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Budget blowouts and states wrangles: where to now on Gonski?

Last week NSW signed up to the Gillard government’s proposed changes to school funding – a deal that would see a new funding model based on the Gonski review and an injection of A$5 billion into NSW schools…

The Gillard government’s Gonski reforms have a long way to go before reaching a school near you. AAP Image/Alan Porritt

Last week NSW signed up to the Gillard government’s proposed changes to school funding – a deal that would see a new funding model based on the Gonski review and an injection of A$5 billion into NSW schools.

But yesterday the Prime Minster announced a A$12 billion black hole in the budget, starting speculation about whether the new reforms were affordable.

In a speech in Canberra she said, “better school funding and school improvement would not be jeopardised.” But tightening budgets aren’t the only thing that could put school funding reform in danger.

Since the Gonski review was publicly released almost two years ago, schools funding reform has had a bumpy ride. The dynamics of a federated political system, a knife-edge parliament and the cycles of elections, have all created uncertainty.

While one state has signed up, and more may do so, the future of the reforms remain unclear.

The review

The Gonski Review, the first major national review of school funding in almost 40 years, identified a number of issues with the current education system.

While Australia does well on some international measures, such as Programme for International Student Assessment or PISA tests, there are large gaps between students based on social background, ethnicity, race and where students live. Enduring structural issues, linked to poverty and divisions in provision, and inadequate and poorly targeted funding all contribute to this inequity.

The Gonski remedy was to substantially increase funding with boosted loadings to target schools serving disadvantaged students with high level needs.

While increased funding alone, as many commentators point out, doesn’t guarantee improvement, funding is essential to providing schools with the means they need to support transformation.

Keeping Gonski alive

This basic premise and model recommended by the Gonski panel then fed into the government’s National Plan for School Improvement which is currently being offered up to the states for agreement.

At a time when extra investment in schools is well overdue, it’s still unclear whether any more states will sign up or what an election in September will bring.

One possibility is that all of the states and territories sign up by the middle of the year, or that enough of them do to make any wind-back untenable. This scenario should see major injections of funds to Australian schools, particularly government schools serving disadvantaged communities.

This would surely help such schools which have seen equity funding over recent decades keep pace with inflation but not keep pace with the levels of escalating need.

It is still not clear, though, that the additional funding would be sufficient to meet the levels of need, and drive the necessary improvements in performance, for a couple of reasons.

Gonski estimated for 2009 an additional A$5 billion to meet need per year, while the current offer involves only about half of that amount annually.

On top of this, the Australian government’s insistence that under the new funding arrangement no school will lose any recurrent per capita funds, may see a watering down of the provisions for the most disadvantaged schools.

In the drive to ensure no school loses, the criteria for disadvantage may need to be diluted, and funds spread more thinly. It will be a big question whether there will be enough to meet the real extent of need.

A Coalition repeal?

Another possibility is that the remaining states don’t sign up or, even if they do, the federal election brings a new government hell bent on constraining budgets and limiting outlays.

Both opposition leader Tony Abbott and shadow education minister Christopher Pyne in recent statements have reiterated their desire to ignore the Gonski reforms, or repeal them, and retain the previous funding model, even if there’s only one state that didn’t sign up by election time.

This would be a huge setback. Disadvantaged schools would not only lose the National Partnership funds that have helped generate innovative reforms, they would also be forced to return to a funding model that has delivered large gaps in student outcomes between schools and communities.

This may mean that our neediest schools are actually worse off than before, having lost National Partnerships funding, gained no increases in additional funding, reliant on a model that has failed to allow them to adequately address need, and with gaps between them and wealthier schools as big as ever.

And it is quite possible that not all states will sign on to the Gonski reforms.

The model set out in the review establishes a per capita national resource standard, based on average costs and outlays, with supplementary loadings to address need.

The standard does not recognise differences across jurisdictions in salary rates, leaving states and territories such as West Australia and the Northern Territory at a disadvantage. Nor does it recognise all of the real additional imposts of schooling in remote areas, and in heavily disadvantaged communities.

Politics before education

Whatever transpires it is clear that politics continues to get in the way of national interest.

World class education systems are those in which students consistently learn and achieve to high standards, and the standards extend across the population, making sure all students benefit.

Heavy investment in schools serving our most disadvantaged students and families, as recognised in the Gonski Review, is needed to achieve this.

No one doubts the need for fiscal restraint in times of economic contraction and uncertainty, but long overdue school funding reform (and university and TAFE investment) should not be part of the sacrifice in the drive to bring budgets back into the black.

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31 Comments sorted by

  1. John Perry

    Teacher

    I would suggest "freezing" the government funding for private schools at ACTUAL DOLLAR LEVELS for the next twenty years would be a good start, at the same time as injecting the increased Gonski funds to the public system which desperately needs it.

    Equity in the schooling system would increase, and the private schools couldn't moan because they have a guaranteed actual amount and can therefore budget for each year until 2033.

    Oh, and - no new private schools in the meantime. Duplication of resources is where most of the waste has occurred.

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    1. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to John Perry

      How equitable is it John that students for whom parents already pay hefty fees have far less per capita directed to them by taxpayers or do you expect a double whammy with said parents already quite likely paying more in taxes too.

      In truth, there is no equity in the schooling system as it is now and freezing funding of private schools will only decrease the equity.

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    2. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Greg North

      "students for whom parents already pay hefty fees"

      You mean: children who were born into the right families? You do realise what "equity" actually means, right?

      Do those parents have to pay the hefty fees? No. They can send their children to a public school.

      It's not about "cost" (and the figures bandied about by the private school lobbyists are as rubbery as they come), but about "investment". Does the country get a greater return on its investment in public schools or in private schools? As a society, we get a greater return on our investment in public schools, every time.

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    3. Natasha turnbull

      Student

      In reply to John Perry

      Where did you get the idea that a private school child receives more government money than a public school child?

      Each single child deserves same amount of government funding for education. It is the parents who fork out the extra for their child's private schooling.

      Would that be fair to say that people who have private health insurance and never use public hospital should not be paying Medicare levy?

      Some people paid far more taxes than others. They don't need private school bashing.

      By the way, if there were no private educated students, Australian ranking in literacy and numeracy would be much lower if not the last

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    4. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      1. "Each single child deserves same amount of government funding for education. It is the parents who fork out the extra for their child's private schooling."

      Take out the word "government" from that statement and maybe you'll get a better idea of what I am talking about.

      2. "Some people paid far more taxes than others. They don't need private school bashing."

      I'm not sure what this means. Do people who "pay more taxes" have greater rights to government services?

      3. "Would [it] be fair…

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    5. Natasha turnbull

      Student

      In reply to John Perry

      If you are really a teacher, you should be focusing on how to improve your teaching quality, how to inspire your students to learn to achieve their own potentials, instead of being a ideology warrior and forever fighting an imaginary equality war.

      But I do sincerely hope that one day with an ideal economy situation, every school would receive whatever amount of money it needs from the government and be run on a private school model -principal autonomy, highly paid, high quality teachers, ability to discipline students and high quality of equipments and learning environments.

      In other words, you should aspire to be better, not to bring down the better ones just for the sake of being equal.

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    6. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      "I do sincerely hope that one day with an ideal economy situation, every school would receive whatever amount of money it needs from the government and be run on a private school model -principal autonomy, highly paid, high quality teachers, ability to discipline students and high quality of equipments and learning environments"

      Who's the ideology warrior?

      And thanks for telling me how to be a teacher. Here I was thinking I was actually doing a pretty good job.

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    7. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      I'm always amused when the private school model is defended. I checked the MySchool website last year and worked out that the total money spend on a child at Scotch College is around 3 to 4 times that of a child at Melbourne High. Overall VCE results are generally better at Melbourne High.

      So why does the same result cost 3 - 4 times as much? Pretty poor economic sense, I would say.

      This is just one example of how the private school model can be shown as not all it's cracked up to be.

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    8. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      And so that you know - my students (at the STATE SCHOOL where I teach) are all encouraged to do their very best and ALL are set high expectations. We don't cherry pick the best ones and work on them (that's the easy route that the private schools tend to follow).

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  2. Chris Reynolds

    Education Consultant

    Of course but the idea has no legs as it would be resisted even more vigourously than the Miners resisted the Mining Tax Mark I. Politics is thre art of the possible. Something which Gillard understands and Rudd didn't.

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    1. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Chris Reynolds

      Don't be too sure. Although the twenty year proposal and no new schools is a personal pipe dream, I could see the possibility of freezing the funding for those elite schools which were overpaid, in order to bring them back to "correct" amounts, without any political difficulties.

      In fact, can you imagine what would happen if the Coalition decided to protest about that? Talk about giving everyone else a free kick: "Abbott sticks up for the elites".

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    2. Chris Reynolds

      Education Consultant

      In reply to John Perry

      Point taken but what you refer to is already in the funding formula. So-called elite schools are to transition to the general standard over a number of years. Their "eliteness" is defined by the SES rating and a coup,e of other indicators. As I say this is already in the model to be applied.

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  3. Natasha turnbull

    Student

    I am very skeptical about this Gonski reform.
    First, the original Gonski recommended a price tag of $ 6.5 billions per year.
    Now it is watered down to merely $ 14.5 billions over 6 years ( $ 2.4B/year). Can this half baked Gonski still achieve original goals? What are the measurable goals anyway?

    Sure, having more money is better than none. But is this value for taxpayer's money? Don't forget that in order to afford this Gonski, NSW has to cut spendings from other places such as TAFE, public jobs and delaying business tax cut etc.

    It looks like Gillard is hell bent to push it through purely for her "legacy".

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    1. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      You have nailed a few areas of vagueness there Natasha and that is what we come to expect of politicians currently holding the purse strings and what usually leads to a high degree of waste.

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    2. Frank Moore

      Consultant

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      How does throwing more billions at a dysfunctional system make things better? I recently discovered that the State Education Department of Victoria consumes around 5 Billion Dollars on Teacher Salaries whilst their QA is so poor that they can identify and remove only 3 - that's three - under-performing, deadwood teachers - per year. Not per school Natasha - like you'd get at an elite private school - no, this is across the entire, mammoth, Big Socialist Education System in Victoria. 5 Billion spent…

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    3. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Frank Moore

      I'm not a member of the union, Frank - they're as much of a sell out as anyone is.

      How many teachers do you know of that are suspended from teaching duties while they are being investigated? How many teachers resign after the yearly review process that all state teachers go through finds that their professionalism is wanting, so that they don't lose face and can find more appropriate employment elsewhere? I would encourage YOU to not get "sucked in", either - by the ridiculous propaganda about the state school system that is thrown at us.

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    4. Frank Moore

      Consultant

      In reply to John Perry

      Well, you tell us John? How many? We are starting with a base figure of 3. Build on that.

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  4. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    " World class education systems are those in which students consistently learn and achieve to high standards, and the standards extend across the population, making sure all students benefit."

    First off, expecting that high standards can extend across the population, making sure all students benefit is not just unrealistic but a complete fantasy and there are very sound reasons why very few people go on to become brain surgeons and a few more all sorts of other doctors or taking up various professions…

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    1. Chris Reynolds

      Education Consultant

      In reply to Greg North

      Not so Greg. There is a great deal of detail in the Gonski reforms both funding and the national School Improvement aspect of the changes. It's just that they are quite technical and difficult therefore to share with the general public. They are for the most part publicly available for those who care to inform themselves. As we saw yesterday with the PM outlining the difference between real and nominal GDP some things cannot be put into three word slogans and good will as well [patience is required to get one's head around them.

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    2. Frank Moore

      Consultant

      In reply to Greg North

      Greg, when your public education system blows nearly 5 billion dollars on teacher salaries and can only identify and sack 3 individuals per year for under performance - then the esoteric ravings of Educational Consultants and academics about Gonski are absolutely irrelevant to the outcomes created by this dysfunctional and corrupt mess of a system.

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    3. Frank Moore

      Consultant

      In reply to John Perry

      5 billion dollars and 3 teachers sacked...

      Absolutely corrupt. What was that crap about class sizes again?

      That was your big issue not that long ago (before Gonski) - how did that work out for you John?

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    4. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Frank Moore

      Frank, you've seized on three media tidbits and are repeating them ad nauseum - particularly your "3 teachers" figure. You have shown no indication of looking deeper than that and as a consequence your comments are sounding "ranty". Get informed or get out of the discussion.

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    5. Frank Moore

      Consultant

      In reply to John Perry

      No John Perry, i seized on key facts.
      That with a labour bill of nearly 5 billion dollars in Victoria's state education system, the quality control is so, so, poor, that on average only 3 - three - teachers per year are identified as underperforming and removed from harming the future prospects of children in their charge.
      I quoted Jewel Topsfield from the Melbourne Age, hardly a creature of the hard right.
      I've spoken with school principals myself and had it from the horses mouth that sacking…

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    6. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Frank Moore

      "I've quoted a Federal Member of Parliament"

      Education is a state issue. I have no doubt that Briggs, whose right-wing ideals are too much even for Tony Abbott, was talking out his behind when he made those comments. He has nothing to back them up and I actually don't believe him. And as I said, he is not and should not be involved in state issues.

      Jewel Topsfield is one of our unfortunately-too-numerous journalists who don't challenge quotes or figures they are given. The 17 teachers figure…

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  5. Terry Reynolds

    Financial and political strategist

    A good article Stephen but it certainly attracted a few scribes who like to publicly wear their political blindness like a badge of honour, especially the guy who kept arguing only three teachers in Victoria were terminated for being below standard. With that sort or irrational thought it is a wonder he ever held a job himself. There is a hefty turnover of teachers moving through schools and they interchange between public and private, many just on short term contracts. No bad teacher would last…

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    1. Frank Moore

      Consultant

      In reply to Terry Reynolds

      Terry Reynolds, the facts are the facts. I reported figures provided by Jewel Topsfield's story in the Age?
      Do you dispute these figures?
      If so, what are your numbers?
      You're a numbers man - you ought to have them?
      And do you have the same disparaging comments for Jewel as you did for me?

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    2. Terry Reynolds

      Financial and political strategist

      In reply to Frank Moore

      Frank, your comments are ridiculous. I know from experience. No teacher is secure in the public or private system. In the public schools teachers at best are only secure until they are listed as supernumerary and then they have to contest for another job elsewere with everyone else in the system. It is not hard to get rid of a teacher the principal does not want. The School principals' at both public and private schools are under extraordinary pressure to have their school perform to the highest…

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    3. Frank Moore

      Consultant

      In reply to Terry Reynolds

      So Terry Reynolds, again, I'll ask - if you dispute The Spencer Street Soviet's slightly mentioned Profound Fact about Big Socialist Education System's ability to identify and REMOVE from the entire said system - under performing teachers - simply tell us Your Numbers.
      When viewing the 4 Corners Report, viewers should note that the public school teachers identified by the new "super" principals were not sacked - they were moved to neighbouring schools.
      This practice is known in the business as…

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    4. Terry Reynolds

      Financial and political strategist

      In reply to Frank Moore

      Frank, I don't know what you comsult in but it must be fantasy of some description.

      The 'Four Corners' program I believe you refer to was about the rife paedeophilia essentially in Roman Catholic Schools which are a form of private education. I saw no one mention any teacher from the public system. I can assure you any teacher involved in that sort of behavior in the public sysrtem would have been reported to the Police and immediately stood down. There is no way the Department would have just…

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