Competition, "autonomy" and schools

17 Jul 2013

The collapse of the command economies of Australian schooling has been less dramatic and complete than that of the Soviet Union, but in other respects they have much in common.

Both imperiums enjoyed tremendous reach and power almost to the moment of their eclipse. As late as the 1960s the government school systems enrolled three in every four Australian students; most of the rest were in impoverished Catholic parish schools or, a tiny few, on private islands in a socialist sea. The grand departments dominated much of the curriculum, teacher education and employment, and policy. As in the case of the Soviet Union, few saw the end coming – everyone thought that the Catholic schools were the ones at risk of collapse, not the govvies – and no one really intended it.

And as in the USSR, the fatal blow was struck by friends, not enemies. The Karmel committee, riding to Whitlam’s instructions, devised a settlement of the “state aid” question resting on three different ways of funding three sectors, each to be governed by its own rules and conventions. The result was a bonanza and a liberation for the Catholic schools, and subsidies for the privates, that saw both come into competition with the government schools, and successfully so…

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