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Education union concerned about school autonomy

School Autonomy, a system which gives public schools more independence, is causing division as it gets introduced to ACT primary schools.

The Australian Education Union and some principals are worried about its introduction, believing it places a higher workload on schools for minimal benefit.

Cathy Smith, assistant to the secretary of the AEU, said, “So that’s what we’re concerned about, putting more workload on schools and more management tasks on schools.”

Principals are worried that with the onus now on them to select teachers, it will make it more difficult to attract quality teachers to a struggling school.

A northside principal, who did not want to be named, said, “I’m just worried that my school will be seen as less attractive than some others.”

School Autonomy has been used in Victoria and Western Australia, however it has failed and subsequently been axed from Victorian schools.

School Autonomy essentially turns Principals and other administrative staff into business managers, putting them in charge of how they spend their funding.

Ms Smith says that making administrative staff into business managers will also have the effect of cutting down their student and staff interaction time. As such, the children will suffer.

“It would also take away the work of Principals being educational leaders and put more of a focus on them being managers and managing budgets,” Ms Smith said.

Despite the protests against it, the Department of Education and Training believes School Autonomy to be a positive as it would allow principals to use their funding in a way which best suits their school.

Michael Bateman, Human Resources Director for the department, said, “The principals will have primary responsibility that best suits their school and the needs of students in their school.”

Liz Bobos, deputy principal of Harrison Primary School, agreed it was positive saying, “I think it’s a good thing in that we will be able to choose how we use our funding.”

However, a major concern from the AEU’s perspective is that administrative staff in schools will have more responsibility, yet not be provided the resources to carry out these tasks.

“What we think it does mean for the ACT, the department would devolve responsibilities to schools and school principals without necessarily providing the resources to support that work,” Ms Smith said.

But the department says schools will receive the same funding they get now.

“The proposal is that, what schools currently get, will remain the same. It will just be presented in a different way,” Mr Bateman said.

School Autonomy is being trialled in the ACT and its effects remain to be seen. Surveys will also be carried out on principals to gauge their reaction.

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