School Autonomy: A Key Reform for Improving Indigenous Education

  • The marked educational under-achievement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in remote area communities has become an issue of great public concern.
  • The government school model is failing Indigenous students in remote centres by imposing failed post-modern curricula in schools, through a lack of emphasis on teaching English at an early age, and through poor quality teaching practices.
  • Funding by the Commonwealth and state governments is being wasted on inappropriate content, a questionable philosophy of education, and poor teaching practices, thus reinforcing Indigenous educational disadvantage.
  • To promote meaningful structural reform in government schools within Indigenous communities would require the transformation of individual schools into autonomous (‘non-systemic’) government schools.
  • These schools would be freed from the restrictive rules and regulations that apply to standard government schools; a growing body of evidence suggests that autonomous schools are succeeding in helping students.
  • A system of autonomous schools would redress the current situation where highly-skilled and committed principals and teachers are unable to embark on change to improve education for their Indigenous students.
  • Combined with other reforms, school autonomy has the potential to transform failed government schools in remote Indigenous communities into successful schools that lift long-term Indigenous educational outcomes.
  • The political opposition to government school autonomy must be overcome if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in remote communities are to receive a decent education.
  • We must ensure that another generation of Indigenous students is not lost.

Julie Novak is an economist specialising in Austrian/evolutionary economics and public choice theory. She has previously written on a range of educational issues, including ‘Choice Matters: What Needs to Change to Make Schools Competitive?’ published in the Autumn 2006 issue of POLICY magazine.