The Ahern Committee and the education policy-making process in Queensland

Scott, Ann. (1984). The Ahern Committee and the education policy-making process in Queensland PhD Thesis, School of Political Science and International Studies, The University of Queensland.

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Author Scott, Ann.
Thesis Title The Ahern Committee and the education policy-making process in Queensland
School, Centre or Institute School of Political Science and International Studies
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1984
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor -
Total pages 657
Language eng
Subjects 330104 Educational Policy, Administration and Management
360101 Australian Government and Politics
Formatted abstract The study examines the origins, processes and impact of the Select Committee on Education in Queensland, frequently referred to as the Ahern Committee, which sat from 1978 to 1980. The committee was established for reasons which at the time appeared to be primarily political, in the sense that the National/Liberal coalition government sought to divert or resolve community conflict over education policy-making, especially curriculum issues.

However, even committees which are established for political reasons also have substantial goals which are specified in their terms of reference. The Ahern Committee was given very broad terms of reference, and issued seven separate reports. Six were issued as "interim reports" and were devoted to discrete education policy areas; school-based assessment; social education; literacy and numeracy; Human relationships education; distance education; and post-secondary education. The seventh report incorporated recommendations on diverse topics which had not fitted within the previous reports, as well as suggesting amendments to previous recommendations as a result of feedback received in the intervening period.

The study places the Ahern Committee within the historical context of the development of education in Queensland, and within its more immediate social and political context. The study also examines in detail the conflict over curriculum issues which led to the establishment of the committee, as well as the establishment, membership and processes of the committee itself. The outcomes of the committee, both in relation to its recommendations and the adoption or non-adoption of those recommendations, are analysed. From this analysis five questions are investigated. The first broad question is what contribution was made by the committee to the education policy-making processes in the State, and what interaction was there between the committee and its policy-making environment. The other questions follow from this: to what extent did the committee divert or resolve the community conflict over education issues; to what extent did the committee present a forum particularly conducive to rational decision-making processes; what impact did the committee have on education policy outcomes; and, finally, in what way were patterns of influence in the education policy-making process altered by the conflict and by the committee.

The thesis is divided into four sections: the introduction of the theoretical framework; a description and discussion of the contextual influences; the central case study which focusses on the the build-up to and conduct of the committee itself; and, finally, an analysis of the contribution of the committee to education policy-making in Queensland.

It is concluded that the committee only partially achieved the political goals which could be expected of it. Thus in the short term it postponed the need for further government action on contentious curriculum issues; also in the short term, it placated some vociferous interest groups by diverting conflict. The committee succeeded in defusing one particular controversial issue and legitimated a decision already taken by the Queensland Government to ban particular social science curriculum materials. Overall, however, it failed to remove education from the political agenda.

The committee's achievement of its substantial goals was severely restricted by the political compromises it made, compromises dictated to a large extent by the political nature of its membership. The decision to adopt the majority of its recommendations for implementation lay with the Education Department. Where these recommendations were in accord with Education Department preferences, the committee merely legitimated them - many were already in the bureaucratic "pipeline". Where the recommendations went against Departmental preferences the Ahern recommendations tended to fail.

Strong interest group activity was crucial in preventing the adoption of some recommendations, and ensuring the adoption of others. For example, despite the committee's support for the introduction of sex education into the school curriculum, interest group pressure succeeded in preventing adoption of this recommendation. On the other hand, although the Department might have favoured the reduced class sizes recommended by the Ahern Committee, it was not able to implement reduction without a determined campaign by the teachers' union to obtain specific funding from the Treasury.

The conduct of the committee and the outcomes which followed its recommendations were influenced in part by the deteriorating relationship between the partners in the ruling coalition government, and in particular by the political style of the dominant partner in the coalition, the National Party, and its leader, Johannes Bjelke-Petersen.

The necessity for the committee to meet its political goals overwhelmed its achievement of substantial goals.
Keyword Queensland. Parliament. Select Committee on Education in Queensland
Education and state -- Queensland
Additional Notes The author has given permission for this thesis to be made open access.

 
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