‘Flexibility means better outcomes’: Independent Public School principal

Warren Smith, acting principal at Ocean Reef Senior High School, told The Educator that as an Independent Public School (IPS), staff have more flexibility to respond to student needs.

“The research suggests that the greatest effect on student learning is the quality of teacher instruction. It is therefore important to select and retain quality teachers to build an effective school,” Smith told The Educator.

“Also, our school has a Workforce Plan which guides our decisions with respect to the appointment of staff. We know who we need to appoint and where they should be allocated to build future success into our instructional capability within the school.”

Smith said the construct of the IPS model provides his school with the flexibility to appoint staff to service these recognised particular areas of need.

Smith’s comments come following a recent report by the UK Foundation for Educational Research, which suggested independent public schools’ had little, if any, impact on student learning outcomes.

Save Our Schools’ (SOS) national convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said other studies overseas had “come to a similar conclusion” about the IPS model, suggesting the Federal Government abandon the idea.

“The new report adds to the weight of evidence that independent public schools have had little impact on student results. Many other studies around the world have come to a similar conclusion,” Cobbold, wrote in a statement on his organisation’s website.

“The evidence suggests that governments should be looking at other more effective ways to improve student achievement.”

Another vocal critic of the IPS model, NSW Secondary Principals’ Council president, Lila Mularczyk, cautioned against a “culture of competition” that she said was not in the interests of the state’s schools or students.

“Once you create independence of the schools, you then create a culture of competition that cannot be in the best interests of the children, the staff or the wellbeing of the state,” Mularczyk told The Educator.

“There has never been an acknowledgement that this [IPS] is a model that NSW would accept.”

Prior to IPS schools, Department of Education mathematical formulas were used to determine staff allocation at schools in Western Australia. These formulas were largely based around the number of students at the school and were essentially the same for schools across the state.

In February, Prime Minister Tony Abbott signalled a renewed push for the IPS program, saying it would encourage “greater autonomy in Government schools”.

Despite continued criticism of the model, IPS principals like Warren Smith attribute this “greater autonomy” to improved learning outcomes for students.

“They [the formulas] provided the means by which Deputy Principal positions were allocated, Head of Department positions and most teaching staff and non- teaching staff allocation,” Smith explained.

“This resulted in rather rigid staffing arrangements for public schools across the state. This arrangement often meant that schools were restricted in responding to their school community needs.

“In summary, because IPS schools have more flexibility to respond to their areas of need, they are now more focussed on the students of tomorrow and in the process they are ‘building better schools’.”