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Educational investment in Australian schooling: Serving public purposes

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Behind every new educational policy or strategy is an assumption about the contribution that it will make to the purposes of schooling. And yet these purposes are rarely the subject of extended public or professional debate. For example, we live in a globalising world where the role of the nation-state is changing and societies are becoming increasingly culturally diverse, technologically advanced, demographically diverse, and environmentally sensitive. In this context schools are needed more than ever for the important public purpose of forming active citizens for democratic publics – people with the will and commitment to shape, and participate in, an inclusive and democratic civil society and polity that are responsive to the new environment.

Our ongoing research seeks to examine these crucial public purposes of schools in Australia – how the public purposes are currently understood, the importance given to them and how they can be successfully enacted.

Among our findings are that:

• Despite the policy documents and policy maker pronouncements of what is important, those evaluated, and therefore valued, areas continue to heavily favour the private purposes of education.

• School principals rate both the importance and enactment of public purposes most highly and private purposes most lowly. Yet principals see factors external to the school acting as the major barriers to the enactment of public purposes – inadequate resourcing and support and unsympathetic politicians and bureaucracies, such as their insistence on one size fits all approaches, including for curriculum and assessment through testing.

• The forces seen by policy makers that hinder the public purposes of education and their enactment include an unsympathetic media, a conservative community, a number of competitive and cynical principals with poor networking skills, and a teachers’ union that is industrial rather than professional.

• A way to conceptualise successful enactment of the public purposes of education is to start with seeing, supporting and making schools accountable as communities of professional and backward map to the most appropriate model for the centre.

This talk is part of the ELPEC Group Seminars series.

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