IPS evaluation process nears completion

School autonomy is an issue of international significance, with major political debates raging in the USA, Chile, Sweden and the UK. Researchers around the world are bringing their gaze to bear on the veracity of claims that increasing school autonomy is the answer to allegations of declining student outcomes. Australia too must be a part of this debate or risk repeating mistakes made elsewhere.

One of the most controversial initiatives of the previous LNP state government was the Independent Public Schools (IPS) scheme. With 26 schools selected to begin the initiative in 2013, there are now 130 IPS schools across Queensland. In its last days, the LNP government committed Queensland to expanding the IPS scheme by a further 120 schools, in return for a contribution of about $20 million from the Commonwealth.

With the election of the Palaszczuk government in January, the opportunity has arisen to evaluate the IPS scheme, with a view to establishing the basis on which any expansion of the scheme might occur. In the last weeks of term two, a panel was formed by the Education Minister to conduct an evaluation of the IPS scheme. This panel (consisting of myself, Mark Campling (RD - Metro), Leisa Neaton (Principal - Frenchville SS: non-IPS) and Jeff Major (Principal - Wavell SHS: IPS)) has now completed an intense process involving almost 100 school leaders and stakeholders.

Focus groups of IPS and non-IPS school leaders formed the basis of the evaluation. Some 80 principals from across the state were interviewed by an independent consultant in face-to-face meetings and teleconferences. Interviews were conducted with key stakeholders, such as trade unions, parents and DET regional directors. Unfortunately, the extremely short timeframe has limited the capacity of the evaluation to consider collecting input from broader groups, and one of the key findings will be the need to expand opportunities for input by individuals and groups in future evaluations.

The final report of the evaluation was being completed simultaneously with the writing of this article, and as such it is not possible to address the contents of the findings in detail. However, a number of significant themes have emerged that were to be expected:

  • failures of the HR system, including transfers, relocations and recruitment and selection
  • creation of a two-tier education system with the risk of residualisation
  • issues surrounding the selection of IPS schools, especially the principle of voluntarism that was undermined by the actions of the previous LNP government.

A major election commitment of the new Palaszczuk Labor state government was to restore a state-wide transfer and relocation system for teachers and classified officers in schools. The report of the evaluation of IPS will provide a valuable starting point for negotiations between the QTU and the government on finding the solutions necessary to achieve this election commitment.

Kevin Bates

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 120 No 5, 17 July 2015, p13