Clean sweep

The cost of outsourcing in public schools

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  • Published 20190428
  • ISBN: 9781925773620
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

IT IS SUPPOSED to be test of character. An A+ student sits down to the final exam of his degree, and is surprised to be presented with a piece of paper with a single question: what is the name of the person who cleans this building? Walter W Bettinger II, CEO of the finance giant the Charles Schwab Corporation, told a version of this story to The New York Times last year, describing the test as ‘the only one I ever failed’ and ‘a great reminder of what really matters in life’. I recently tried it out on my eight-year-old, a NSW public school student, and she flunked too. This result is less to do with her moral qualities though, I suspect, than her state of residence. For NSW, it turns out, is one of the harder states for a kid to pass the ‘what’s the cleaner’s name?’ test.

Kath Haddon, a school cleaner in NSW since 1981, remembers when cleaners’ names started to drop from use in her workplace. It was in early 1994, following the Greiner Coalition government’s decision to dissolve the Government Cleaning Service and tender the work to private companies. ‘We went from being employees of the school to being employees of the contractors overnight, and you could physically feel the change,’ she says. She stopped being invited to meetings about school health and safety – that was now the contractors’ job – and face-to-face conversations with the school principal ceased. Instructions were now delivered via a bureaucratic maze of faxes, phone calls, log book entries and area manager site visits. Soon, sticky-taped notes addressed to ‘Cleaner’ began appearing on pieces of equipment. ‘It felt like we had become objects,’ Kath says, ‘just like the vacuum cleaner in the corner.’

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