School privatisation backlash
The principal of South Australia's Glenunga International High School, Bob Knight, has got himself into some very hot water with teachers, students and parents over his support for the State Government's policy of partial privatisation of public schools, in a program known as "Partnership 21". Two weeks ago, under pressure from school authorities, the school council voted to begin implementing the policy. The school staff are overwhelmingly opposed to the program. Knight subsequently defended his position with regard to the privatisation initiative. In a completely distorted reference to the wishes of those involved in the school, he stated publicly that "All I have (done) was honour the wishes of parents, staff and students by implementing the policy." Knight's statement was greeted with outrage. Terry Hewton, Sub-Branch Secretary of the Australian Education Union declared: "In the face of 84% to 87% staff, and 89% student, opposition to the move, a mainly negative response to it on a parent feedback exercise, and the failure to meaningfully involve most of our parents at all in the decision, this statement is misleading at the very least. "It appears that the government is determined to privatise the school in flagrant disregard of the wishes of the wider school community." Last week the Glenunga school staff boycotted the annual school Open Day. The situation in South Australia appears to have remarkable similarities to that in New South Wales, where Education Minister John Aquilina appears hell-bent on flogging off valuable pieces of inner Sydney real estate on which public schools happen to be sited. (A squirming Aquilina last week refused to say how many meetings he had had with parent groups over his plans for these schools, but it was obvious that he either couldn't be bothered, or couldn't work up enough courage, to meet any of them.) The media spotlight has fallen, predictably, on the principal of the Glenunga International School. And it's true of course, that he bears part of the responsibility for the current situation. After all, it's no good saying, "I was just following orders." The real focus, however, should be on those who formulate the policy and issue the orders for privatisation in the first place, i.e. Australia's conservative political parties and the big business interests that are driving them.