Hubs raise unanswered questions

Briar Lipson
Insights Newsletter
5 April, 2019

The question of how to help schools face challenging circumstances was a key focus of Monday’s Tomorrow’s Schools review discussion held jointly by the Initiative and Victoria University’s Faculty of Education.

The Tomorrow’s Schools Taskforce is clear, and the Initiative agrees, that there is a serious and stubborn problem of underachievement among students from certain ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

According to the taskforce, one of the key causes of this inequity in outcomes is the way we organise our education system: 2,500 boards of trustees operating independently with no mechanism for scaling success.

Under a truly devolved system, success would scale up organically as popular schools grew and even took over the management of struggling schools. But the Tomorrow’s Schools system is not truly devolved, and less control is not what the taskforce wants.

Instead, the taskforce aspires to bring all schools under the control of a new tier of bureaucracy – 20 education hubs. These hubs would not only manage and monitor and support the network of schools, they would also assume all the legal responsibilities and liabilities of boards of trustees. The list of tasks that hubs are being lined up for reads like a governance meteor shower, or even an accountability black hole.

Nonetheless, some schools and principals have welcomed the proposals. They reason that hubs would ease some of the operational burden of school leadership around property management, HR, etc. The decile 1 school principal on Monday’s panel – Michelle Whiting – described compellingly how her to-do list extends well beyond areas normally expected of a principal. She believes this is because she fills the gaps left by her trustees.

Whiting’s is indeed a serious issue that must be addressed, for example, through inspections that identify such problems, and schemes that match qualified volunteers with schools needing expertise. Appropriate levels of equity funding are also important. 

However, on the same panel the chair of a decile 10 school – Neil Paviour-Smith – described the threat that the hub proposals pose to the myriad activities many boards undertake, for free and with local accountability, year in and year out.

After two hours of discussion, Paviour-Smith’s question hung ominously and unanswered in the room. Why, when self-governance works for most schools, give it all to hubs to subsume?

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