How independent public schools may change Australian education

Earlier this year, the federal government pledged $70 million to assist public schools to exercise greater autonomy through the Independent Public Schools (IPS) initiative. The government's goal is that 25 per cent of all Australian government schools will become Independent Public Schools by 2017. Under the scheme, public schools continue to receive government funding but are granted independence to make decisions about how they are run generally through the establishment of a school council, as occurs in the independent (private) school sector.

If you're wondering what the IPS system could mean for your child's schooling, we explain the facts, advantages and disadvantages below.

Key facts

  • According to the federal Department of Education, the IPS initiative ˜will help schools build strong communities, give schools greater local decision making powers and increase the engagement of parents, community groups and local industry'.
  • The IPS system currently operates in Queensland and Western Australia, with the latter recently credited as they only state where more students are entering the public system than leaving it. Other states, including New South Wales and Tasmania, have opposed the introduction of independent public schools. Similar systems operate overseas, including in the United States (known as ˜charter schools') and the United Kingdom (known as ˜free schools').
  • Nationally, enrollment growth has been stronger in non-government schools than in the government sector. The IPS system is seen as a measure that could encourage growth in government school enrollments.
  • The IPS program has been particularly successful in WA. Since the program launched four years ago, 264 of the state's 800 government schools have made the switch with enrollment growth at these schools recorded at around 24 per cent since the beginning of the program. Additionally, overall enrollments at WA government schools rose by more than seven per cent between 2011 and 2013. This comes in contrast to other states Tasmania, in particular, where government school enrollments dropped over the same period, as well as New South Wales, the Northern Territory and South Australia, where growth was minimal.


For schools, the primary benefit is the flexibility and responsibility to make decisions related to school operations. This means that independent public schools are given greater control and ownership, with opportunities such as enhanced local governance, financial flexibility (including staffing) and more public accountability. In short, this ensures that those who are best placed to make decisions about the running of a school are the ones to do so, including parents and the broader school community. Ideally, this type of autonomy should help schools to better respond to students' needs.

Public schools that gain independent status will continue to receive funding from the state government and will remain within the government system they will not charge fees like independent schools in the private school sector. Likewise, although schools are granted more autonomy to deal with operational procedures, they are still bound by legislation, policy and national agreements.


Despite the success of the program in WA, some have voiced concerns over how Independent Public Schools would work in practice and whether pushing schools to gain independent status is simply a matter of reducing the state and territory governments' responsibilities. Further, the Australian Education Union (AEU) has warned that there is no conclusive national or international evidence that greater autonomy in schools has a positive effect on student outcomes. The AEU also believes that the move towards the IPS system will widen the inequity within Australian schools, with the possibility of creating a two-tiered public education system. For more information, see the AEU's 2014 Annual Federal Conference Statement.

Likewise, a 2012 report by the Productivity Commission noted that in the absence of adequate resourcing, greater school autonomy can actually do more harm than good.

Further information:
For more information about the Independent Public Schools initiative, visit the following websites. You can also check back with we'll keep you updated on the IPS initiative as it continues to develop.

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