Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Prirvate school failures

The market for school education can't possibly function unless customers are well informed. In turn, it beggars belief that some Christian schools demand both the right to discriminate against students and staff as well as the right to keep their discrimination secret.

Many private schools argue that it is not just the swimming pools and manicured lawns that justify their high fees, but the "values" they impart on their students.

But what are those values? How can parents who are in the market for different values make an informed choice if schools are not up-front about whom they choose to discriminate against and why?

Occasionally those who manage Australia's private schools are candid in revealing their values, such as in 2017 when the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, threatened to fire all teachers employed by the church who entered into a same-sex marriage. Too often though, information of this nature is kept hidden.

If a parent wants to send their child to a school that expels gay students, or if a school wants to position itself in the market as a "gay student-free school", then clear information about each school's policies must be made available.

Elite private schools are booming in terms of enrolments and their facilities. Scots College plans to spend $25.1 million upgrading its library to look like a Scottish castle. Cranbrook's $75 million redevelopment includes a new aquatic centre and drama theatre and St Catherine's $62.5 million redevelopment includes a new orchestra pit and ballet studio.

It's hard to see the long-run boost to Australia's productivity that might come from such investments. And it's even harder to see why the private school fees that fund these expensive hobbies are exempt from the GST.

Whether schools that can afford new orchestra pits deserve public funding is an important democratic consideration. So too is the question of whether private schools should be allowed to discriminate against their students and staff while receiving money from the taxpayer.

For decades governments and private schools have concealed these questions from the public but now, thanks to the Christian conservatives in the Coalition, the cat is out of the bag.

Back in 2004, The Australia Institute published a report entitled The Accountability of Private Schools to Public Values. The paper included survey results that showed 89 per cent of Australians were opposed to private schools having the right to expel gay students. Only 8 per cent supported the position.

But over the past 14 years the proportion of students going to private schools has risen dramatically, as has the public funding for those schools.

Despite the Howard government's rhetorical commitment to "mutual obligation", for 14 years there has been little political interest in obliging the private schools that receive vast amounts of public money to conform to public expectations regarding treatment of their students and staff.

The privatisation of Australian schools is another failed neoliberal policy experiment. Costs are up, quality is down, access to quality education is less equal and discrimination is still legal.

Luckily, regardless of whether Australians think schools are an essential service that should never have been privatised, or that market principles are the best way to run an education system, recent polls confirm most Australians want schools to stop discriminating.

Who says Australian politics is too tribal to get anything done these days? The values of Scott Morrison's alma mater, Sydney Boys High School, were encapsulated in their motto "with truth and courage". A little of both should lead to a big change.

Richard Denniss is the chief economist for The Australia Institute.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Labor commitment

Labor will seek to remove the exemption that allows a teacher or school staff member to be sacked or refused employment because of their sexuality. Will Scott Morrison and his government support Labor?

Saturday, 13 October 2018

New Literature unit

My latest literature unit on TPT :…/Tomi-Ungerer-Literatu…
Tomi Ungerer
This unit contains comprehension activities, art activities, graphic organisers, writing tasks etc for Tomi Ungerer books including; the Mellops, Adelaide, Rufus, Fog Island and The Three Robbers. This unit has been used successfully with prep-grade 1 but can also be used up to grade 4. includes photos of student work.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

This government is a disgrace

Religious schools would be guaranteed the right to turn away gay students and teachers under changes to federal anti-discrimination laws recommended by the government’s long-awaited review into religious freedom.

However the report, which is still being debated by cabinet despite being handed to the Coalition four months ago, dismisses the notion religious freedom in Australia is in “imminent peril”, and warns against any radical push to let businesses refuse goods and services such as a wedding cake for a gay couple.

The review was commissioned in the wake of last year’s same-sex marriage victory to appease conservative MPs who feared the change would restrict people’s ability to practise their religion freely.

Commonwealth law already contains some provisions to permit discrimination against gay students and teachers.

However the report said any further amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act should only apply to new enrolments. The school would also have to have a publicly available policy outlining its position, and should regard the best interests of the child as the “primary consideration of its conduct”.

The panel also agreed that faith-based schools should have some discretion to discriminate in the hiring of teachers on the basis of religious belief, sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

In a statement on Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: "Our government will consider the details and release our response after it has gone through a proper cabinet process."

"We will protect religious freedom, and get the balance right," he said. "Each proposal will be considered carefully and respectfully before any final decisions are taken."

The religious freedom review, which was handed to former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in May, received more than 15,000 submissions.

The panel was chaired by Howard government attorney-general and 'tool', Philip Ruddock and included the Australian Human Rights Commission president Rosalind Croucher, former Federal Court judge Annabelle Bennett, human rights lawyer and priest Frank Brennan and constitutional law professor Nicholas Aroney.

The review does not recommend any changes to the Marriage Act. Nor does it recommend a dedicated Religious Freedom Act - championed by several major Christian churches - which would have enshrined religious organisations’ exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

“Specifically protecting freedom of religion would be out of step with the treatment of other rights,” the report found.

However it did recommend the government amend the Racial Discrimination Act or create a new Religious Discrimination Act, which would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of a person’s religious belief or lack thereof.

The panel said it had heard a broad range of concerns about people’s ability to “manifest their faith publicly without suffering discrimination”.

This included wearing religious symbols and dress at school or work, communicating views based on religious understandings, obtaining goods and services and engaging in public life without fear of discrimination.

The report also recommends federal legislation “to make it clear” that religious schools cannot be forced to lease their facilities for a same-sex marriage, as long as the refusal is made in the name of religious doctrine.

It said the states should abolish any laws that allowed for discrimination against teachers or students on this basis.

Religious schools already enjoy exemptions from discrimination laws when it comes to hiring teachers in all jurisdictions.

Some religious groups argued these exemptions should be retained while LGBTI groups - who told the panel of the stress and mental health pressure on teachers forced to hide their identity - called for them to be repealed.

“(An) example was given of an employee at a religious school who was employed despite being open about being same-sex attracted,” the report said. “Later, when the leadership of the school changed, that teacher was dismissed on the basis of his sexuality.”

Labor funding boost!

Today the Bill Shorten Labor opposition announced a major funding boost to public schools if it is elected to government next year.  

Labor’s announcement includes:
  • $14 billion extra for public schools over the next decade
  • $3.3 billion extra for public schools from 2020-2022.
And importantly, the ALP has said it will ditch the terrible 20% federal funding cap that the Morrison Government placed on public schools.

By 2022, Commonwealth funding in each state and territory will reach at least 22.2% of the Schooling Resource Standard. For Victoria, this means $804 million over three years from 2020-2022.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Big Brother!

While it might sound like a scene from a sci-fi movie, a small number of Victorian schools ( Including a private school in Ballarat) have been trialling scanners that sweep classrooms for students’ faces to ensure no one is missing.

But privacy concerns about the technology has promoted the education minister and Victoria’s inaugural Information Commissioner to sound the alarm.

Mr Merlino has ordered the Education Department to immediately assess the software and report back to him.

He’s also asked the Department to contact every state school to remind them that they must undertake a privacy impact assessment before considering the software.

Information Commissioner Sven Bluemmel said the compromising of children's privacy appeared to outweigh the benefits of the technology.

"Do we want our children to feel like it’s normal to be constantly under surveillance?” he said.

“There are unique risks for biometrics, which can be used to identify people based on unchangeable personal characteristics. Unlike other categories of identifying information, such as a drivers licence, if biometric information is compromised it is generally not possible to get a new identifier."

But LoopLearn co-founder Zoe Milne said the technology saved teachers valuable time.

“We’ve found that schools report that the roll marking process can take away up to two and a half hours of lesson time from students every week,” she said. “Schools spend this teaching time, as well as additional time from administration staff, on roll marking because they have a duty to keep students safe.”

She said that the technology had been designed with “privacy at its core”, complied with all relevant legislation and deleted students’ faces once they had been identified.

“To our knowledge, we’ve gone through all the proper channels and are open to further conversations to ensure that all stakeholders are comfortable with the LoopLearn technology,” she said.

Facial recognition technology is becoming increasingly common.

It’s used at airports, to unlock the latest iPhones and as part of China’s social credit system, which by 2020 will monitor the nation’s 1.4 billion citizens using surveillance cameras fitted with facial recognition.

In the US, the technology is being rolled out at schools fearful of shootings. One system allows security officers to respond to expelled students, sex offenders and disgruntled employees whose photos have been uploaded into a system.

A Ballarat Clarendon College student, who did not want to be named, said he didn’t like the idea of always being monitored.

“It has a Big Brother type of feeling to it,” he said.

But the school’s head of research, Greg Ashman, said the school had completed a thorough risk assessment and communicated its plans to the community.

He said if the trial was unsuccessful, the school would walk away from the technology.

Mr Ashman said the technology, which will be used in a handful of classrooms in coming weeks, would maximise the time teachers spent on instruction.

He said marking the roll could be cumbersome, particularly if students had left the class for a music lesson and then returned.

“There is no filming of what students are doing," Mr Ashman said.

"It is really just to check where they are.”

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Early childhood boost

Families will be promised a $1.75 billion funding boost in a dramatic Labor pledge to widen access to preschool, offering new subsidies to help children learn more at a younger age.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will guarantee access to subsidised preschool for around 700,000 children a year in a move that intensifies his policy fight on education ahead of the next election.

The Labor policy continues an existing federal package to subsidise preschool for four-year-olds, but it ramps up the funding to extend the scheme to three-year-olds in the name of lifting education results.

Australia currently comes 22/30 in the OECD for early childhood investment and we are falling further behind. An investment in early childhood is an investment in our economic future. Important announcements from Labor today.