The school funding report many have been waiting years for is finally here.
We discussed the fairness of spreading the wealth between independent and public schools on Friday, but what do the experts recommend? A panel headed up by businessman David Gonski has reported back today on the huge changes Australia needs to make.
And he asks, won’t somebody think of the children?
The biggest, most obvious, message from 319 pages of the report is this: funding should be delivered where it is needed the most.
You can read the full report here but if you want a quick summary, paraphrased, this is what the report has to say:
1. Funding arrangements for schools across Federal and State Governments are too complex and lack transparency.
2. The ‘traditional’ role of one set of government (state) funding public schools and the other (federal) mostly funding independent schools is divisive, the report says.
3. Many schools, particularly in the Government sector, lack appropriate capital expenditure.
4. “The panel believes that a significant increase in funding is required across all schooling sectors, with the largest part of this increase flowing to the government sector due to the significant numbers and greater concentration of disadvantaged students attending government schools.”
5. The panel recommended a new ‘Schooling Resource Standard’. This standard would provide for per student amounts (for both primary and secondary students) at a base rate with additional loadings/funding that would take into account things like socio-economic status, disability, English language proficiency, particular needs of Indigenous students, school size, and school location. The standard would also ‘recognise that schools with similar student populations require the same level of resources regardless of whether they are located in the government, Catholic or independent school sectors’.
6. While this standard would fully fund public schools, the report says: “In the non-government sector, public funding would generally be provided based on the anticipated level of a school’s private contribution. The private contribution anticipated for a school would be initially based on the socioeconomic status (SES) score of the school, reflecting the capacity of the school community to support the school. Work would commence as a priority to develop, trial and implement a more precise measure of capacity to contribute. Some non-government schools would be fully publicly funded where they serve students or communities with very high levels of need, for example, special schools, majority Indigenous schools, and remote ‘sole provider’ schools.” So ‘Australian governments should base public funding for most non-government schools on the anticipation that the private contribution will be at least 10 per cent of the schooling resource standard per student amounts’.
7. The report suggests public schools should look for private donors as well. “There is also potential for all Australian schools, especially in the government sector, to connect with philanthropic partners to deliver time, money and expertise to schools. Nationally, better arrangements are required for schools and donors to make these connections.”
8. “The panel recommends the establishment of an independent National Schools Resourcing Body that will form the core of the governance necessary to ensure that funding for schooling is provided in a way that maximises its educational impact.” This body would be responsible for keeping the per student funding figures updated and ‘aspirational’.
9. To do all of this would cost $5 billion. In 2009. “On the basis of the determinations made by the panel for the purposes of the modelling, the results indicated that if these arrangements had been implemented in full during 2009, the additional cost to governments would have been about $5 billion or around 15 per cent of all governments’ recurrent funding for schooling that year. Based on its current proportion of total funding, the Australian Government would bear around 30 per cent of the increase. How the additional cost is actually borne will need to be discussed and negotiated between all governments.”
10. “The panel accepts that resources alone will not be sufficient to fully address Australia’s schooling challenges and achieve a high-quality, internationally respected schooling system. The new funding arrangements must be accompanied by continued and renewed efforts to strengthen and reform Australia’s schooling system.
Australia’s schools, government and non-government, should be staffed with the very best principals and teachers, those who feel empowered to lead and drive change, and create opportunities for students to learn in new ways to meet their individual needs. Classrooms should support innovative approaches to learning, not only through the curriculum, technologies and infrastructure, but also through the culture of the school. Principals and teachers should encourage a culture of high expectations, continuous learning, and independence and responsibility for all students. They should also forge connections with parents and the community, as key partners in children’s learning and attitudes to school. For these practices to be championed in every school, the Australian Government and state and territory governments must continue to work together, in consultation with the non-government school sector, to progress the current school reform agenda. Australia and its children and young people, now and in the future, deserve nothing less.”
11. What is that per student funding figure, then? No one knows yet, but based on 2009 figures: ‘it would be $8000 for primary students and $10,500 for secondary students, based on the 2009 year’.
12. “From 2014, non-government schools should be funded by the Australian Government on the basis of a common measure of need that is applied fairly and consistently to all.”
13. Governments should move away from funding targeted programs and instead ‘ensuring that the states and territories and the non-government sector are publicly accountable for the educational outcomes achieved by students from all sources of funding’.
14. What is best practice? The Review says 80 per cent of schools should be above the NAPLAN minimum standards. Currently only 16% of schools are above that mark.
The Gonski Review report opened by setting the scene in Australian education:
“Overall, Australia has a relatively high-performing schooling system when measured against international benchmarks, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment. However, over the last decade the performance of Australian students has declined at all levels of achievement, notably at the top end. This decline has contributed to the fall in Australia’s international position. In 2000, only one country outperformed Australia in reading and scientific literacy and only two outperformed Australia in mathematical literacy. By 2009, six countries outperformed Australia in reading and scientific literacy and 12 outperformed Australia in mathematical literacy.
In addition to declining performance across the board, Australia has a significant gap between its highest and lowest performing students. This performance gap is far greater in Australia than in many Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, particularly those with high-performing schooling systems. A concerning proportion of Australia’s lowest performing students are not meeting minimum standards of achievement.
There is also an unacceptable link between low levels of achievement and educational disadvantage, particularly among students from low socioeconomic and Indigenous backgrounds. Funding for schooling must not be seen simply as a financial matter. Rather, it is about investing to strengthen and secure Australia’s future. Investment and high expectations must go hand in hand. Every school must be appropriately resourced to support every child and every teacher must expect the most from every child.”
Schools Education Minister Peter Garrett said:
“If we are going to do well as a country in future, particularly in a century where we are seeing our Asian neighbours both prosper economically and do well educationally, then we need to really be clear about what’s needed to help Australian students be the best they can.
We will receive Mr Gonski’s recommendations and lay out a pathway of what we think the appropriate actions to respond to what he has recommended. That is going to be a complex and exacting task.”
But what is the Prime Minister’s official take?
Ms Gillard said the Government would be there ‘with its sleeves rolled up’ to help Aussie students perform better, but baulked at some of the proposed funding increases. This on the Herald Sun:
The Government said it will consider the proposals, but has already ruled out a significant expansion of the Commonwealth capital funding role.
“In some areas, the Australian Government believes that the scope of proposed new funding contributions may be too large,” the Government’s written response said.
It’s early days, but what do you think?