Australia studies Britain's lead on sponsorship in charter schools

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 June, 2007, 12:00am

Australia could follow Britain and establish 'charter schools' that offer public education while being run as private businesses with corporate sponsors.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop has called for stronger links between business and the nation's schools, saying corporate sponsorship of public schools would improve the employability of school leavers.

But her plan attracted an angry reaction from the Australian Education Union, which warned it could lead to schools churning out students with skills 'set for a life in McDonald's'.

Launching a new business-schools forum in Canberra, Ms Bishop said that if schools and business 'engaged more deeply, then we would see some significant changes in the way that our education systems work.' She said businesses could have a role in determining what was taught in both public and private schools.

Ms Bishop said there was great potential for even greater integration between schools and business that would enhance student learning and their employability skills.

'Can any government seriously keep up with the pace of technological change or move quickly enough to resource every school in the country with the latest technological advances?' she said.

'Can we really expect teachers who have gone through school, gone through university and gone back to schools to teach, to be able to impart to students the range of possibilities that are out there for student employment? What are the possibilities of public private partnerships to build schools?'

She said the government's aim was to improve education outcomes, increase opportunities for every student and provide them with the skills, so that whatever lay ahead, whether training or further study or a job, they could 'grasp those opportunities throughout their lives'.

'This will improve business outcomes, increase productivity, build on our economic strength and consolidate and build on the gains that this country has made in recent years.'

But Australian Education Union president Pat Byrne said it was astonishing to suggest it was beyond the capabilities of one government to resource schools adequately.

'How can Julie Bishop say it is beyond any one government to properly resource schools when Australia has an A$11 billion (HK$72.05 billion) budget surplus?' She said the Howard government had reduced the share of federal funding for public education from 42 per cent to 35 per cent and was now proposing to further abrogate its responsibilities by introducing corporate sponsorship.