Dismantling ‘public’ schooling: a comparative analysis of privatised school systems in Alberta and North England and implications for Australia

Year: 2019

Author: Hogan, Anna, Thompson, Greg, Johnson, Rebecca

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In recent years, alternative modes of ‘public’ education have been pursued in a number of countries, particularly those with which Australia has policy affinities. These international examples include the likes of Charter schools, Academies and Free Schools. These schools involve corporations receiving public funding to run public schools. Prime Minister Scott Morrison (while Federal Treasurer) has indicated that Australia should trial these types of schools. Supporters of privatised provision of public education argue that it is more cost-effective, provides better learning outcomes and facilitates more innovative teaching and learning. In this paper we focus on the privatisation of public schooling in Alberta and North-East England and consider potential implications for Australia. We use data collected from 47 semi-structured interviews conducted with education stakeholders, including education bureaucrats, union officials, principals, teachers and advocacy group members across these two contexts. We first examine each case individually and then draw comparisons to the similarities and differences that exist between them. Our analysis shows the tensions that exist between (imagined) community and individualism in contemporary societies and explores how two systems have responded to these challenges. While Alberta has responded in a centralised, systematic way, North-East England has responded at a more individual, school level. Yet, both have dismantled aspects of ‘publicness’ in their public education systems in the process, and moreover, both speak of a fear for future generations in these privatised public systems. We argue that a more considered understanding of community and the characteristics that define publicness, and what it means to be a public institution, are needed. Indeed, we would caution the Australian government against adopting a similar policy trajectory.