IPS: time for a re-think

The QTU has called on the new state government to re-evaluate the Independent Public Schools program amid growing fears that it is creating a two-tier public education system and undermining the transfer and relocation systems, both of which are essential in maintaining high quality staffing in rural and remote parts of the state.

The implementation of IPS by the previous state government is a tale of broken promises that led the Union to withdraw even the conditional support that it had offered.

The program initially operated on the basis that no school would be accepted without staff support. Yet they were. No school was supposed to advertise and promote itself as an Independent Public School. Yet they do. And LNP industrial legislation would have stripped away guarantees of the conditions of teachers in IPS schools across the state.

The system is already starting to break down, to the extent that the Union and department were talking about the impact on transfer and relocation systems, and protocols about recruiting teachers from other state schools.
However, the IPS program will remain. In October 2014, the LNP government signed an agreement with its federal counterpart to extend IPS to 250 schools by 2017, more than doubling the 120 originally proposed. That agreement would be extremely difficult to break.

The alternative is to evaluate the current operation of IPS to determine what further autonomy should be extended to all schools and what additional conditions should be placed on IPS schools to ensure the maintenance and enhancement of the public education system as a whole. It was noticeable that a strong theme of the DET principal conference earlier this year was public education as a system.

The literature about the benefits of autonomy for students is mixed, and at best inconclusive. To the extent there are benefits, they relate to professional autonomy (choosing what and how to teach students) rather than managerial autonomy (where can I buy it cheapest). Ironically, it is professional autonomy that is under threat through notions such as prescriptive curriculum.

The only apparent advantages of IPS lie in:

  • a direct performance agreement between principal and Director-General, rather than with a regional director
  • a full allocation of staffing without regional adjustment
  • a greater say in the appointment of staff to the school, including the capacity to advertise independently
  • an additional $50,000 per annum.

Increases in Great Results Guarantee funding dwarf the additional IPS funding to the extent that is not a school consideration. And all schools should have a say in the appointment of staff, with the caveat that the right of teachers and those in promotional positions to a transfer after service in rural, remote and non-preferred locations has to be met. Surely there is room for a better system?

QTU policy (adopted by the Union’s State Conference) is not opposed to autonomy per se, though the Union is alive to the possibility of governments abrogating their responsibility to properly staff, resource and maintain schools, and then blaming the schools themselves. Any changes to autonomy should be negotiated and subject to the conditions in QTU policy, e.g. notional rather than dollar allocation of staffing budgets, school support for participation, transfers and relocations.

Graham Moloney
General Secretary

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 120 No 4, 5 June 2015, p10