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Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

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Jack Keating (1947–2012)

by Bill Hannan

Jack Keating worked for the teacher union movement in the 1980s, as a curriculum policy officer in what was then the Victorian Secondary Teachers Association.  Before that he had taught here and in Britain. Subsequently he worked on education policy as adviser, consultant, teacher and researcher until his death on 21 July.

I knew Jack from my own days in the VSTA. Our common interest in equity and the expansion of democratic schooling was more than enough to keep us together but we also had a strong friendship and a shared respect for Jack’s father Frank who had managed the crusading Catholic Worker after its break with Bob Santamaria.

Although they arose at various times and in different climates, Jack’s policy preoccupations and advocacy are of a piece. Running through everything was his concern for democratic schooling. One of the first and the most enduring strand was an interest in vocational education. He wanted vocational education to have equal standing with academic education. He never saw prestige as an indicator of quality and never accepted that a Year 12 threshing machine should sort grain from chaff. To this end he pursued the idea that the (then) new VCE should be organized into coherent programs or pathways spanning a good range of academic and vocational studies. Since this, as with other plans for the VCE, required substantial school numbers in the senior years he became an advocate also of school reorganization to create senior campuses and to link schools with training organisations.

He came again at this theme in 2000 in the Kirby Review of postcompulsory education and training, where he pointed out that the VCE was failing (as it is still is twelve years later) to provide sufficient pathways for all young people in their postcompulsory years. He advocated both an expansion of pathways to recognise vocational goals and coherent local organisation to ensure that all young people would be provided for in school, training or work. Ultimately, when the VCE proved to be too much a creature of university and elite school interests, he shed the reluctance to set up alternatives, expressed in the Kirby report, and succeeded in having the VCAL introduced.

At the same time as he was weaving the idea of pathways with those of school and district reorganization, Jack was preoccupied also with Australia’s extraordinary commitment to competing sectors in schooling. As he saw it Labor, first under Whitlam, then Hawke, had missed their chance to integrate Catholic systemic schools into the public system. Unusually in a country so taken with Anglophone examples, Australia had not followed England or New Zealand down the road of integration. Instead we had finally handed out state aid without any significant strings. This was perhaps because sectarian feeling within the Left was too strong. Whatever the reason, the Catholic lobby joined with the mainly Protestant private school lobby to create a force that now seems irresistible to both sides of Parliament. Realising that this was indeed irresistible and might well become worse, to the great detriment of the disadvantaged, Jack developed a fresh way of looking at school funding that put all schools on the same basic footing and added funds to make up for disadvantage. This is the position he put to the Gonski report, which basically adopted it.

No doubt with his experience advising ministers, working with high administrators and discoursing with educationists around the world – and he did all of these things in quantity  – Jack learnt much about the limits and labyrinths of politics, but I think the fact that he and his views, radical though they were, were accepted by such a wide range of people all with their own strong views is evidence more of his palpable sincerity and goodness than of any guile. He was intent on adding to the greater good of the world and will be lovingly remembered for that. For myself, I will miss his turning up on his bike to the front door ready with a bottle from the stockpile of fine red wine that he had acquired as an investment but been obliged by commercial misfortune to treat as pure pleasure.

The last time I saw him he seemed already half in the world of the shades. His suffering ended a few days later in the company of his family.  His wife Linelle Gibson has been a teacher, as his son Liam is, whilst his daughter Bonne is training in education.

Good on you Jack.

Citation details

Bill Hannan, 'Keating, Jack (1947–2012)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 May 2024.

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