By RACHEL POWER
Is education about treating everyone equally? Or is it about the pursuit of being the best?
My daughter has high level needs.
Her teacher does her very best to cater for our 7 year-old within her class of 25 kids but under current funding arrangements only a tiny proportion of those that need help actually qualify for extra support in the classroom.
Our kids attend their local state school in an inner-suburban area that attracts a lot of new migrants, refugees and a high proportion of Indigenous families.
This diversity is what we love and value about the school — but it also means our daughter is only one of a large number of kids with high-level needs.
It also means that our next nearest school — only two kilometres closer to the city but with a notably better-heeled parent community — can run a community fete that raises ten of thousands of dollars every year, while we struggle to make more than a few grand at our local event.
Just the other day I found myself comforting a mother who was sobbing hysterically in the school foyer. When she calmed down enough to tell me what was wrong, it emerged that her son’s glasses had fallen off and were accidentally trodden on by another kid. She had no idea how she was going to afford another pair.
Recently one of the world’s leading authorities on education reform, Pasi Sahlberg, visited Australia. I was particularly struck by his statement that in Finland, the education system strives for equity not excellence — but that the result of equity turns out to be excellence nonetheless.
As a result, Finland continues to blitz the competition on educational outcomes internationally, while Australia has been slipping further and further down the OECD scale every year. Sahlberg’s advice: Start with the equitable funding of the nation’s school system.
Last year, the Federal Government commissioned the most comprehensive review of schools funding in almost 40 years. The Gonski Review found that achievement gaps in literacy between those from disadvantaged and advantaged backgrounds could amount to as much as three years of schooling.
But what is the Gonski Report?
You can read the full Gonski Report here but in summary this is what it says:
- The shared funding of schools between Federal and State Governments is too complex
- Many Government schools need urgent funding for infrastructure
- There should be a minimum amount of funding that follows each student, with additional ‘loadings’ for students with special needs or certain characteristics
- All of the changes will cost around $5 billion
Its report recommended a comprehensive change to the way schools are funded — directing money toward those with the greatest need — and called for an extra $5 billion to be injected into schools as a matter of urgency.