School funding: why money doe$ matter
Ten years on from the publication of the Gonski report, education academics have gathered to reflect on its importance and to highlight the detrimental impact that the failure to improve state school funding has had on our schools.
The School Funding Conference, organised by the newly established Centre for Public Education Research, was held at the NSW Teachers Federation building in late February. Below is a summary of what the presenters had to say.
Ken Boston AO (Panel member, Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling) – With the benefit of hindsight, Dr Boston highlighted the sections of the report that he would now change, including the projected costs of $5billion and the lack of transparency regarding private school funding. The aim of the Gonski Report was for needs-based funding to be be strategically targeted across all school sectors to close the widening gap between advantaged and disadvantaged schools. Ten years on, not only has this not been achieved, but other major goals of the report have also been under-delivered.
Lyndsay Connors AO (academic) – Ms Connors outlined the historical genesis of school funding policy and the impact that the global pandemic has had on equity considerations, including the deepening divide in our society brought about by a government that refuses to provide a genuine needs-based funding model for the disadvantaged sectors in our society. We will always need champions for public education; however, she warned that we will always have “downers” who truly believe that good laborers should not be turned into indifferent scholars, which goes against the grain of public educators’ desire for all of their students to succeed.
Pasi Sahlberg (Professor of Education, UNSW) – Professor Sahlberg asked us to view the big picture of public education funding globally, while warning of the dangers of comparing countries and their education results based on PISA tests for literacy, numeracy, and science. He spoke about the complexities of funding arrangements for public education systems around the globe, with no two countries having the same arrangements. His research showed that teachers account for the majority of global education budgets – around 78 per cent. Categorically however, his research showed that globally, public spending on education is highly unequal, with wealthier families capturing a greater share of available resources.
Trevor Cobbold (Convenor, Save our Schools) – Mr Cobbold called for a national summit to get Gonski back on track and for the funding wars in public education to end. Different federal governments over the past ten years have been focused solely on academic achievement in maths, science and English, but, he asked, what does an academic education look like? He asked us to consider the broader picture of student wellbeing, attendance, and creative and sporting pursuits as a more consistent picture of public education achievements. He called for an independent national schools resourcing body, one of the original report’s recommendations.
Rachel Wilson (Associate Professor, University of Sydney) – Associate Professor Rachel Wilson asked us to reflect on what has happened in the equity area, focusing on gender, disability, socio-economic background, First Nations Australians, diverse language background and geo-location. Students from these groups are concentrated in public schools, with 45.9 per cent of students in our public schools from one of these backgrounds compared with 19.9 per cent in the private/Catholic sectors. Bleakly, she stated that school segregation is growing as we see an increase in the number of disadvantaged students attending disadvantaged schools.
Geoff Gallop (Emeritus Professor) – Emeritus Professor Geoff Gallop, who was Premier of WA from 2001-2006, told us that we are working in a system that has a policy and curriculum overload. He spoke to the current government’s viewpoint on the public education system and emphasised that schools need more than just money – they need the autonomy and independence to spend funds within the context of the local school community. He spoke about the salary gap – the labour market verses the contemporary economy, and profound teacher shortages.
Adam Rorris (education economist and policy analyst) – Mr. Rorris bluntly told us that if we do not have and hold the ideals of the Gonski report, then we are in serious trouble! We need to fight for our sector and fight for 100 per cent federal schooling resource standard (SRS) funding for state schools. Public education is too important for us not to continue to campaign for fairer school funding, so that our children can receive the same education, irrespective of background and location.