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NSW Education boss takes federal secretary role in Canberra

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has poached from the New South Wales public service to fill the top post at the Department of Education and Training.

Dr Michele Bruniges (pictured), currently secretary of the NSW Department of Education, will replace Lisa Paul at the federal agency in April. Paul announced late last year she was stepping down.

Turnbull also announced the reappointment of two secretaries: Kathryn Campbell at the Department of Human Services and Finn Pratt in Social Services. Both reappointments are also for five years.

While speculation centred around a promotion from the Canberra ranks, Turnbull surprisingly announced this afternoon he was handing Bruniges — a “leading educationalist” — a five-year term. It will bolster the ranks of female secretaries to five.

Bruniges has worked at the department before, holding various positions including as a deputy secretary of the Office of Early Childhood Education and Child Care and an associate secretary of schools and youth. She went on to join the NSW service as director-general of Education and Communities in 2011, appointed by new premier Barry O’Farrell.

Bruniges was also a former chief executive of the ACT Department of Education and Training from 2005 to 2008. She’s been a teacher at primary, high and TAFE level.

Turnbull describes Bruniges as a “leading educationalist in Australia with a distinguished career in Commonwealth, state and territory governments”. “She brings to the position a wealth of experience and expertise both as an administrator and a teacher,” he said.

In 2013, Bruniges spoke about the NSW agenda to The Australian Financial Review:

“The reform agenda builds on the fundamental principle that student needs must be at the centre of all decision-making in education. We are progressively devolving more authority to the school level where principals and school communities are best placed to understand local student needs. A new and fairer school funding model is being trialled, which acknowledges that students from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with learning difficulties may require further support.

“We have an extensive plan to improve the quality of teaching, from attracting the best and brightest students into teaching, providing more support for beginning teachers, a new performance management process for teachers linked to national professional teaching standards, and greater support for school leaders and aspiring leaders.

“It is an exciting time in education in Australia and I am privileged to lead the largest school and vocational education and training system in the country.”

In a speech to a female leadership summit also from 2013, Bruniges said she has remained in education “because it is my life’s passion and this choice has allowed me to accumulate knowledge in my subject area and build on that knowledge”. She was named in the inaugural list of 100 Women of Influence Awards for her public policy work.

Her qualifications include a PhD in educational measurement and a master’s degree in education. She is a graduate of the Institute of Company Directors, a Churchill fellow, a fellow of the Australian College of Educators and the Australian Council for Educational Leaders. She was named a Member of the Order of Australia in 2012.

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The Mandarin

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