High expectations welfare reform; firm but fair

On Wednesday 6 April I had the honour of being hosted at Goodna State School alongside the Prime Minister. The school at Goodna is fantastic and it was great to see the leadership of Margaret Gurney in action. She challenged her students and her team to continue to ‘live’ and continue to maintain a high expectations learning environment, in spite of the complexity they were surrounded by. What I like about Margaret’s leadership is that a high expectations agenda is so explicit, that there is absolutely no room for excuses.

It got me thinking about recent discussions about public schooling and how disappointed I am in efforts to undermine its importance in Australia. Public schooling is a great institution.

It is an Institution with long and deeply held values. In 1880, Sir Henry Parkes, a passionate believer in public education said that investment in education is the greatest investment a country can make. He saw it as a duty to offer an education to every child “making no distinction of faith, asking no question about where a child was born, what may be his condition of life or what the position of his parents, but inviting all to sit side by side”.

Public Education is an institution that does the heavy lifting on the landscape of Australia’s productivity.

Public education is an institution that has no ‘fit in or farewell’ policy.

It is not an Institution that mostly cherry picks and enrols the kinds of students that are likely to succeed anyway.

It is an institution that sits readily at the top of any league table when the yardstick is about student distance travelled.

It is an Institution that has its challenges, but with the right investment into quality teachers, quality school leaders, and quality relationships, it can and does make a difference to the lives of children who truly can dream about becoming Prime Minister some day.

I was also delighted to be in Goodna to help launch the Family Centred Employment Project as well. As a member of the Australian Social Inclusion Board I played a part in advocating for such a Pilot Program. The program sets out a way of engaging people in policy approaches that acknowledge the human complexity of those Australians who, for whatever reason may be struggling. It is a policy approach that does not dishonour their humanity.

Welfare reform is a live topic.

Clearly the challenges are very complex. They are complex challenges that require sophisticated solutions NOT blanket assumptions that everyone on welfare is actively trying to avoid work.

This is simply not the case.

At the Stronger Smarter Institute we talk a lot about high expectations relationships in which we must support, develop, monitor, challenge and intervene.

There are many people who find themselves inadvertently on welfare, often through no active choice of their own. These people need supporting and developing. The Family Centred Employment Project is a very good example of such an enabling policy worth considering as a more honourable way of supporting vulnerable and struggling Australians to achieve their goal to move off welfare. This is part of the foundation of a high expectations relationship.

Notwithstanding, there certainly are some people on welfare who must be challenged to see themselves differently and having the capacity to contribute to Australian society by working for a living. Such people need challenging. This is part of the foundation of a high expectations relationship.

There are also people on welfare who unfortunately do seem to actively avoid opportunities to work. There must be intervention here. This is part of the foundation of a high expectations relationship.

Just supporting and developing, without the courage to challenge and intervene, signals a low expectations relationships.

Being unsophisticated and out of touch to the extent that the only thing we know to do is intervene, without supporting and developing, signals a low expectations relationship.

We need a high expectations welfare reform policy that is firm, with the courage to challenge and intervene, and fair, with the capacity to support and develop.

This is what symbolises high expectations relationships that honour the humanity of those Australians who are often vulnerable and struggling.

This is doing things ‘with people’… not ‘to them!’


3 Responses

  1. hi

  2. sorry about the previous reply but I had failed to post due to the format of the “Leave a Reply” box…I am sure there would have been more responses if the box was reformatted?…the Name and Email space are confusing.
    I have a student in my class (8 yrs old) who drew a picture of himself in jail when asked to draw the future?? I have managed to foster a pretty good relationship with him but have been met with resisitance from his family. I have contacted mum on the phone and requsted a meeting at her convenience but no joy.
    To put it into perspective I feel that my experience with the the Koori students who have passed through the school in the last 10 years have shown a pattern of school-juvenille justice- and finally jail. The boys seem to have rolemodels who go to jail and ‘get muscles’ and return to the community only to reoffend reinforcing the cycle??
    To put things into perspective I am a New Zealand Maori of Ngai Tahu origin who has found a real interest in education and teyig to make a difference in a system that appears to present more barriers to success than pathways for Indigenous students.
    I enjoyed your yarn at the QT and liked the way you bagged the NSW state of origin supporters…I go for QLD too…but that’s another story. cheers Paul

  3. Hi Paul..

    I get absolutely your point about the confusing name and email space.. I just posted a lengthy reply only to have it wiped.. I will get someone to look into this..

    As I was saying..

    This is a classic circumstance in which a young Indigenous kid is running to a negative script.. in fact a whole bunch of kids running to a negative script.. because it seems like the ‘normal’ thing to do.. in some ways they collude with a negative stereotype thinking the are reinforcing their Koori identity.. when in fact they are just colluding with a negative stereotype and reinforcing it so that somehow it appears more ‘normal’ for younger koori kids coming through..

    the problem is when just about everyone is colluding with the same negative stereotype and not offering him any reason to think differently and more positively about himself. I would urge you to stay determined to connect positively with him.. and get him to see that you have a different, more positive script for him.. inevitably you will see some good stuff come..and when you do..encourage your colleagues to see the same good stuff that you do.. to the extent that they start to see him more positively.. to the extent that he starts to see himself more positively.

    it is great that you are trying to connect with his family and you should continue to do so.. but I wouldnt let it stop you if it seems too difficult.. you can still make a difference ..what is most important is the relationship between you and him.

    Good luck mate.. sounds like you are doing great work..

    and yes.. Go the mighty Queensland!!!!!!!!

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