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$70m for independent school plan

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Principals will have more power to choose their staff under a $70 million plan to help a quarter of Australia’s public schools become independent by 2017.

Under the plan, the federal government will pump funds to train school principals and leadership boards to become “independent-ready” by 2017.

The move fulfils an Abbott government election promise in which $70 million will be spent on getting parents and principals to have more say on school curriculums, budgets and management.

Announcing the initiative on Monday, Education Minister Christopher Pyne said research shows more autonomous schools lead to better student outcomes.

“In very tight budget circumstances, it’s a real measure of the government’s commitment to independent public schools that $70 million is available,” Mr Pyne told reporters in Melbourne.

Mr Pyne said all states and territories, except South Australia which is in election mode, have signed on to the initiative, which aims to have 1500 more public schools turned independent within three years.

Mr Pyne said every state and territory is in a different stage of transition but the government wanted to work with them to try to boost their openness to having independent public schools.

Mr Pyne said he will urge all federal MPs to encourage their local public school principals to back the idea, which will give principals more capacity to choose their own staff.

“The more a principal and his or her leadership team have control of the destiny of their own school, the more that seems to lift the school performance,” he said.

A number of Labor figures have also indicated their support for the idea in the past, he said.

But Mr Pyne said it was a red herring to suggest the plan would lead to a two-tiered system or more paperwork for schools, pointing to the success of the Victorian system which has had autonomous schools for two decades.

Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon said the example in that state had shown otherwise.

“The reality here in Victoria is with our very autonomous system, the accountability back to central office has been reduced,” he said.

Schools taking part in the program will remain part of the government school system and continue receiving state government support.

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