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Book review

Restructuring School Management: Recent Administrative Reorganisation of Public School Governance in Australia, edited by G. Harman, H. Beare and G.F. Berkeley, Australian College of Education: Canberra, 1991. $30.00

Neil Cranston
Senior Review Officer
Metropolitan East Region
Department of Education, Queensland

This volume provides an excellent (and at times provocative and challenging) record of recent and current initiatives regarding the restructuring of public education in Australia. Insights into the reasons for, and thinking behind those initiatives are also provided together with conclusions and implications of 'where to from here'. It gathers together the writings of several notable educators from the public sector and academia in Australia, including Hughes, Matheson, Caldwell, Swan and Smart, in addition to the significant contributions of the three editors, each notable educators themselves.

Those who have worked in public education in Australia in the past decade or so can hardly fail to have been 'touched' by a system-level restructuring and/or by the move toward devolution of responsibility to schools and the beginnings of an era of 'self managing schools'. This volume provides first hand insights of many who have been at the forefront of such significant educational changes occurring in State and Territory systems in Australia. The section blends the writings of Department of Education Chief Executives and that of academics.

Within the Queensland context, Matheson (the former Director General of Education) records the machinations and tensions accompanying the changes at a system-level. The related political impetus to the changes provided by the Minister for Education of the day provides a unique perspective. Matheson notes that, contrary to the view held by many, the present restructuring process (i.e. those associated with Focus on Schools[1]) did not initiate the devolution of responsibility to schools thrust in Queensland. The previous education administration (and government) had started the process some years before. In fact, Matheson indicates that one of the previous ministers (Powell) argued for the devolution process to be implemented with greater urgency than the Department believed possible and appropriate.

The case studies are contextualised by Beare and Wirt's Restructuring: The International Context (Section I) and Hughes and Berkeley's Restructuring: The Australian Context. The volume concludes (Section IV) with Implications and Conclusions. Thomas and Harman, and Beare and Berkeley draw together the emerging issues and themes from the case studies and summarise (and 'speculate') as to where the restructuring processes across the country are taking us. One of the more significant key themes noted is that the reform agenda and the restructuring process has been lost by the educators themselves: 'Not only is the advice of educators not being highly valued, but their advice often is being ignored . . . the reform movement is being driven largely by others - Ministers, experts in public sector management, consultants, interest group leaders and education committees of political parties.'. This single theme should be sufficient to raise some lively debates across education forums, particularly when coupled with claims that 'educators are not trusted'. One wonders whether that is the totality of the situation. It may be argued by others that educators have had the reins (alone) for too long and have been less than effective. For example, the broader 'political' and public sector reform process (of which the education system restructures have generally been but a part) has been seen by some to be 'blocked' or at best 'slowed down' by those on the education side of the fence. It could be that those elected representatives of the people are not going to wait any longer for the educators to 'catch up'. It is the responsibility for the educators to demonstrate that this is not the case. This volume provides a significant base on which to pursue those claims.

It will also be up to educators to address in a most significant way the long- and short-term benefits (to the students!) of the self managing and self governing school. Is such a concept and a 'corporate management culture' universally applicable across the whole public school sector?

This volume presents many challenges for those involved in the education enterprise. However, at times it is somewhat misleading in its conclusions. For example, in commenting on the 'down-sizing' of the Queensland Department's Curriculum Branch (p.304), it is claimed that 30 positions will be 'expected to cover the functions once performed by over one hundred officers'. Such a claim distorts the present Focus on Schools restructuring process, ignoring for example the role of School Support Centres, and regional forums and networks in the curriculum process.

Notwithstanding these occasional 'aberrations', the book is highly recommended for those seeking a detailed account of what has (and is) occurring at the macro level in education across Australia. It also challenges many currently charged with the responsibility for implementing the restructuring processes to carefully consider the contributions of the educational community in their actions. It is not sufficient to observe that educators have lost the debate. The tensions between the political and education 'camps' will not disappear. Rather they are likely to increase as the call for more stringent accountability processes increases. Educators must take a higher profile and active role in the debates ahead. 'Restructuring School Management' represents a significant step in that process.


  1. This restructuring has occurred subsequent to those in which Matheson was most closely related, viz: Meeting the Challenge and Education 2000.

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