KBates-tn.jpgGonski = equity + funding: it's not just about the money

The one test that matters in the current education debate – the decision of the Gillard Labor government regarding the implementation of the recommendations of the Gonski Review – is as much about the realisation of demands for fairness and equity in education as it is a call for a crucial boost in funding.

The Gillard government’s failure to immediately deliver even as little as a resounding endorsement of the Gonski Review, a review it commissioned, says much about the challenges we face in the next phase of this campaign. The Gonski Review and two recent reports from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)* have delivered a clear case for abandoning the iniquitous education funding model that was a part of the previous Howard government’s legacy to Australia. No case has been made for the alternative, of favouring a budget surplus over a substantial investment in education.

In this and other public policy debates, the Labor government seems incapable of moving beyond the political agenda dominated in this nation by the economic rationalist frame created by past conservative governments. Indeed, it has moved to tie itself to agreements with the states on cost sharing as a pre-condition to the implementation of Gonski, a poor choice given the ascendency of conservative governments at the state level. As a consequence, the funding of education looks set to become a federal election campaign issue rather than a testament to the record of a Labor government.

The force of arguments embodied in the Gonski Review and the promise of no loss of funding for non-government schools largely circumvented any opposition. The community at large barely blinked at the quantum of funding suggested by Gonski, some $5.6 billion in 2012 terms. It did not question the validity of the assertion that 75 per cent of this additional funding should go to state schools. The private school lobby acknowledged the improved certainty and transparency created by Gonski. The federal Liberal Party was the only voice of any consequence raised in opposition to the Gonski Review and it had little penetration. In spite of all this, the federal government has determined to review the review rather than act.

The federal government’s hesitation to fix the funding dilemma is in sharp contrast to the indecent haste with which it moves to interfere in the running of state education systems. My School, NAPLAN and the Australian Curriculum are all recent examples of this. However, the historical experience of flag poles and “values education” portends a much more sinister, ideological rationale underpinning education funding and must be guarded against, particularly in the context of a new conservative state government.

The Gonski Review will probably be consigned to the dustbin of history if its recommendations are not enshrined in legislation before the next federal election, due in 2013. The success or otherwise of the campaign in this regard now relies upon our capacity to harness the will of the political arm of the labour movement. Politicians of all persuasions need to be clear that the Australian public expect them to stand up for equity and quality in education and provide the resources necessary to secure these outcomes.

Education is an expensive undertaking. It is expensive to deliver and the cost of failure, in both economic and social terms, is even greater. As educators we cannot allow this decisive moment in history to pass us by without being satisfied that we have done all in our power to compel the current federal government to take a stand for what is right and necessary to provide a better future for all.

Kevin Bates

*OECD - “School Choice And Equity: Current Policies In OECD Countries And A Literature Review” can be  found here:

OECD - “Equity and Quality in Education - Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools” can found here:

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Volume 117 Number 3, 20 April 2012, p7