Pressures, priorities and politics : a study of certain conditions and responses in the A.C.T. Government schooling system 1974 - 1983

  • Bill Wood

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    The A.C.T. Government schooling system began operations in 1974 - the first newly structured system of government education in Australia this century. As such is was seen to provide an opportunity to establish an innovative administration not restricted by established bureaucratic traditions. The focus of this Study is the response of the new system to certain conditions arising late in the 1970's. The A.C.T. Schools Authority had been established at a time when both public regard and government support for education were at their peak. Within a few years, however, the favourable conditions were to change considerably. With Australia facing economic recession, and the A.C.T. schooling system showing an expenditure per pupil significantly higher than state systems, the Federal Government acted to limit education expenditure in the Territory. At the same time, a downturn in the rate of population growth in the A.C.T. due to government decisions about the development of Canberra, as well as a decline in the birth rate throughout Australia, produced a decline in the number of students entering A.C.T. Government schools. This problem was exacerbated by the strictly planned development of Canberra in which new suburbs expanded to their full size rapidly and school age population peaks quickly passed through the school system. This caused a imbalance in school size, with a number of smaller, more expensive schools in older suburbs, while some newly constructed schools remained unopened in new suburbs. Consequently, both the Federal Government and the Schools Authority had to make decisions about the opening of new schools and the future of others. The Study examines these factors and considers the manner in which the system was required to respond to the changed circumstances. It details the decisions of the Schools Authority and examines the structure, procedures and outcomes of the various task forces which were established, in conformity with the system's participative nature, to seek solutions to the problems. The Study outlines the events surrounding the Schools Authority decision to close a government high school and its later reversal of that decision when a new federal government altered the composition of the Authority. Thus the dominant role of government in decision making is made clear as changes of government and policies effected decisions made by the Authority. The topic is considered worthy of study because it examines a system's response to those problems of enrolment decline and financial constraint which are causing severe difficulties to education administrators in most developed countries. In doing so it is also useful to examine the functioning of a new and innovative system as it operates within its framework of community participation, and to understand the limitations as well as the benefits which this imposes. Finally, in a system still in its infancy, the relationship between the Federal Government which provides funds and holds ultimate responsibility, and the Schools Authority as its agent, deserves attention. The Study adopts an analytical approach to the topic through an investigative and interpretive examination of the documents of the Schools Authority. A chronological methodology is adopted to follow through the related and incremental nature of administrative actions and policy decisions. The reason for this approach stems from the significance of chronological events as one policy reacted upon another, and the decisions of one body impacted on the decisions of another. Data have been gathered from statistics published by the A.C.T. Schools Authority, The Schools Commission and the Commonwealth Department of Education and from publications of those bodies. In particular, the reports of the task forces established by the Schools Authority to consider the impact of enrolment decline and financial constraint are examined in detail, while the Schools Authority provided further data concerning the decisions which were made upon its consideration of the various reports.
    Date of Award1983
    Original languageEnglish

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