The previous Federal Government decided ( after intense public pressure) to develop a new and more equitable funding system for all Australian schools? The Gonski panel( named after it's chairman) was formed to create a new funding model for our schools.
The Gonski panel spent two years examining everything about the funding of Australian schools and built a new model from the ground up. It's so new, it was due to start in 2014!
Every student would attract a base amount of funding, the amount needed to provide a good education. It would follow them from school to school. The panel suggested about $8000 a primary student, around $10,500 a secondary student. ( That would have meant for example an extra $90 000 for Glen Park primary School and about $8 million for Ballarat High School over 6 years)
Students at government schools would receive the full amount. Students at private schools would receive a scaled-down amount, depending on the school's ability to charge fees.
On top of the base funding would be extra loadings for measures of disadvantage, such as the number of disabled students in the school, the number of them from low socioeconomic backgrounds, the number of indigenous students, the number from non-English speaking backgrounds and so on.
The loadings would be paid in full to all schools, public and private. So generous would they be that some private schools serving heavily disadvantaged students would have all of their costs met by the public.(The reality is that the vast majority of disadvantaged students are in public schools.)
The Federal Government negotiated with the states and territories about signing up to the funding reforms and most , including the biggest ( NSW and Victoria signed up.) Just prior to the announcement of the recent Federal election the opposition spokesperson on education ( Christopher Pyne) said that they supported the Gonski panel recommendations. The now Prime minister promised that a vote for either party would ensure the implementation of the Gonski recommendations.( They had no alternative plans of there own other than to keep the flawed current funding system)Although they only committed to 4 years of initial funding rather than the 6 that the then government agreed too it was nonetheless a major policy shift.
They had spent years condemning Gonski ( In fact they called it a 'conski') up and down the country but suddenly changed horses mid stream and in essence neutralised education as an issue in the election.
Now after the election and with a change of government, it came as a surprise to say the least that the new Minister for Education Christopher Pyne has decided to scrap the Better Schools Program ( which is what the Gonski recommendations were called- it wasn't just about funding but also included teacher development amongst other reforms.)
The Current Scheme
Christopher Pyne and the new Prime Minister are on record as proffering the current system and Pyne recently said that it was a 'good starting point' for developing his new funding model.
The previous funding model saw funding for the wealthiest schools increase at a far faster rate than funding for the poorest ones.
At its heart were two features: it no longer took account of a school's ability to raise its own income, so it blindly piled public money into exquisitely appointed private schools in a way that hadn't happened before.
And it doled out the money on the basis of a fraud. Funds were allocated in accordance with the ''socioeconomic status'' of the postcode in which each student lived - not on the basis of each student's actual socioeconomic status, but on the basis of the status of those who lived in the same postcode, most of whom would never go near the school and couldn't afford it.
It meant good schools in poor areas cleaned up, even though they didn't take poor students. It meant schools taking in boarders from poor rural areas cleaned up, when the boarders themselves came from Australia's richest families.( This anomaly can be seen clearly amongst Ballarat secondary schools)
This is the system Pyne said directed funds ''to the schools that were most in need''. This is the system he said was ''a good starting point for a school-funding model''. It's the system Gonski found ''lacks coherence''.
Under the existing system, which Pyne described as "a very good principle", federal funding for the wealthiest private schools in NSW rose 50 to 90 per cent in the 10 years to 2010.
Why the Gonski Reforms Are Needed
The Gonski review was the first comprehensive review of schools funding since the 1970s, but now that the government has walked away from it, it's worth recalling what it tried to fix.
Under the existing system, the "educational outcomes" of indigenous children have fallen two years – two years – behind those of non-indigenous kids, and only 45 per cent of 20 to 24-year-old indigenous people had a year 12 or equivalent qualification in 2008, compared with 85 per cent of non-indigenous Australians!
The cost of educating disadvantaged kids can be higher, but it is a cost disproportionately borne by government schools, which educate the vast majority of disadvantaged children without adequate federal assistance.
Almost 80 per cent of kids in the lowest quarter of socio-educational advantage attend government schools, but these kids are being left behind.
Sixty per cent of children who aren't proficient in English, and about 30 per cent of indigenous children and kids living in "very remote" areas, are considered "developmentally vulnerable", and that means they're too often dropping out of the system.
In 2009, the Gonski report informed us, 56 per cent of children from low socio-economic backgrounds finished year 12, compared with 75 per cent of children from high socio-economic backgrounds.
It's not only kids from poorer, indigenous and migrant backgrounds who are dropping out of the system.
There is no common definition used by the states and territories to identify students with a disability, which makes it impossible to cater for them properly, but we do know that in 2009 only 30 per cent of Australians aged 15 to 64 with a disability had finished year 12, compared with 55 per cent of the broader population.
A lot of this, say public school educators, is because of a lack of resources. In 2010, according to the best estimates available to the Gonski panel, 85 per cent of indigenous students and 78 per cent of children with a funded disability went to public schools. Public schools, and those who work in them, cater for the majority of kids with complex needs without enough.
Pyne announced on November 25th that the Gonski reforms were now scrapped and that HE would start again on his own funding plan which will take effect sometime in 2015. reaction to this has been swift and blunt to say the least.
At a meeting of state and territory education ministers on the 28th November, Pyne left state school ministers with the impression that any cuts to funding for the states would come from the public school sector alone!
The Minister of education in NSW said after the meeting "The government made a commitment that there would be no broken promises, unfortunately that has not come to pass." the Tasmanian Education Minister said "This is a bombshell revelation that will rock the public education system in Australia to its core.". The Victorian Premier said "We fought long and hard and got the best deal and we'll be fighting for that for Victoria." the federal opposition spokesperson said "This is a shameful attempt to draw attention way from a broken promise and pit parent against parent, school against school and state against state."
NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said ministers had been told existing legislation locked in federal funding for private, but not public, schools - placing government school funding rises at risk.
Australian Education Union deputy president Correna Haythorpe said by only committing to deliver about a fifth of the money on a sector-blind basis, Mr Pyne was signalling that he wanted to maintain the inequity of the current arrangements.
"This announcement by Christopher Pyne is totally at odds with the Coalition's election commitment not only to honour the Gonski agreements but also to ensure exactly the same funding, dollar for dollar, goes to every school,'' Ms Haythorpe said.
Dr. Ken Boston ( former head of the NSW Education Department ) a co-author of Gonski said on ABC radio on 30th November; " It's absolutely unbelievable that a commonwealth government minister would be silly enough to take such a position. Public schools will struggle to survive if the current formula continues. The Howard government model is like putting lipstick on a pig! Mr Pyne says it's up to the states to pick up public school funding. It will bring public education to its knees.Gonski is not that complex that it can't be implemented in a matter of months."
As recently as this morning (1st December) the Prime Minister was supporting his education minister and claiming that he did not lie about implementing the Gonski reforms before and after the election.Tony Abbott says the Coalition will deliver on its education election promises, not on what some voters "thought" it was going to do. Amazingly he won't promise that individual schools won't be worse off.
This issue will not go away. Abbott And Pyne's surprise backflip will haunt this government and it's minister and will cause untold confusion, concern and heartache for schools, parents, teachers, principals and children until common sense prevails.
This story comes from reports on the ABC, Age and Sydney Morning Herald