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Not well enough informed to "give a Gonski"

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Clever marketing strategies, well designed t-shirts, coloured cars, and a social media campaign have increasingly asked members of the Australian public to position themselves as "Giving a Gonski" (see http://igiveagonski.com.au/what-s-gonski/). To badge oneself with this term, is to demonstrate visible support to proposed changes to the funding of Australian schools. I want to give a Gonski, as an educator who works closely across the schooling sector, but I can't because it is a complex discussion which is inaccessible to the average person.

My disclaimer for the authorship of this blog is offered across a number of levels. I am not an accountant, and am thus unable to comment on the dollar figure which is applied to schools from a corporate stance. Further, I am not a constitutional lawyer, and so am not able to fully comment on the constitutional responsibilities of the states, in a political landscape where the Federal Government are currently drawing upon Section 96, which link their provision of "financial assistance to any State and Territory on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit" to drive education revolutionising. And, I would very much appreciate some accessible information with regards to any of these aspects which are shaping a field well outside the expertise of legal, political and economic disciplines (except for the fact that they have been educated).

The Gonski report (2011) is the final report of an Australian Government's commissioned review of funding for schooling, chaired by David Gonski. In a shift to a needs-based funding model, it conservatively costs educational reforms for "better schools" at $5 billion annually (see http://foi.deewr.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/review-of-funding-for-sch... ). The needs-basis identifies factors such as educational disadvantage, low socio-economic status, indigenous background, English language proficiency, disability and school remoteness. And, it is suggested that the funding be attached to the specific students where they are enrolled in a school. The findings of the Gonski report imply that current funding across the whole school sector is insufficient, and in its essence, challenges the willingness of state and territory governments to make changes to school funding responsibilities and costs. The responsibilities can be seen as stronger ties between schools and the federal government to federal policies, such as the National Curriculum or participation and outcomes of NAPLAN  through Section 96 of constitutional law.

In order to understand the implications of the report, I provide a brief overview of Australian School funding (see http://aphnew.aph.gov.au/binaries/library/pubs/bn/sp/schoolsfunding.pdf for a more detailed explanation). Prior to 1964, no federal government funding was provided for school education. It was in this year that the States Grant Act 1964 was passed, to fund science laboratories and equipment in primary and secondary schools, in government and non-government schools. Capital assistance was broadened in 1972 for government schools, and later amended to include funding to non-government schools in 1973. The States Grant (Independent Schools) Act 1969 funded non-government schools at a per head rate of $35 per primary school student and $50 per secondary school student. In 1973, the payment scheme was fixed at a rate of 20% of the cost of educating a child in a government school.

After the Karmel Review (Schools Commission) in 1972, Australian government recurrent funding was applied to all government schools. And in 1974, special funding was introduced for disadvantaged schools, special education, teacher professional development and innovation. Triennial funding through the Schools Commission (1973 to 1988) was paid to the State governments as recurrent funding, capital grants and targetted funding for needs of special groups for the purposes of school education. Further reviews and restructuring of funding from the Australian government in 2009, afforded four yearly funding to State governments under one Commonwealth Act. Payment types were made as Specific Purpose Payments (SPPs) or General Recurrent Grants (GRGs). It is the GRGs which constitute the majority of ongoing Australian Government funding for schools, on a per student basis as a percentage of Australian Government School Recurrent Costs (AGSRC). Gonski's 'needs based model' would replace the AGSRC.

My inability to freely Give a Gonski, amongst other things, is in the lack of detailed response which has been made by the Federal Government, for how the goals and recommendations would be achieved, and in the anxiety that an impending Federal election could further change the goal posts in a relatively short time. There can be little doubt that an increase of funding to the school education sector would be well received. However, as a response to the publication of the Gonski report, the discourses have been reduced to public versus private education, the application of the basis of need and increased agendas of high stakes testing and accountability. I suggest, however, than in embracing the report and its recommendations, we need to consider the roles of education for Australia and its people, and consider this a chance to engage in a true educational reform.

Some of my other hesitations about "Giving a Gonski:
**More money automatically makes schools better - Given its love of history, Australian governments should be quick to identify the number of times that funding has been used to 'fix' social and cultural issues. In a previous post, I have urged us all to think about investing both intellectual and economical capital in educational reform. In saying this, it is imperative that expertise and input is contributed from across many stakeholders, however educational reform should reflect a systemic approach in its analysis, its deconstruction and its reconstruction, with a caveat that change could occur. More money will benefit schools where resourcing is enabled alongside other 'better practices'.
**Education is more than money, and is not easily conceptualised in the same ways as other 'businesses' and 'corporations'. When school discourses are driven by outcomes, deliverables and productivity, it is important to recall that these are applied to children and adolescents who are developing at many rates.
**The core purpose of public education is in providing access to education for all children and adolescents until the age of 17 years. This is highlighted in both the COAG Compact with Young Australians (see http://deewr.gov.au/compact-young-australians) and the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child (http://www.unicef.org.au/Discover/What-we-do/Convention-on-the-Rights-of...). All Australian families are given the choice to access public education, and some choose to send their child to non-public schools. The Gonski report should not be reduced to a debate on the virtues (or not) of private and public schooling system.

For me to "Give a Gonski', I need to understand the real impacts of the proposed funding changes to schooling. At the most basic level, I have a list of starting questions, which reflect what I have read from various sources regarding funding reforms:
**Do school fees payable by parents change? For which schools, and by how much?
**What is the likelihood that tax payer money to the education sector could reflect something similar to the health sector? (ie Those who pay for private education receive benefits such as those who pay health insurance within the cycle of taxation)
**Exactly how much of the proposed funding actually goes into schools? Which schools?
**For what are the changed funds being used in schools? Under whose control?
**Does any of the money go anywhere outside of schools?
**How is the cost of learning accounted for in the model? Does this take into account different ways of learning? Different needs of learners beyond basis of needs factors?
**What is the actual cost to schools, in terms of their commitments (under Federal responsibilities) in the change to funding?
**What is the altered role of the State governments in the shift of the responsibilities?
**What are the implications within this model for pre-service and in-service teacher professional learning?
**In reconsidering this model of funding, has there been any real consideration of a broader educational review and reform, which includes the management of responsibilities and costs outside of governmental organisations?
**How are all of the elements of successful education systems accounted for within this funding model?
**Has a risk analysis of changes been undertaken in any way?
**How does the changed funding system take into account any changing futures considerations?

I want to believe. I have been a believer in education for a long time. I have experienced educational reform as a teacher, a parent and as a student. I have documented educational change as part of my research. I'm ready and committed to support robust and well considered change in education. I like the t-shirts and the social campaigning. Give me detailed, honest and real (rather than speculative) answers and I'll give you a Gonski!

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