Last month, Queensland’s Education Minister, Grace Grace, announced that a review would be launched into the state’s Independent Public Schools (IPS) program with the aim of looking more closely at its pros and cons.
There are currently 250 IPS schools in Queensland which will now be evaluated by an independent consultant – PotentialPlus Solutions –which will be completed by the end of July.
The evaluation will include an examination of the benefits and disadvantages of the IPS program’s implementation and impacts, as well as aspects of its efficiency such as governance, departmental support, autonomy and accountability.
Other areas set to be scrutinized include performance management, human resources and employment, communication and sharing, innovation and research and selection processes.
In a statement provided to The Educator, a spokesperson for Queensland’s Education Department said it “was always the intent to evaluate the program and its impact to inform future decisions about how to continue the state’s trend of school improvement”.
“As part of the evaluation key stakeholders including school councils, parent representatives, P&Cs Queensland, school staff, unions, principal associations, regional office personnel and central office personnel will be consulted,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said schools that joined the IPS initiative received an initial start-up grant of $50,000 to assist with their transition and subsequent annual funding of $50,000.
Federal funding to support the IPS program ended in 2017, however, the Queensland Government has continued the grant of $50,000 for the 2018 year.
Elsewhere around Australia, doubt has been cast over the effectiveness of the IPS program. In March, a report found that despite some impressive results in certain cases, school autonomy is undermining fairness in public education.
The report, by Professor Amanda Keddie of Deakin University, found that while on paper the reforms are designed to give increased freedom to principals, this is illusory when coupled with aggressive auditing of school performance.
“They rarely translate to real professional autonomy for teachers, or even for principals,” Professor Keddie said.
“When principals and teachers are dogged by external accountabilities like NAPLAN and when schools feel pressured to compete with each other in relation to these accountabilities, it is more than likely that they will narrow their curriculum to focus on these areas and ‘teach-to-the-test’.”
Australian schools, said Dr Keddie, are protected from the worst effects of school autonomy and excessive competition because the government still has the power to implement policies and regulations that help all schools meet their social obligations.
However, Keddie said regulation is under threat, pointing to reforms in the US and the UK. There, she says, a shift toward privatisation “has undermined” public ownership, equity and access, and the public purpose of schools.
This has led to “segregation” and “practices of exclusion”, and sidelined “the moral and social purpose of schooling”.