View from The Hill

Coalition schools policy beyond 2014

Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne are trying to assure principals that schools won’t face massive cuts under a Coalition government. AAP

The letter that Opposition leader Tony Abbott and education spokesman Christopher Pyne have sent to principals shifts their schools policy for next year but leaves open what schools would be getting after that under a Coalition government.

The relevant paragraphs of that letter are these:

“If elected and there is no national agreement on school funding (and thus far only four out of eight jurisdictions have signed up), the Coalition will move to delay the start of the proposed model by one year. This will give everyone the time to consider how properly to implement the recommendations from the Gonski report in a lasting way.

"Under a Coalition government, we will make sure schools are not worse off.

"If Labor and the Greens use the parliament to stop our plan to delay the new model, the Coalition will allow it to operate for one year (to 2015) while we work out how to get the model right. This will give all the schools the chance to see the first-hand effect of Labor’s plan for themselves and what it means to you.”

Previously the Coalition had said it would only honour Labor’s deals if all jurisdictions signed up, or an “overwhelming” proportion did so.

Assuming the Senate stuck with the present legislation passed in June (and why wouldn’t it – because its composition won’t change until mid-next year) in 2014 the jurisdictions signed up to the Better Schools agreement (so far, NSW, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT, with the government frantically working on Victoria) would get that deal and the others would remain under the present socioeconomic status (SES) funding model. Pyne has assured premiers and chief ministers that non-participating states would get indexation plus what they could expect under national partnerships.

Catholic and independent schools, which are funded directly from Canberra would receive what’s been promised under the Better Schools model.

The letter’s reference – in calling for a delay – to needing time to consider “how properly to implement the recommendations from the Gonski report in a lasting way” raised the question of whether the Coalition was moving to embrace those recommendations for the longer term.

But Pyne says a Coalition government would spend 2014 negotiating with the states “a needs-based model based on SES data”. It would include loadings for disadvantage, on the categories in the Gonski model – for indigenous students, very small schools, regional, rural and remote schools, schools with high proportions of students from low socioeconomic state backgrounds, children with disabilities, and those from a non-English speaking background.

Pyne says these loadings reflect the existing system of national partnerships and targeted programs that the Better Schools program replaces.

What would happen if revised deals could not be reached with the states? Presumably whether a Coalition government could rescind the later years of Gonski funding for the states that had signed up to it would depend on the will of the new Senate.