Why no one should bother listening to Kevin Donnelly about education.

This opinion piece by long time Education writer Kevin Donnelly appeared on ABC’s The Drum today.

While I accuse this piece of being riddled with misleading arguments and logical fallacies that highlight Donnelly’s hard-right ideology with no respect for reason or evidence, a more thorough analysis of his piece will have to wait.

What I want to draw attention to is the justification for Donnelly’s piece being published in the first place. Aside from his long-standing career as a conservative education commentator, his pieces on The Drum finish with “Dr Kevin Donnelly is director of Education Standards Institute.”

Director of Education Standards Institute? And he’s a Doctor? Wow. Sounds very prestigious. But when you wander over to the Educational Standards Institute website, there are a couple of things that immediately seem out of place.

Despite being named an ‘Institute’, the website only talks about Kevin Donnelly, and in many places the website is written using the first person pronoun ‘I’, suggesting that the ‘institute’ consists of only Kevin himself.

Then on the ‘about us’ page, you find this line: “ESI is a trading name for Impetus Consultants Pty Ltd, ABN 73 737 609 643. ” So first of all, this ‘Institute’ or self described ‘think tank’ is actually a manifestation of a business, meaning that if there actually is anyone else working with Kevin, or for Kevin, they are actually an employee of Impetus Consultants. Seeing as an ABN is provided, we can easily look up that business for further information. Lets see what the ABN lookup can tell us about this company…


It seems that Impetus Consulting, and therefore Education Standards Institute, are entirely owned by the K Donnelly Family Trust. So what does that make the Education Standards Institute?

It makes it a fraud. An obfuscation. A misdirection. It means that the Education Standards Institute is about as valid as an educational organisation as McDonald’s short-lived effort to get ‘heart tick approved’ meals on their menu was as a health campaign. If you look up Donnelly or Impetus consulting online you will find no shortage of criticisms of his hard-right views on social issues, as well as the large amounts of money he has been paid from the Liberal party and from companies like Phillip Morris, donations which seem to coincide with Donnelly publishing books that argue strongly in favour of Liberal party education policies, and his “I’ve got the power” educational packs that encouraged children to ‘make up their own minds’ on issues like smoking without providing information about the actual dangers of cigarettes. In you haven’t seen the movie ‘Thank you for Smoking’, now would be a good time.

So anyway, it seems that the ‘Education Standards Institute’ is nothing more than a prestigious sounding front, a sham, to attempt to validate the opinions that Donnelly spouts on behalf of clients of his consultation company. You’ll note on the ABN register that his company is not registered for tax-deductible donations, so any income he receives is going to be ‘for services rendered’.

He has deliberately tried to create an image of prestige to try and make the ultra-conservative opinions that he spouts seem like they’re coming from a third party. You’ll also notice that his biography always says that he was a teacher for 18 years, and also says that he is a Dr. but it never says what he is a doctor of. Surely if he held a Ph.D. in a field of research even remotely related to educational policy and school achievement he would be touting it from every conservative media platform that comes his way. While it may be an earned title, I suspect that this reference in educational matters is just another distraction used to give his opinions further air of authority. And after some time looking around online, I still don’t know what he has achieved to earn that title.

He has crafted a facade of educational credibility, one which appears to have been heavily criticised since the birth of the trading name that is the Educational Standards Institute, and my claim is that he would not have seen the need to craft such a facade if his intentions were genuine. In my opinion, his voice is, and has been for some time, just another distraction trying to muddy the waters of important issues with the selfish interests of businesses and conservative political ideologues.

EDIT: It appears that Donnelly did complete a Ph.D in an educational field in 1993, and his thesis was a critique of English teaching in Victorian schools. His thesis can be found here.

Thanks to Greg Thompson (@effectsofnaplan) for finding this.



Filed under Just Add Logic; Won't Hold Water, Skepticism

26 responses to “Why no one should bother listening to Kevin Donnelly about education.

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  3. Jim KABLE

    No one should be entitled to use the word Institute as part of their name unless a fully accredited tertiary institution – such as RMIT for example. It is clearly perpetrating a kind of fraud and obfuscation – endeavouring to hoodwink – as others have said! The ESI, the IPA! Grr! Why such fraudsters are invited onto The Drum is interesting. Can we find out how those invites come about? Who is responsible?

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  5. Roslyn

    What is Donelly’s educational background apart from his “Ph.D” in English education? Did he attend a catholic school? Jesuit by any chance?

    • fhulks

      While I’m totally opposed to Donelly, your comment shows another type of bias, don’t use fire to put out fire. This sort of comment is the reason why people like Donelly gain traction.

  6. Fed up

    All I need to know, is what does he mean by teaching religion. Does he want it taught warts and all. Suspect, he only sees it as having a positive influence on society. That it be contained to the one he supports.
    Yes, I also want religion and the effect it has had, on ours and all other societies and cultures..

    Yes, the whole range of religions. Such issues as how it contributes to domestic violence and the ill treatment of women would be a good place to start.

    What I do not want, is the religion taught in our schools that indoctrinate any child.

    This man needs to be pinned down, to exactly what he wants taught.

  7. You mean he isn’t a scientician?

  8. NatalieW

    Well done, thank you Captain.
    I saw The Drum piece earlier and imagine the ABC had to print it or otherwise be accused of bias. Right wing extreme pressure.
    Any thoughts on how we end this oppression ?

    • Thanks. The way to fix the problem is in the way we educate the next generation. The national curriculum requires students to engage in critical thinking and to develop a broad world view. Attributes which do not produce Conservative political views! That’s something this government well knows, or at least fears!

  9. russell

    A perusal of some of these might assist by way of explanation.


    For example:
    ‘Think tanks manipulate information in a way that makes public officials take decisions that explicitly serve private interests.’
    ‘Think tanks service power not the people.’

  10. Lack of due diligence there on the part of ABC’s The Drum too. Tsk!

  11. It’s a sad indictment on journalists in general (including the ABC) that we now have to depend on private bloggers for actual information about party apparatchiks who would have power over us.

    Thanks for publishing this article. Hopefully someone in the mainstream media picks it up.

    • Thanks Kim. I am a little worried by the number of media outlets that have clearly just let Donnelly write his own bio without any kind of fact checking. The really sad thing is that the true nature of the Education Standards Institute is not even hidden. It’s right there on the front page of the website.

  12. jul

    good grief!….thanks for getting this out there

  13. juliekru

    Good grief – thank you for getting this out there

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  15. In reply to your question Capitan Typo, I was referring to this comment:

    ‘Did he attend a catholic school? Jesuit by any chance?’

    You ask what bias I refer to, I think it’s obvious, in this case it’s an anti-Catholic bias.

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  17. Kate

    Thanks for helping me find Kevin’s thesis! His work is fantastic, and you would do well to stop being so angry in your ‘critique’ of him. I don’t think the name of that website bears much weighting on the integrity of his opinions. Judging from the title of your website, I’m sure that you will be reasonable and take this comment seriously. There’s nothing worse than letting emotions get in the way of reason.

    • I’m curious to know which ‘work’ of his you think is fantastic. After his thesis his academic publication record is pretty sparse, and as far as I can see he’s been little more than a liberal party mouthpiece ever since. And yes, I think the title of the website is a very important indicator of integrity when he promotes himself as the ‘director’ of the ‘institute’, which is nothing more than a website.

      Speaking of integrity, I can’t help but notice that you posted this anonymously.

  18. Rod from Bowral

    Refer to the IPA website for papers written by this fraud and note on LinkdIn his history of employment by right wing Liberal Party politicians like Kevin Andrews. Anything this guy puts out is based on extreme bias and cannot be taken seriously – except that the education report he is writing will be the excuse for the Poodle’s next venture into reform.

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