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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Fifteen words on a Portal - Ethical Dilemmas in a Government School

In October 2015, a large Melbourne-based daily newspaper had a headline:' State school fee shock on enrolment'. The accompanying story went on to contend that: 'They (state schools) are meant to be 'free' education, but state schools are charging parents hundreds of dollars to secure a place for their child. The Education Department has reprimanded Southhill secondary college (SSC) after parents were asked to pay $270 to enrol their children at the inner city school'. This critical incident arose when a prospective Year 7 parent had complained to the newspaper about her experience of unsuccessfully trying to enrol her child online (via a portal) without making a payment. The fifteen words on the portal were: 'Your deposit is used to secure your place at Southhill Secondary College and is non-refundable'. The school has spent several years developing greater community trust and an ethical and equitable parent payment policy. A key contested issue here is around what constitutes 'free' education and whether the school has acted ethically. This critical incident arose as a result of the school introducing a technical innovation of new students enrolling via a portal provided by an external provider. This paper uses a psychoanalytic framework to explore some dimensions of the ethical dilemmas and unresolved conflicts which have emerged as a result of this critical incident within the school, and also its broader community and the larger education and social system within which it operates. It examines and proposes hypotheses about the dimensions of this ethical dilemma, some of the factors contributing to it in the school community, including contested issues around fee payments, truth telling, unexamined conflict, role ambiguity and unclear authority. Furthermore I have explored the ethical dilemmas that I have experienced in writing this paper. Some of the related questions considered were: As an elected, volunteer member of the school board, how do I write about this in an ethical way? How do I use my own experience to explore and better understand the issues, as well as managing my own integrity while concomitantly contributing to the understanding of the influencing factors? What learning is available here about the role of an 'internal consultant'? I practice professionally as a psychoanalytic consultant. I gathered data by using my lived experience of being a role holder in the school community (Board president). I have been deeply involved in the initial development of the payment policy and also in responding to and reflecting on this critical incident. I have conducted interviews with various stakeholders, reviewed policies, the school external portal, emails and related documents. It is intended that this paper will stimulate a conversation about the complexities of managing ethical dilemmas in the context of contested priorities in a government school, the system of which it is a part, and the role of the 'internal consultant'. [Note 1: Not its real name] References 1. The 'Impossibility' of Being an Internal Consultant; Zahid H. Gangjee, in When the Twain Meet, Chapter 3, pp 67 - 73. Authors: Gouranga P. Chattopadhyay, Zahid H. Gangjee, M. Linda Hunt, W. Gordon Lawrence. Wheeler & Co., Allahabad, 1986. 2. Conflict, ambivalence, and the contested purpose of public organizations; Paul Hoggett in Human Relations, DOI: 10.1177/0018726706062731 Volume 59 (2): 175-194 Copyright 2006 The Tavistock Institute, SAGE Publications London, Thousand Oaks CA. 3. Organisation in the Mind - Psychoanalysis, Group Relations and Organisational Consultancy; David Armstrong, edited by Robert French, Karnac 2005. 4. The Politics of Salvation and Revelation in the Practice of Consultancy; Gordon Lawrence in Tongued with Fire: Groups in Experience, Karnac 2000 5. Paper Houses: the authority vacuum in a government school; Alastair Bain, Susan Long, Suzanne Ross Collins Dove 1992 6. Authority, Power and Leadership - contributions from group relations training; Anton Obholzer in The Unconscious at Work - individual and organisational stress in the human services, Routledge, London, 1994.