Retrospect and Prospect in the ACT

Australian Education Review: The Development of an Independent Education Authority––Retrospect and Prospect in the ACT edited by Philip Hughes and William Mulford (1978)


There is a general sense across all authors that the implementation of the new “participatory” system (and all offer participation as its distinguishing feature) was a success. All authors acknowledge that the system was more radically liberal compared to other extant state school systems. That said, they also all seem to be responding to critiques complaining variously that the new system hadn’t delivered its aims quickly and efficiently enough, it was too complicated to negotiate, and there isn’t real “autonomy”. Headley Beare discusses the difficulties of negotiation and power-sharing in a participatory system at length, although he, like the other authors, remains committed to the idea.

  • Clifford Burnett’s summary of how the changes came to be accepted and implemented on p24 is worth reading. Perhaps most interestingly, he cites four Canberra Times articles written by Professor of Economic History, ANU, NG Butlin, which considered the cost and financing of ACT education and made a strong case for an independent system. Some key points included:
    • Real expenditure per pupil in high schools fell by about 10% between 1954 and 1967.
    • The percentage of female teachers increased, while the percentage of full-trained teachers fell considerably.
    • Capital outlay per additional pupil between 1958/59 and 1968/69 was lower in the ACT than in NSW.
    • ACT residents pay much higher taxes per head.
    • Ultimately, Butlin argued that a society that is able to pay for the education it wants should not have to reply on other bodies to supply its system.
  • Hughes’ provides a list of issues facing Australian education that the new ACT system attempted to address:
    • “Equality of opportunity implies no-uniformity of treatment”––the ACT should be a system that accommodates student choice
    • Genuine whole-school community participation­­ in meaningful educational and management decisions, and school-based decision-making
    • External requirements, including vocational and tertiary
    • Navigate the variety of demands on schools: intellectual, vocational, moral, civic
    • Congruence or incongruence between the expectations of the home and of school
    • Individual vs. social needs
    • “Conflict between an open system with free participation and economy of effort or perceived effectiveness.” (5–6)
  • Hughes on community engagement:
    • “The history of the involvement of parents in ACT education, has been the history of an active and committed few, intelligent, well-educated and politically aware, who were able to gain general acceptance of their view-point.” (Hughes, 105)––i.e. Calth Blakers, Richard Campbell etc. with the help of the Canberra Times.
    • Practical argument for the participation for the parents in educational decision-making is to ensure alignment between the “aims and attitudes” at home and at school. (105)
    • “Unless there is considerable clarity as to what decision-making powers are available, and unless there is a perceived effectiveness in the exercise of those powers, then participation is an illusion. This applies at the school and system level.” (106)
    • Hughes proposes, in a standard social constructivist fashion, that the community of a school only comes to exist in a real sense through the links between the school and parents that teachers go out of their way to establish. He argues that community has nothing to do with geographic location; rather, it is something requires active creation. (107)
    • On developing and having accredited the several hundred new college courses: residential planning conferences that ran for 2–4 days where schools, students, teachers and parents developed aims and objectives statements. (108)
  • On the problems of staffing: schools needed the power to select staff appropriate to their specific curriculum; the Commonwealth Teaching Service (CTS) had the responsibility of supplying schools with teachers and creating a suitable career structure for teachers; and, the Teacher’s Fed wanted to protect the possibilities for promotion for its members by enforcing a set of established positions for schools of given sizes. At the time of printing this conflict hadn’t been resolved. (109)

Assistance of A. Pippard 2013