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Power shifts in school revolution

Australia. Governments across Australia are handing more responsibility to schools. But they are centralising power over areas such as the curriculum and demanding increased accountability.

The state government in Victoria took the lead nearly four years ago. In a radical re-organisation the government thrust its "self-managing schools" concept on often bewildered communities. Spending was cut dramatically, and teacher numbers fell by almost 15 per cent.

Four elements comprise Victoria's "schools of the future" approach: * a school charter setting out how the school will meet the requirements of the central bureaucracy and those of its own local community. The charter details codes of practice for staff and students and the triennial school review; * a curriculum and standards framework developed by an advisory body, the Victorian Board of Studies, which is directly responsible to the education minister. The framework specifies the key learning areas within which schools must operate and the learning outcomes they are expected to achieve. The CSF is reinforced by statewide assessment; * schools select their own staff. Each school develops a plan detailing its particular mix of fixed-term and casual positions; * a resourcing framework that gives schools control over recurrent funding, including salaries, maintenance for buildings, and costs associated with education programmes.

Other conservative administrations across Australia are now following the Victorian model. Tasmania is the latest to jump on the bandwagon with a Directions for Education policy which will see greater administrative demands on schools.

In Queensland, the state government announced a Leading Schools proposal in February, having undertaken no consultations with parent or teacher organisations. The scheme envisages school-based management being phased in through a pilot programme involving 100 schools this year, and extended to all large primary and secondary schools in 1998 and 1999.

Under the plan, school councils will be established to take over many of the responsibilities currently held by the Education Department. Regions and school support centres will be abolished and the state divided into 36 districts.

Leading schools will receive a "total school budget" and will be responsible for how the money is spent and for implementing cuts.

Western Australia has been moving down the devolution path for 10 years. Now the pace has been speeded up and a trial is to start with 60 schools given full control over staffing for the first time.

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