One principal warns that Australia’s “populism-driven” political parties are holding back the nation’s schools and giving extremist viewpoints credence that they would not otherwise have.
Berwick Lodge Primary School principal, Henry Grossek, told The Educator that Senator Pauline Hanson’s controversial remarks that autistic children should be segregated from mainstream classes are an apt example of this.
“Recent elections overseas have shown that we create conditions that allow people with extremist views to curry simplistic favour with the community who are always looking for simplistic solutions to everything,” Grossek said.
“Hanson has a point in that we don’t resource schools well enough to support children with disabilities in the first place, and out of that flows discontent, frustration and failure that she can tap into and extrapolate to such crude simplifications.”
Grossek said his response to the final package was “relief and a bit of comfort”, but said he would have preferred a greater investment in public education, particularly with regards to supporting children with a disability.
“However, when I look at the original Gonski deal and what Tony Abbott wanted to do, I reflect on the whole climate and the fact that Minister Birmingham deserves some accolades for coming up with a model that is half decent,” he said.
“I would say most Victorian principals welcome the deal, with the caveat being that education is such a defining issue that we sometimes allow our political affiliations to jaundice our objectivity in acknowledging something that is half way to where we want it to be but a bit more than where we were.”
Grossek said that while many public school principals oppose the Coalition’s schools policies on principle, they also view Labor’s policies as “frustratingly disappointing”.
“If you step back from the Gonski saga and didn’t put any labels next to the comments made over the past four or five years of actions, you’d be hard-pressed to know which party was supporting what,” he said.
“That’s part of the problem. Who stands up for public education at the end of the day?”
Grossek said that the Greens have traditionally supported public education, but “shot themselves in the foot” by not being able to agree on “improving a bad deal into a less bad deal”.
“Now they’re on the verge of falling apart over education policy, so what hope do we have?” he said.
“The Coalition have been at each other’s throats for years, but now we’ve got the Labor Party in bed with the Catholic sector – a sector which got a favourable deal in the first place when they signed up to the original Gonski agreement.
“At the end of the day, I think our school system is in the type of turmoil, uncertainty and ordinariness it is because of the egos of our political parties – and it’s simply a disgrace.”