Gillard cannot be trusted on school funding
24th February 2011

In the piece below, also published on The Punch, I argue that David Gonski, the head of the Commonwealth Government's school funding review, has compromised his position in a speech he gave to the Australian Education Union.

Gillard setting private schools up for a fall

One wonders whether David Gonski, appointed by Julia Gillard when Minister for Education to head the Commonwealth Government’s school funding review, is familiar with the saying, ‘let Caesar’s wife be above suspicion?’  Even though Pompeia had committed no crime, suspicion that she had been unfaithful was enough to cause Caesar to act.

If Gonski is aware of such a warning, then it is difficult to understand why he gave the speech he did at the Australian Education Union’s AGM. 
A speech from which the teacher union President, Angelo Gavrielatos, quotes at some length suggesting that the AEU and Gonski are in agreement when it comes to funding issues.

The AEU is funding an extensive and well coordinated campaign to convince Gonski and the other committee members to take money away from Catholic and independent schools and to re-direct it to so-called disadvantaged government schools.

School choice, where parents are supported in their right to choose between government and non-government schools, is anathema to the left-wing teacher union and in a campaign update dated 14 February, quoting from Gonski’s speech, Gavrielatos boasts that the chairman of the review is sympathetic to the union’s campaign.

In the words of the union president, “The head of the Federal Government’s funding review praised the contribution public school teachers and parents have made so far” and “Mr Gonski emphasised the ongoing importance of a strong public school system and said the review was examining reasons behind the shift in enrolments from public to private schools and the impact of that shift”.

Given its left-wing leaning, one of the AEU’s catchcries is that Australia’s education system is riven with inequality and injustice as, apparently, only wealthy and privileged parents can send their children to non-government schools.  The union also argues that the greatest cause of educational failure is a student’s low socioeconomic background and only government schools serve the disadvantaged.

Gonski’s speech mirrors the AEU’s left-wing analysis of social disadvantage with the statement, “For the purpose of the review, the panel believes that the focus on equity should be ensuring that differences in educational outcomes are not the result of difference in wealth, income, power or possession”.  Such an argument is also repeated in the review’s issues paper released last December.

Ignored is that many non-government schools have a similar socioeconomic profile to government schools and that there is ample evidence, such as the analysis of the 2007 PISA results, that concludes that Australia’s education systems is ‘high quality/high equity’.

Also ignored is that Australian society has a high level of social mobility, compared to other OECD countries, and that no amount of cant about equality of outcomes can disguise that fact that students who succeed with the help of parents and teachers and through their own ability and application, regardless of background, deserve to be supported and rewarded for their efforts.

It’s no secret that Catholic and independent schools, compared to government schools, are increasingly popular with parents.  Over the years 1998-2008 non-government school enrolments grew by 21.9%, while enrolments in government schools flatlined at just 1.1% growth.  Across Australia over 32% of students attend non-government schools and the figure rises to over 40% at years 11 and 12.

Instead on acknowledging the benefits of school choice and the right of non-government schools to be properly funded by government, the AEU complains that the growth in non-government school enrolments must be stopped.
According to critics like the AEU and Trevor Cobbold, the head of Canberra based Save Our Schools, the popularity of non-government schools has residualised state schools and led to such schools being seen as the poorer cousins.

Gonski, in his speech to the teacher union AGM appears to endorse such a complaint when he says, “We’ve heard from many people and observed educational disadvantage being increasingly concentrated in certain systems and certain schools”.
After reciting the usual list of so-called victim groups, Indigenous, non-English speaking background and disability students, plus those living in remote areas and with low socioeconomic backgrounds, Gonski goes on to state, “The charge for our panel will be to consider funding arrangements that will be able to address this current disadvantage”.

That the chairman of the funding review and non-government school critics are singing from the same hymnbook does not augur well for those parents making the financial sacrifice to send their children to schools of their choice.

That any future funding model will be detrimental to non-government schools is even more likely given that two of the more eminent committee members, Ken Boston and Carmen Lawrence, are on the public record arguing that priority must be given to funding state schools.

In an article published in The Age, June 24 2002, Boston criticises the current situation for privileging what he terms “neo-Darwin free-market forces” and argues that non-government schools only serve “an exclusive clientele identified by SES, religion, ethnicity or some other dimension”.

Carmen Lawrence, one time ALP Federal President, in a speech titled What is Social Justice? delivered at Curtin University in September 2002, also criticises Commonwealth funding to non-government schools.

Lawrence, echoing the AEU’s politics of envy, suggests “the Howard Government has poured money into the wealthiest schools at the expense of government schools” and argues that “the government’s funding policies and the SES funding formula are major contributors to this reverse discrimination. Give most to those who have most; take from those who have little”.

When launching the funding review in May 2010 the then education minister, Julia Gillard, promised that the inquiry would be “open and transparent” and in subsequent statements said that no non-government school would lose money as a result of the review.  Clearly, such is not the case and like “Yes, Prime Minister” it appears that the outcomes may have already been decided.


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24th February 2011

In the piece below, also published on The Punch, I argue that David Gonski, the head of the Commonwealth Government's school funding review, has compromised his position in a speech he gave to the...
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