What impact is the IPS model really having?

What impact is the IPS model really having?
In 2014, the Federal Government announced the $70m Independent Public Schools (IPS) Fund to encourage over a quarter of Australian public schools to become independent by 2017.

Under the IPS policy, states and territories have the flexibility to implement the programs, activities and initiatives that best suit the specific needs of their schools and students.

However, a number of reports have questioned the impact this is having on schools.

Most recently, a 2016 parliamentary inquiry in Western Australia found no evidence that the model had improved student outcomes and was even exacerbating inequalities in schools.

“It's also too early to tell whether the IPS initiative has created the conditions which will lead to improved student outcomes in the future,” the report, by the Education and Health Standing Committee, found.

“While the Department of Education acknowledges that teacher quality is paramount in improving student outcomes, it is not clear to the committee how the IPS initiative directly promotes improved teacher quality. This ought to be the primary focus of future educational reforms.”

The report added it was unsustainable for some schools to remain outside the IPS system because they would then be expected to take all teachers rejected by IPS schools.

However, the IPS model has been working well for a number of school leaders, who say the increased flexibility allows greater scope to improve teaching and learning.

Warren Smith, deputy principal at Ocean Reef Senior High School, said the construct of the IPS model provides his school with the flexibility to appoint staff to service these recognised particular areas of need.

“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.”

But according to Dr David Zyngier, a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Education at Monash University, there are much bigger issues hidden within the IPS initiative that not only threaten the school system but also democracy itself.

“There is no place in the Australian public education system for competition between schools,” Zyngier told The Educator.

“In fact research shows need more collaboration if we want to raise student outcomes.”

Zyngier said research from the OECD and the Senate Select Committee on Education “reinforces these findings that there is little benefit in such policies”.

Dr Zyngier said competition causes further “residualisation” of schools that is “the inevitable outcome” of having IPS, select entry schools and specialist schools.

“Organizations such as the newly formed Public Education Network believes that because public education is a public good and that public education is for the common good therefore it requires a well-resourced public school in every community,” he said.

“Any weakening of public education through systems such as IPS and selective schools is a weakening of our democracy.”

Related stories:
Report slams school autonomy as divisive
‘Flexibility means better outcomes’