The highest levels of leadership at the federal Department of Education have had a makeover, with its Senior Executive Service (SES) undergoing an almost clean sweep of top positions.
With Michele Bruniges having only just left the department’s top job and Tony Cook taking over as the secretary earlier this month, the hierarchy has all but changed completely.
Only Marcus Markovic remains as deputy secretary for corporate and enabling services, while all other SES Band 3 positions have been filled with new appointments.
Meg Brighton has only been the department’s deputy secretary for schools since March.
Kylie Crane was also promoted to deputy secretary for early childhood and youth in March, while Ben Rimmer was appointed this month as the deputy secretary for higher education, research and international.
“This kind of wholesale change at the top is not typical,” a senior APS contact told Region.
“It is obvious that the Labor government has big plans for the agency and is putting people it sees as those who will deliver what it hopes to achieve … (in) those senior SES roles.”
The shakeup comes as Education Minister Jason Clare embarks on a revamp of the entire education system, appointing an expert panel to advise him on key targets and specific reforms for the schools sector.
“Australia has a good school education system, but it can be a lot better and a lot fairer,” Minister Clare said when establishing an expert panel to conduct the review.
“This expert panel will zero in on how we can drive real and measurable improvements for students most at risk of falling behind and who need additional support.
“There will be a particular focus on students from low socio-economic backgrounds, regional and remote Australia, First Nations students, students with disability and students from a language background other than English.
“It will also look at how we ensure public funding is delivering on national agreements and that all school authorities are transparent and accountable to the community for how funding is invested and measured.”
The expert panel, tasked with advising for the next National School Reform Agreement, is headed by Lisa O’Brien, chair of the Australian Education Research Organisation and former CEO of the Smith Family.
The panel must report to the government by 31 October this year.
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The departmental changes also come during the consultation process to develop the Australian Universities Accord.
About 300 public submissions were made to the consultation from across higher education, business and government, as well as from students, higher education staff, unions, peak bodies and policy experts.
The accord is the first big and broad review of Australia’s higher education system in 15 years.
The Minister said the submissions will play a critical role in the deliberations of the Australian Universities Accord Panel as they consider their interim report.
“The Universities Accord team are working to reshape and reimagine higher education in Australia and set it up for the next decade and beyond,” Mr Clare said.
The accord is the first major broad review of Australia’s higher education system in 15 years.
The accord panel, chaired by Professor Mary O’Kane, must report by the end of June.
Meanwhile, observers of the department’s movements suggest the minister is preparing his workforce to implement significant change.
“Watch this space,” one source said.
“You don’t see the change of almost an entire band without some form of new agenda being implemented.”