The view of respected education commentator Dean Ashenden to outright reject the Harper review of competition as it might apply to schools (Australian schools: the view from Mars) is premature but not surprising given the belief that "the choice and diversity policies initiated in Australia in the 1970s have moved us steadily toward a school system with gated communities at one end of a spectrum and education ghettos at the other".
Australia does not have a school system of gated communities and education ghettos, nor is there any evidence that we are moving towards such a system.
Ignored is the fact that political support for choice in schooling over the past thirty years has opened up diverse schooling opportunities for hundreds of thousands of students and parents, particularly from lower socio-economic areas. Choice and diversity is alive and well in our schooling system and lays the foundations for a vibrant, innovative and "consumer-driven" schooling sector.
Applying some competitive forces to schooling surely cannot be such a bad thing and the need to address the conflicts inherent in Government's role as regulator, funder and the main provider of schooling certainly resonates with the non-government sectors which are subject to increasing Government intervention.
Ashenden correctly asserts that "economics has much more to offer than the schooling industry is generally willing to acknowledge". In this context, the presentation by the Queensland Director General of Education, Dr Jim Watterston, to the recent (September 25 2014) Queensland Education Accord Summit held in Brisbane was telling. Dr Watterson's first slide titled "Return on Investment" starkly outlined the fact that the dollar investment in schools has doubled in the past decade, yet our educational outcomes (measured by for example by PISA and NAPLAN results) have flatlined.
The challenge is how to improve Australian educational outcomes.
The Queensland Education Accord is a unique opportunity to do just that as it will map a 30-year vision for school education, building on the Government's Queensland Plan which sets the high level direction for the future. Given that education is one of the key foundations for the Queensland Plan, it is timely that consideration is given to what our schools might look like into the future and how improvements can be achieved for students.
The underlying principles to drive a vision for Queensland schooling into the future should include the:
· Need to build on school education performance;
· Desirability of increased choice to enhance competition, promote innovation, increase equity and importantly, to improve education quality;
· Need for a more deregulated, less centrally controlled education system;
· Importance of increasing community participation and ownership in the provision of education services; and
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