From the President: Students are more important than politicians

The decade-long Gonski campaign, supported by the teaching profession and the Australian community and led by the Australian Education Union and the QTU, has been about one thing and one thing only: ensuring that every child has access to the maximum opportunity in education.

The 2017 Federal Budget continued a longstanding tradition of many politicians putting themselves before their constituents. In the case of school funding, this has sadly meant putting the political interests of representatives and parties before the educational outcomes of students.

In dealing with matters in which he is an expert, David Gonski and his panel produced a comprehensive suite of reforms to school funding that targeted disadvantage caused by poverty, language, Indigeneity, disability or school size and location. The model proposed was to be sector blind and needs based, delivering two distinct funding envelopes: the school resourcing standard (SRS) and cumulative loadings for each of the five targeted areas of disadvantage. The SRS is the minimum funding level required for schools to achieve appropriate literacy and numeracy outcomes for every student, as determined by the Gonski panel.

Australia’s unique system of three publicly funded and competing education systems is inherently inequitable. The 70 per cent of students educated in government schools include the vast majority of students in each of the five areas of disadvantage: 80 to 90 per cent of students in each category. Students in some states also receive higher levels of state government funding than if they went to school in the same sector in another state. It is an unjust system, but it cannot, as suggested by the 2017 Turnbull plan for school funding, be fixed by an equal allocation of resources to all. The Turnbull plan, promoted by Federal Education Minister Senator Birmingham, entrenches this inequity rather than addressing it.

There is significant debate about the actual funding to be delivered and the extent to which it represents a larger or smaller cut to schools. The failure by the Turnbull government and Minister Birmingham to consult with anyone except independent schools representatives or to release the model being used to calculate school entitlements has deliberately obscured public scrutiny. From what we know of the federal government funding model, there are two key changes. The first is that the federal government will now increase school funding by only 3.56 per cent annually, rather than the 4.7 per cent rate required by the Australian Education Act. The second is that the federal government will now contribute 20 per cent of the SRS in government schools and 80 per cent of the SRS in non-government schools. These proposals will mean that more than 70 per cent of government funded non-government schools achieve the SRS by 2027. Sadly, they will also ensure that 84 per cent of government schools do not achieve the SRS over that same decade.

The Turnbull model is also designed to deliver a suite of “reforms” to education that represent all of the worst of the neo-conservative attacks on education and educators around the world: nationally centralised command and control of schools, more standardised testing of students, performance pay for teachers based on student results, precarious employment for school leaders and competition within and between schools to replace collegiality and cooperation. Most alarmingly, this part of the plan is largely hidden from public scrutiny and will potentially be cloaked in apparent integrity by the co-opting of David Gonski to write a second report on how schools should best spend their alleged funding windfall.

The Gonski model settled under Labor and Julia Gillard ensured all schools achieved the SRS by 2019. It is that model that is enshrined in the Australian Education Act. It is the only model presented so far that delivers substantial resourcing outcomes for students. It is that model and the act that protects it that the Turnbull government must amend if their inferior alternative is to become a reality.

Your campaign with your community and your Union has created a perpetual nightmare for politicians. Our campaign very nearly cost the Turnbull government power at the last election, there is no greater threat to a politician. Every day we remind the government of their failure to deliver the minimum funding our students need to achieve access to educational opportunity. We have effectively promoted the narrative that poor budget decisions and political policy making are the reasons for the difficult challenges faced by schools every day. It is now better understood that it is teachers and principals, working in partnership with parents, who overcome significant barriers to deliver educational outcomes well above expectations given the real resourcing deficits of schools.

The 2017 budget and its Turnbull plan for school funding is a clever political exercise in deception designed to eliminate the advantage our campaign has achieved. We cannot accept a poor substitute for funding schools properly. We will not allow the inconvenient truth of the true cost of political failure on school funding to be so easily denied. We will continue to fight for what students need.

Kevin Bates                                                                                                                   President

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 4, 2 June 2017, p7