Bill Shorten is pushing schools funding to the centre of this year’s election battle by committing to fully funding the Gonski blueprint, in a reform package costing A$4.5 billion over the years 2018 and 2019 and A$37.3 billion over a decade.
The ambitious Gonski plan was a central issue at the last election, but the Coalition committed to funding only for four years, not the full six years.
Shorten said his commitment would be paid for by savings already announced – which include making multinationals pay their full tax and reducing some superannuation concessions for high-income earners. He did not produce new savings proposals but said Labor had already unveiled savings worth $70 billion.
The Gonski review was commissioned by Labor. Shortly before leaving office the Gillard government adopted a policy based on the blueprint, which was fashioned around core funding for all students and special attention for those with particular needs. The Labor government concluded agreements with only some jurisdictions before leaving office. The Coalition government did deals with the rest, so that they did not lose out.
Shorten said that unless a government proposed to fully invest in the schools system, talk about innovation was simply talk.
Shadow Education Minister Kate Ellis said the announcement was not just about the last two years of Gonski. It was a “complete reversal” of the $30 billion cuts over ten years the Coalition government was making.
Education is traditionally a strong issue for Labor, however the Coalition will try to capitalise on the high cost of the promise.
The Labor policy outlines targets for school education for 2020 and 2025.
Under the 2020 targets, by then 95% of students would complete year 12; all science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) teachers in secondary schools would have a relevant tertiary qualification; all students would study maths or science until year 12; and digital technologies and coding would be taught in all primary and secondary schools.
The 2025 targets would have Australia returned to the top countries in reading, maths and science and meet the OECD definition of a high-quality and high-equity schooling system.
All schools would have the opportunity to engage with a school in Asia, and every student would have the opportunity to undertake a continuous course in an Asian language or culture throughout their schooling.
Australian schooling has fallen behind internationally, Labor says. In 2000, only one country outperformed Australia in reading and maths and in 2006 outperformed it in science.
Today 16 countries outperformed Australia in maths; nine countries outperformed it in reading and seven countries in science, the “Your Child. Our Future” policy says.
“These reforms bring Australia back to the front of the pack, and provide a platform for schooling to tackle all their challenges of the future economy,” it says.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham said Labor’s schools press release “fails the basic lesson of the last decade – more money doesn’t automatically equal better student outcomes”.
Birmingham said total state and federal spending on schools grew by more than 100 per cent in real terms between 1987/88 and 2011/12. “Yet Australia has gone backwards in absolute and relative terms, including in international literacy and numeracy rankings.”
He said the Turnbull Government was putting in more money than ever before. “But we are making sure that it is being used where it counts – in teacher quality, in a better curriculum, in parental engagement, in supporting principals to make local decisions about their local school.”