Monday, March 28, 2005

Schools vs. Parents and the State?

The State Schools Relief Comission (Victorian Welfare Agency) has found that more and more families are seeking welfare help to provide for the basic needs of their children as they attend school. Things like uniforms and shoes.

No one would argue that this is a 'shocking' situation. Kids should have the basic things they need (and then some) so they can concentrate on their schooling and social development, rather than worry about what they are having for lunch and whether or not 'Johnny' is going to pick on them again for having an 'old' jumper.

What is a bigger shame though, is Minister Lynne Kosky's (State Education Minister AND PARENT!) positioning of schools as greedy, non-caring, and selfish, and Parents as hard-done-by, used, abused, misunderstood, and struggling against hard-nosed schools who just don't understand the pressures of being a parent. Of course, she positions herself as a parent and sympathises with the plight of other similarly effected parents, 'often giving them adivce on what is correct department policy', presumably to counter the misinformation given out by deceiving schools.

She has even gone as far as setting up a departmental 'hotline' where stressed out parents can ring and get support when not wanting to 'deal with' their child's 'difficult' school.

In a further response to the problem, Education Minister Lynne Kosky has revealed to The Age she is investigating setting up a system where parents concerned about the extra costs at a state school can seek advice and help from the Education Department.

Ms Kosky said that when parents raised the concerns with a school, "it's not necessarily met as well as if it was raised somewhere else".

"I know just as a parent I get other parents approaching me about what is correct and what is not," she said.

"I think parents often feel very reluctant to raise concerns at a school level. If they've got a third party to go to and just seek information, and sometimes have a bit of an advocate, that can be helpful.

"Schools are always operating in the best interests of all of the children, but sometimes they take decisions without fully understanding the impact on maybe only one, two or three families."

Ms Kosky said schools needed to be reminded that when extra activities were adopted, the capacity of parents to pay had to be considered.

Ooh, this makes me mad.

I'm not arguing that their are no difficult schools (really we should be talking about difficult administrators, teachers etc.) but I am concerned about the way Minister Kosky sets up schools in opposition to the Department and Parents in a seriously unproductive way.

For example, in the article there is some talk about the problem of 'voluntary fees'. This is an interesting issue, but one that has been totally simplified here as to make schools look greedy. The reality is that while legislation dictates that state (government) schools cannot charge tutition fees or enrolment fees per se, schools are 'forced' to charge most families a 'voluntary contribution' that really amounts to the same thing as tuition. Schools vary in terms of policy and pressure on parents who don't, cannot or won't pay, but schools cannot generally refuse to take students over the issue of money. They can (and many do) make it difficult for students who don't pay to enjoy paid or expensive curriculum activities, but most often schools are obliged to provide a curriculum that does not discriminate in terms of ability to pay.

My beef with Minister Kosky then is that legislation says 'you cannot charge tuition etc' but the Government also says 'we cannot give you all the money you need to run a decent (read: average) school'. Schools are then faced with a tough decision: run a dodgy school curriculum/program and be savaged by the Government's own school review process? or, charge parents a 'voluntary contribution' so that we can offer students a better program and perhaps meet the Government's school review process and not be savaged by the press when they find out we have no heating or see the holes in the walls!

It's a fairly clear decision.

In her pitting of 'uncaring' schools against 'concerned' parents and a 'caring' government, Minister Kosky misses the point of the 'debate'. Schools (who are run and staffed by parents!), parents, communities (made up of parents!) and governments (voted in by parents!) need to work together to solve issues like 'no money for uniforms and shoes'. Playing the blame game is disheartening for all and drains hope from those still willing to teach and work in state schools.

But are we surprised?

Have a read at, Parents too poor to outfit students - National -



At 3:39 pm, Blogger phd me said...

Oooo, that age-old argument really gets under my skin. I could bore you with some historical bits related to the parent vs. school debate in the US but it really comes down to an "us versus them" mentality. Somehow, schools and parents have become fundamentally opposed, even though we're all working for the good of the student (in theory, at least - we won't go into the true purposes of schooling re: Apple, Labaree, Freire, et al). If only we could actually work together on education rather than ripping away at each other - nobody wins in that melee.

At 4:33 pm, Blogger Scott said...

I guess my nonplussedness with the Victorian (and Australian) situation is that at present we are talking about a 'traditional' Labor government who came to office holding hands with those interested in education and schooling! I realise it doesn't make much sense to talk about a 'traditional' Labor governent anymore (did it ever) but how funny is it (not at all of course) that those whom you would expect to show a little more consideration for the complexties of the situation vis-a-vis successfully bringing together parents, teachers, students and governments, are just uselessly STUPID.

I seriously think that the Minister (as honourable as she might be) is just a little bit off the pace (a flamin idiot).


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