The failure to implement Gonski and the stress caused for state schools
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 127 No 3, 14 April 2022, page no. 8
After years of campaigning by Australia’s education unions, and despite the introduction of a new education funding model in 2013, funding inequity in Australian schools continues.
In 2012, a review of school funding led by businessman David Gonski (pictured)recommended the introduction of needs-based, sector-blind funding for education in Australia, to ensure that every child, regardless of the sector that they were being educated in, would receive their fair share of funding.
At the time, the Rudd/Gillard ALP government struggled with the implementation of the recommendations, as they were bogged down in state-by state negotiations. This led to a patchwork of agreements which ultimately resulted in the ongoing inequity experienced 10 years later.
The election of the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison Coalition governments since 2013 has seen educational funding inequity become more entrenched.
The Gonski Report (2012) contained the notion of a schooling resource standard (SRS), a minimum level of funding that must be guaranteed to all schools/students. The SRS would then be topped up according to the additional needs of individual students – for instance for First Nations students, those with special needs and students in rural/remote locations.
Trevor Cobbold of “Save Our Schools” points out that the SRS model eventually adopted by the federal and state governments actually restricted the funding available for disadvantaged schools. In effect, the Gonski reforms were never properly implemented. In the 10 years since the new funding model was implemented, state schools have only reached 88 per cent of the SRS and do not receive adequate additional funds for students with higher needs.
The purpose of schooling
Professor Alan Reid of UniSA argues that children need an education to learn how to adapt to change, work in collaborative ways, to apply their learning from varied disciplines to different contexts, and to build their creative capacities to solve problems.
For schools and students to succeed and achieve this purpose, adequate funding is essential.
Neoliberalism, with its central tenet that market forces drive the distribution of resources, has had a huge impact upon the distribution of education funding.
Rather than maximising each student’s potential, educational success in Australia has largely been determined by a student’s demography, i.e. their socioeconomic background. Gonski’s recommendations, intended to address education funding injustice, couldn’t be achieved when political ideology trumped student need.
Pressure on teachers and schools
The task of public-school educators is not helped by Federal Education Minister, Stuart Robert's comments that state schools are the “bottom 10 per cent dragging the chain”.
The challenges faced by state schools remain complex and unrecognised by the past five Federal Education Ministers. Underfunded schools are being required to do more than ever. The needs of the most disadvantaged students fall most heavily upon the state sector. Teachers meet that need with a passion and commitment that is unmatched by the Ministers who guide federal education policy. This has occurred at a time of increasing teacher “compliance tasks”, significant curriculum changes, NAPLAN pressures, transformation in the delivery of education (thanks COVID!) and a myriad of other changes.
Teachers are struggling with increasing workloads, and teacher shortages are predicted to become dire over the next five to ten years. On 16 March, The Guardian reported that Queensland and New South Wales will need more than 1,700 additional teachers by 2025. Increasing enrolments in the state school system are compounding this issue.
We must have proper funding
David Gonski noted at an education forum at Sydney Opera House (March 2022): “As a business person, as a human being, not only do I believe that your destiny should not be determined by your demography, but I also believe that we have an obligation to maximise human capital.” Gonski argued that it simply isn’t good enough for a government to claim it can’t afford to fund schools properly, they must find the funds.
In a time of competing budget priorities, education funding is not where budgetary cuts should be aimed. Education builds the future, with the most recent “Jobs Queensland” report revealing that nine out of 10 growth occupations will require the attainment of vocational education qualifications.
We know that “high-performing education systems tend to invest more in early childhood education, minimise private spending, and have more advanced targeted needs-based funding arrangements” (Professor Pasi Sahlberg).
Come on Australia, let’s do the right thing by all students across the country and insist on a funding model that delivers for our kids.
By Lin Esders, QTU Research Officer-Professional Issues, and Dr Jeff Garsed, former AEU Tasmania Research Officer