From the President: Gonski - stay the course

Much of the latest commentary about school funding is designed to do one thing, distract us from the clear and unambiguous goal of a needs-based, sector-blind funding model for all schools in Australia.

The decade-long school funding campaign, led by the Australian Education Union (AEU) in partnership with other unions, parents and community groups across Australia, reached a crescendo in the release of the Gonski report in 2011. The subsequent struggles to realise the potential to transform education across our nation have been shaped by the political realities of the context in which they have occurred.

The Gonski report is dense and complex but it deals with an issue of enormous national importance, so that is to be expected. The report coalesces around several key features. There are three government-funded education systems in Australia, each with their own unique funding model/s. There is insufficient funding available to meet the needs of all students and a $5 billion investment was required (based on 2009 data) to lift funding levels for all schools to a minimum required “standard”. The five identified areas of need relate to disadvantage associated with socio-economic status, Indigeneity, disability, a language background other than English and remoteness (including school size). Finally, the report envisaged a model of funding based on measured needs of individual schools, distributed directly to independent schools and to schools via their systems in the Catholic and government sectors.

What we have achieved is, in essence, a political settlement. Some states signed up to funding models based on need, which have been delivered, to a large part, in full to the schools in the government sector. Some states signed up to funding models and added the available money to consolidated revenue, denying it to schools. Other states did not commit to a funding model and have had to create their own response to school needs. What is coming through loud and clear is that the investment to date has produced improved results, and much more stands to be achieved.

The current federal government likes to claim that there are deficiencies in the work of teachers and principals; the deficiencies actually lie in that government’s policy decisions, resulting in, among other things, the failure to allocate available resources to the areas of greatest need. Gonski recommended that $4.5 billion of the additional investment be delivered in years five and six, 2018 and 2019. The Turnbull government has allocated a little more than a quarter of this, with an additional $1.2 billion over four years between 2018 and 2021. More importantly, this allocation comes with a wide range of requirements which must be met before any additional funds can be accessed – expectations that have little to do with student needs and much to do with political expediency.

The requirements set out in the Coalition education policy published prior to the 2016 federal budget and election include testing of six year-olds, mandatory teaching of phonics, a new annual literacy and numeracy report to parents, removal of annual salary increments for teachers and principals, and performance pay. They are an anathema to education and cannot be allowed.

Ten years is a long time to sustain a campaign. Four governments, five prime ministers and numerous education ministers have come and gone. Hundreds of thousands of students have completed their schooling and many more have started on that life-long journey. Our energy must not diminish as we enter the second decade: too much is as stake. We still give a Gonski.

Kevin Bates                                                                                                                   President

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 2, 10 March 2017, p7