Education policy-making in Australia remains one of the most complex of government's responsibilities, affecting a broad spectrum of social and political advancements of national and international importance. The advancement of education policy has been accepted as a key factor in achieving the labour productivity and innovation capacity that are needed to compete within the global economy and to build social capital. Yet, the challenge of development and implementation of education policy in Australia has been significantly influenced by its unique federal model, where the state and commonwealth jurisdictions increasingly overlap. This article offers a descriptive account of federal policy involvement in Australian education since federation, with particular attention to vocational education. It demonstrates that national education policy development is characterised by downwards, upwards and horizontal patterns of cooperation between national and state governments, which are in turn influenced by contextual factors such as national economic policy goals, economic and social conditions and political configurations. The article presents an innovative approach to educational research as it brings together two fields of specialisation: vocational education and training research and political science.
Vocational education and training, role of education, federal state relationship, federal programs, government role, states powers
Maynes (1977) has argued that the general or academic traditions of education have represented a state-sanctioned (and in past times church-sanctioned) means for the enculturation of the ruling classes into elite positions in the church and government. The vocational tradition has never enjoyed the buttressing of national or state approval (much less that of the church) but rather has been linked to local guilds and municipal authorities. These latter organisations have viewed vocational education as concerned with meeting the demand for skills at a local level and with the inculturation of the children of the poor into the habits and behaviours appropriate to the demands of unskilled and skilled work. This historical divide has been cemented over the last century by the role played by national institutions (such as government) in the accreditation and delivery of general education through the mandating of the general or academic curriculum and its links with university entry. Good (1960) and Roach (1986) have argued that only relatively recently have national governments begun to extend their mandate to the delivery of vocational education, in response to a belief that general education has not been able to fully meet the needs and interests of national economies (Jephcoate & Abbott, 2005).
These historical narratives shed light on the increasing role played by national governments in relation to vocational education, at both the school level and post-school. In Australia, however, the structures and processes of federalism have added an important dimension to this debate. In this paper, we provide a new framework for understanding the dynamics of federal interventions. We demonstrate that national education policy development in Australian federation is characterised by downwards, upwards and horizontal patterns of cooperation between national and state governments, which are in turn influenced by contextual factors such as national economic policy goals, economic and...