23 SES 07 A, Diversity and Migration in Education
This paper will report on a critical policy study of a federal public policy statement Multicultural Australia: United, Strong, Successful (2017) and its alignment and misalignment with state government education policies. It’s drawn from a larger research study investigating how schools transcend refugee students' past life experiences by creating the social and educational conditions that enhance their resilience. It is focusing on the policies, practices, relationships, and events that shape the schooling experiences of refugee students.
Background and theoretical framing
Internationally, governments are concerned with issues related to refugee resettlement and global displacement. Governments are forming and reforming policies in response to their ongoing and sometimes growing concerns to provide solutions. In this paper, we take Australia as an example to illustrate the policy alignment and misalignment (Savage, & O’Connor 2018) between a key federal multicultural policy and refugee education policies.
Australia, like some European countries, has a federal system of governance. More specifically Australia has three levels of government, and two which are responsible for schooling: federal and state/territory governments. The state/territory governments have constitutional responsibility for education and have direct oversight of the sixty-six percent of schools which form part of the state department schooling systems. These education departments have their ‘own common ownership or ethos’ and ‘administrative arrangements’ (Gonski et al. 2011, p. 4). However, both levels of governments develop policies that influence and/or direct education.
In the past five years, over 75,000 people from refugee backgrounds have been resettled under Australia’s humanitarian entrant program (Department of Social Services (DSS), 2017). Over a third of these were aged under 18 years and entered Australian schools soon after they arrived (DSS, 2017).
Australia prides itself on being ‘the most successful multicultural society in the world, uniting a multitude of cultures, experiences, beliefs, and traditions.’ (Turnbull, cited in DHA 2017). However, Australia’s responses to refugees have fluctuated significantly in the past due to historical and political factors (Marr, 2011). Therefore, there is a need to better understand how federal multicultural policy frames how and why schools and schooling systems have responded to students from refugee backgrounds in the ways they have.
Due to the relationships between the federal and state governments, it was considered likely that the way in which the federal government frames refugees would be reflected in the ways in which education department policies also frame refugees. This study explored the relationships between these levels of policy.
To do this, we undertook a critical policy analysis of relevant policy documents. Codd (1985) suggests that policy documents can be said to constitute the official discourse of the state. He further suggests that:
- policies produced by and for the state are obvious instances in which language serves a political purpose, constructing particular meanings and signs that work to mask social conflict and foster commitment to the notion of universal public interest. In this way, policy documents produce real social effects through the production and maintenance of consent. (Codd 1988 p. 237)
We understand that the ‘meaning of policy is frequently either taken for granted and/or seen as an attempt to “solve a problem”’ (Maguire, Braun and Ball 2015, p. 485). Policies are multidimensional, have many stakeholders, are value laden, intricately tied to other policies and institutions, and never straightforward in implementation or enactment (Taylor, Rizvi, Lingard, & Henry, 1997).
We draw on the notion of ‘assemblage’ as a way of explaining the policy construction processes related to refugee student education ie “bringing together a number of contrasting, and sometimes competing values, embedding this assemblage within a broader set of conditions.” (Rizvi & Lingard, 2011, p 6).
Method As part of a larger study, we sought the policy directives and associated rationales that have framed the field of refugee education in Australia – and in particular in two Australian states, South Australia and Queensland – over the past 5 years. For the study reported here, we created a data-set which included the federal public policy statement Multicultural Australia: United, Strong, Successful (2017) and policies from the departments of education in South Australia and Queensland that related to students from refugee backgrounds. Policy constructions were critically analysed by considering the policy discourses, unpacking assumptions, identifying those who benefit and those who don’t, locating the silences, and exploring the policy contexts. We developed a critical policy analysis rubric derived from the work of Diem, et al. (2014) and Bacchi (2012) to guide this work. The analysis addresses questions such as the following: 1. What is the purpose of the policy? 2. What is the problem represented to be? 3. What is the policy’s intended focus? 4. Who are the intended recipients of the policy? 5. Who is included/excluded by the policy? For how long? Where are they? More specifically, it involved ‘an interrogation of the policy, the use of policy symbols and rhetorical devices as well as the delineation of the difference between policy rhetoric and policy reality (Diem, et al., 2014, p. 1083). A close examination of the selected policy was undertaken to seek alignment and misalignment with related refugee education policies.
The public policy statement Multicultural Australia: United, Strong, Successful (2017) seeks to provide ‘the foundation on which we can further build our multicultural society and we look forward to working with all Australians in the tireless pursuit of freedom and prosperity.’ (Porter & Seselja, 2017). The problem addressed: A perceived de-emphasis of Australian values due to increasing multiculturalism. The threat of decreased economic and social participation among immigrants. The threat immigration poses to Australia’s national security. The policy statement focuses on issues related to: • National security • Social control and integration • Australian values (respect, equality, freedom) • Refugee and humanitarian migrants • Economic productivity • English language • Inter-cultural dialogue The history of the policy shows that key policy changes have largely reflected changing federal governments and their ideology. The changing policy constructions also responded to key events that captured the attention of mainstream Australia. We draw on the work of Jakubowicz (2017) and Colvin (2017) to argue that this policy adopts the following implicit assumptions: • Successful multiculturalism occurs through social integration into the pre-existing social order and adoption of aspirational core values. • “Equality of opportunity” is a preferred way in which to support the development of a multicultural Australia over “equality of outcome”. Early analysis of the education policies in the departments of education show some resistance and misalignment to this federal policy rhetoric. Commitments to inclusion, wellbeing and learning were evident. However, there was evidence of some alignment with the federal policy. For example, policies explained the importance of students learning English ‘so they can build a better life and become self-sufficient, fully contributing members of society.' This paper indicates that whilst federal governments attend to concerns of security, social integration and economic contributions, education departments can resist and attend to equity and social justice.
Bacchi, C. (2012) Why Study Problematizations? Making Politics Visible. Open Journal of Political Science, 2(1), 1-8.
Colvin, N 2017, The Devil’s In The Detail Of Malcolm Turnbull’s New Multicultural Statement, Newmatilda.com, viewed 14 August 2018,
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