Schools in Australia and New Zealand set off in opposite directions in the 1970s. Tom Greenwell looks at where they have ended up.
The story is familiar enough. An opposition leader seeks to modernise his party by transcending the old ideological opposition between state schools and church schools. Above all, he wants to woo the Catholic vote needed to win government. Prevailing over his rivals, he jettisons the party’s century-old opposition to public funding of private schools. Then, on winning government, he initiates a process of consultation, negotiation and policy formulation that culminates in a widely hailed breakthrough. Those years in power, from 1972 to 1975, come to be seen as a turning point that still defines the education landscape. Gough Whitlam’s Australia? Yes, but also Norman Kirk’s New Zealand. That’s where the likeness ends, though, for the new educational epoch Kirk ushered in was quite different from the era created by Whitlam and his education adviser Peter Karmel.