Moving into dangerous territory: Devolution in the public education system of South Australia

Year: 2001

Author: Melnemey, Peter

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Government schools in Australia are undergoing major organisational changes as a consequence of shifts towards more devolved public education systems. This is neither a recent happening nor a purely local phenomenon. Under such titles as 'school-based management', 'site-based decision-making', and 'school-centred forms of education' (Smyth, 1993, p. 1), moves towards local school management have gathered speed in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and all Australian States over the past decade or so. But devolution is a complex process that does not mean the same to all players; furthermore, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that far from increasing the freedom and authority of schools and principals, devolution in recent times has been accompanied by the recentralisation of curriculum and overt forms of accountability that have actually increased the grip of the state and subverted social justice goals.

How is educational leadership being construed in these new sets of arrangements? How do principals talk about their work today? This paper locates the emergence of new models of leadership within a corporate managerialist approach to decision-making of the neo-liberal state that undervalues or marginalises the pedagogical attributes of school leadership. After highlighting the tensions between the centre and schools in the exercise of educational leadership the paper explores the possibilities of nurturing more distributive and educative forms of leadership in the current political climate.