The Good Bureaucrat

Year: 2012

Author: Bills, Andrew

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Chair- Associate Professor Robert Hattam

Presenter- Dr Andrew Bills

Public servants are under greater public and political scrutiny than ever before. Recent media coverage in both the Federal and State (SA) arenas have included plans by the (Federal and State Governments) to make further cuts into the public service. There is a perception within all of this that public servants are out of touch, overpaid, and expendable. Within the SA education system, the then Minister for Education, Jay Weatherall, announced in 2011 that, "Strengthening the relationship between head office, schools and preschools is a critical first step in bringing about the improvements I want to see in our education system."

During this time, a COAG National Partnerships Research Pilot called SILA (Supporting Improved Literacy Achievement) was doing just that. Inspired and designed by bureaucrats within the Quality Improvement and Effectiveness unit within DECD, this pilot assembled four teams of coaches (bureaucrats) using a three tiered coaching model made up of a leadership, literacy and early years connections coach who together  worked alongside leaders and teachers in some of South Australia's most disadvantaged schools. Their charter was to help staff in sites address the emerging literacy challenges in their school communities.

As the project progressed, these bureaucrats worked as conduits between Central Office and schools. They negotiated with school leaders and teachers to translate complex policy initiatives and priorities into pragmatic and effective delivery options. They collaborated with teachers and principals to turn the literacy improvement imperative in schools into manageable and deliverable forms. They worked to highlight systemic issues experienced by principals and teachers back to the originating policy makers. This paper explores how a project designed out of the school improvement and effectiveness literature moved beyond neoliberal public policy accountability constraints through foregrounding negotiated and contextual coaching support between the bureaucrats (the coaches) and the school teachers and principals (coachees).