoming increasingly reliant on the corporate sector to provide, not only technological solutions, but strategies for lifting literacy and numeracy.

There are so many commercial consultants offering to sell schools magic-bullet strategies for lifting literacy and numeracy results that the Department of Education and Training has developed a “preferred suppliers list” to help principals choose between them.

These data merchants are wreaking educational havoc; their trade relies on principals remaining in perpetual suspicion of teachers’ competence. “Coaches” at my school are interrupting excellent teachers in front of their classes, mid lesson, to tell them they aren’t implementing the right strategy for the moment.

While educational policy is often presented as a ideologically neutral endeavour which has the laudable aim of increasing students’ performance, this article makes it clear that the longer term effects of neoliberal policy on Australia’s education systems have not been neutral. They have been corrosive, especially for the most vulnerable students. The authors decry policy which will:

stigmatise and threaten young people who are being fleeced of a world-class education, rather than rethink the marketised mess that is leaving teachers and students demoralised and angry.

Teachers are appalled by the Liberals scapegoating our most disadvantaged students. But in order to truly defend them, we must also fight to stop the marketisation of our schools. We must demand that Labor breaks with MySchool and NAPLAN and starts funding a public education system that trusts and resources teachers.

Policy analysis can often be a dry endeavour, done at a distance from those at the coalface feeling the effects. This piece makes clear teachers are quite capable of analysing educational trends and rejecting policy that harms the profession and their students.

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