The Future of Schools: Lessons from the Reform of Public Education

By Donnelly, Kevin | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, February 1998 | Go to article overview
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The Future of Schools: Lessons from the Reform of Public Education


Donnelly, Kevin, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


The Future of Schools: Lessons from the Reform of Public Education by Brian Caldwell and Don Hayward

Falmer Press (UK), 1998, $31.95

The Future of Schools provides a very important and timely contribution to the debate about the future of public education. It deserves particular praise as it successfully places Victorian events in a global context and succinctly outlines some of the major options for further reform.

Its timeliness is supported by the December 1997 report on the Schools of the Future by the Victorian Auditor-General. That report notes that the Accountability Framework devised for Schools of the Future `represents a significant advancement in terms of measuring school performance ...' and that the Department `is to be applauded for its initiative and the progress it has made ...'

As stated in the Preface, the purpose of the book is twofold: first, to tell the story of Victoria's Schools of the Future and, second, to put forward and explore a number of options for further reform of the school system. As such, the book is unique in that it is able to draw on both the practice and theory of large-scale educational reform.

It begins by outlining `the crisis in public education' across the Western world. Whether it be Britain, New Zealand, America or the different States of Australia, the general consensus is that public education has failed. High rates of illiteracy, the `dumbing down' of the curriculum and the success of Asian nations like Singapore, Japan and Korea in international tests like the Third International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) are provided as evidence of this failure.

The next two chapters provide Don Hayward's account of one attempt to provide a more efficient and effective system of public education. As the Shadow Minister for Education and the Minister for Education in the first Kennett Government from October 1992, Don Hayward is in a good position to provide an account of what he terms `... my revolution in education in Victoria'.

This revolution involved overhauling a highly bureaucratic, centralized system suffering from `provider capture'. Excessive teacher union demands, the moribund and self-serving nature of the education bureaucracy and the indulgences of the previous Labor Government had all conspired to ensure that students were no longer being properly educated.

The system, as outlined by Hayward, was ripe for change, and drawing on his experience as a senior executive in General Motors he set out a strategy to achieve such change. These chapters centre on the Minister's role in implementing this strategy. The reader is told by Hayward that he was instrumental in overhauling the curriculum, in devolving power to schools, in balancing the education budget, in introducing State-wide assessment and reporting, in introducing new technology to schools and ensuring that the community understood and supported the new initiatives.

The reader is also told that many around the Minister doubted whether such a wide-sweeping and fundamental change process could be successful and that `... the Schools of the Future program was underestimated by everybody except me'.

Why were education reforms in Victoria introduced so quickly and so comprehensively and have they led to a better system of public education? Part of the explanation, as argued in Chapter Four, is that the environment in Victoria was unique. Nowhere else has there been an alignment of political conditions so necessary for the introduction of such major reform.

In answering the second question, the results from a number of research projects are presented. The strength of this section of the book is that shortcomings raised by critics of Schools of the Future are presented and an international perspective is taken on research into the effectiveness of educational reform measures similar to those which have occurred in Victoria since 1992.

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