Sharyn O’Neill will be Western Australia’s next Public Sector Commissioner, bringing to a close her tenure as the longest-serving head of education in Australia.
During her nearly 12 years leading the Department of Education, Ms O’Neill has been the driving force behind the biggest reform of public education in Western Australia.
Lauded for her ability to “make things happen”, hallmarks of her leadership during her time as Director General include improvements to student academic standards, unprecedented autonomy for public schools, halting the drift of students to private schools and an unparalleled reform of public school funding.
Ms O’Neill graduated from teachers’ college in 1985 with the coveted College Council Prize awarded to the student with the highest academic results over the three year Diploma of Teaching.
After starting her career in a metropolitan school, she was keen to “go country” and over the next few years taught children in the remote Pilbara and the Gascoyne.
Ms O’Neill said those experiences stayed with her and shaped much of the innovation that has occurred in public education during her time as Director General.
“For me it has always been about the kids – wherever they happen to live in Western Australia. They have been my motivation in making sure our efforts are focused first on what they need to succeed in their classrooms,” she said.
Her experience in schools, followed by outstanding performance in system leadership positions, led to her appointment as Director General of the then Department of Education and Training in an acting capacity in 2006, and substantively in 2007.
Her 2007 Classroom First strategy – with student success at its centre – still serves as the foundation for decisions and actions of the public education system.
She has also had high level involvement in Commonwealth and State negotiations and reform.
“I have been privileged to lead an organisation that is entrusted with the education of children and young people, and directly services the community of Western Australia,” she said.
This year Ms O’Neill has more than 800 public schools, 45 000 staff, 300 000 students and a recurrent budget of $5 billion to watch over.
She said she was looking forward to the challenges and opportunities of her new role as Public Sector Commissioner.
“My goal is to re-energise thinking and collaboration so we have a contemporary approach to public services that serves the needs of all Western Australians. It’s about inspiring a sense of purpose, direction and vibrancy,” she said.
“I am honoured to take on this important position of leading and supporting the governance and leadership of public services in this State.”
Ms O’Neill will leave the Department of Education at the end of the week and her role will be filled on an acting basis by Jennifer McGrath, Deputy Director General of Education Business Services, until a permanent appointment is made.