School's out: the education debate we need to have

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Catherine Murphy

3rd year politics and sociology student
School of Government
University of Melbourne

A DEBATE on the quality of school education is one we need to have, for the sake of those who go through Australia's most disadvantaged schools.


The performance of Australian students has declined at all levels over the last 10 years, according to a review of school funding known as the Gonski report (and recently re-branded by Kevin Rudd as the National Plan for School Improvement).


Moreover, the gap between the highest and lowest performing students is increasing, especially in relation to Indigenous students.


In 2013 in Australia this is not good enough.


However, the debate around Gonski and education is framed often in light of what it means for the federal government in the polls, rather than as an issue in itself.


 So I want to get the ball rolling on the education by starting with basic questions, such as this one posed to me the other day:

What IS Gonski?

Gonski is an independent report commissioned by the federal government, chaired by David Gonski. It received 7,000 submissions, visited 39 schools, and consulted 71 education groups across Australia.


The Gonski report recommends:

  • A funding base of around $8,000 per primary student, and $10, 500 per secondary student, with extra loadings for disadvantages
  • Prioritising support for Australia’s lowest performing students
  • Funding to be increased by about $5 billion per year across all schooling sectors, with one third from the federal government, and the remaining two thirds to be negotiated between federal and state governments.
  • Stronger governance and accountability: the establishment of School Planning Authorities to coordinate new school buildings


Why does the Federal Opposition oppose it?


The Opposition leader Tony Abbott has said that education can be improved without 'vast dollops of money' - citing budgetery concerns as reason for more affordable 'fine-tuning' of the education system.


The Liberal Party has its own plan for schools, that can be found on its website.  The key points are:

  • Putting parents, principals and communities in charge of the school, not bureaucrats
  • Encouraging government schools to become independent schools, with simpler budgeting and more autonomy
  • A rigorous but not "prescriptive or overcrowded" curriculum
  • Continuing current funding levels with indexing
  • State Government analysis of the Federal Government figures shows over 100 State schools that will receive less funding (although the Federal Government has said no school will get less money under Gonski)
  • Local communities and principals losing control to Canberra bureaucrats
  • The education system needs to go from kindergarten to Post Graduate. Gonski funding comes from taking money from universities, and there is no guarantee for kindergarten funding beyond 2014


This is only an introduction to Gonski, and I think I've raised more questions than I have answered.


Can we afford Gonski? Will it bring about the improvements our education system needs? Does it take power from local communities in favour of Canberra bureaucrats?


 I'd love it if together we could find some answers.


Thumbnail and main image: Foot Slogger (Flickr)