The Guardian June 6, 2001


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.

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