23 SES 05 D, Local Education Policy
Parallel Paper Session
The governance of school education in Australia has remained, until recently, the province of the six state and two territory governments, which each have state-wide schooling systems employing teachers, and providing policy and infrastructure. This paper examines the emerging and potential implications for the governance of school education by the greater governance involvement of the political arena in educational domains, particularly the increasing policy interventions emerging from the federal level of governance. This federally-driven nationalisation of curriculum appears to presents a new governance ‘settlement’ for education (Taylor et al 1997) – but a highly unsettled settlement, we argue –whilst unsettling and redirecting control of educators’ work. We ask if this is represents new forms of centralisation in marketisation of the schooling sector, with the federal government acquiring both a policy and an accountability function. We address this question through a focus on standardisation, control and accountability through the invention a national curriculum (c.f. Grumet & Yates 2011).
Australia is the only federal governance system in the OECD to have introduced a national curriculum (Brennan 2011). The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) that brings together federal and State governments, along with the Ministerial Council that brings together Ministers of Education, have been systematically building agreements that involve federal funding, policy and accountability regimes for a range of domains in the sector, without having to resort to formal referral of powers from the States to the federal government, as specified in the Australian constitution. National Curriculum provides an instructive case for examining the strategies by which governments at both federal and state levels make policy interventions that accentuate control the work of both teachers and students in schools. Examination of different iterations of the curriculum, and their treatments of pedagogy and assessment, enables an analysis of the effects of governance ‘at a distance’ (Kickert 1991) through both cooption and coercion across levels of government, and how this links to the trends and exertions of international, northern hemisphere supra-national organisations such as OECD. Continuing a longstanding tradition of policy-borrowing from the colonial Mother England, national curriculum has been introduced alongside a raft of other federalising moves into education (and other the human services – the ‘left hand of the state’, as Bourdieu calls it (1999)). We read this as a response to globalising pressures that newly foregrounds the nation-state (Dale 2004), yet at the same time make its internal political legitimation more problematic. We observe that, in becoming increasingly federal in focus, educational governance can use strong standardisation and accountability regimes as means to redirect political attention from government legitimation and fiscal crises. What is emerging, then, is a sharing of state-level government responsibilities with the federal level, which then operates through contractual and tied funding agreements with the states, alongside the invention of new non-government bodies that help to distance both levels of government from policy implementation and its contestations.
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