ALP education revolution fails
19th April 2010

Rudd and Gillard argue that the ALP's education revolution is a success - in the following, I argue otherwise.

Under examination: the education revolution - ABC The Drum Unleashed


Is there a federal election in the air? Judged by the Minister for Education, Julia Gillard's recent actions in announcing a review of school funding and setting up a task force to evaluate the Building the Education Revolution program, it's obvious that the ALP Government is clearing the decks for an early election.

It's also the case, similar to the lead up to the 2007 federal election, the Rudd Government is seeking to nullify education as an electoral disadvantage by presenting itself as conservative educationally - in the best tradition of the previous Howard government.

Past Howard education ministers introduced national testing, a back to basics approach to the curriculum and guaranteed funding to non-government schools. Rudd and Gillard occcupy the same ground, evidenced by the current Prime Minister's statement that parents should vote with their feet if unhappy with the local school and his refusal to bow to the Australian Education Union.

Sounding even more right-of-centre than previous conservative ministers, Gillard argues that Australia was not invaded, that schools are accountable for results, English must involve correct spelling, punctuation, grammar and phonics and that Catholic and independent schools must be properly funded.

The rhetoric sounds appealing but, can the ALP Government be trusted and how successful has its education revolution been?

In terms of success, looking at the Government's record over the last two years, it's obvious that the education revolution is more spin than substance and that the Government has an appalling record in relation to implementation.

The back flip over holding an inquiry into the financial scandal and mismanagement surrounding the Building the Education Revolution program is simply the most recent example of Minister Gillard's inability to manage education, given her multiple portfolios.

Add the failure of the school computer program, where the budget has blown out by millions and schools lack necessary resources and infrastructure, the evidence that the NAPLAN tests, associated with the MySchool website, are invalid, unreliable and prone to error and the Minister's boast about world's best practice is looking thin.

Additional evidence of Gillard's failure as Education Minister is the left-of-centre, ideological nature of the proposed national curriculum. A curriculum that will force all schools, government and non-government, to teach every subject from year 1 to year 12 through a politically correct filter involving Aboriginal, Asian and environmental perspectives.

Ignored is the fact that Australia, while geographically part of Asia, is a European country. Our political and legal institutions, mainstream religions, the nation's language and education system, our history and culture are derived from our Judeo-Christian heritage and steeped in the Western tradition.

Whether the ALP's conversion to respecting the autonomy of non-government schools, supporting parents' right to choose and to properly fund Catholic or independent schools can be believed, there are also concerns. It's no secret that Prime Minister Rudd is a centralist and a bureaucrat at heart. Speaking Mandarin is not the only thing that Kevin Rudd learned during his years in China.

Under the Rudd ALP Government, all roads lead to Canberra and non-government schools are drowning, and will continue to drown, under a raft of national policies and programs that rob them of their autonomy and flexibility to best meet the needs and aspirations of their local communities.

As a result of the Rudd/Gillard education revolution, all schools, as a condition of funding, must implement the Government's agenda in areas like curriculum and assessment, school reporting, teacher certification and registration and social justice and equity policies like ending discrimination in relation to employment and enrolment practices.

Faith-based schools currently have the right to decide who the employ and who they enrol. Based on events in England, from where the ALP's education revolution is copied, the likelihood is that such freedom will be lost.

After refusing to clarify earlier this year whether non-government schools would be financially worse off as a result of the impending funding review, Minister Gillard in her recent speech to the Sydney Institute assured the sector that Catholic and independent schools will be protected.

"So I say today, this is not about taking money away from schools. While enrolments will always change and students will move in and out of schools, no school will lose a dollar of funding in the sense that their school budget per student will not reduce in dollar terms," the Minister said.

Taken at face value, the Minister's assurance that the review is "not about taking money away from schools" is reassuring. On reading her speech more closely, a number of doubts arise.

Julia Gillard is Minister for Social Inclusion and there is no secret about her desire to overcome what she sees as educational disadvantage caused by class, gender and ethnicity. As a member of Victoria's socialist-left faction and supporter of the Fabian Society, it is understandable why the Minister sees the main task of schools as overcoming what the left defines as disadvantage.

Ignored is that Australia, as a result of the nation's schools, has one of the highest rates of social mobility amongst OECD nations and that our education system, based on OECD research, is 'high equity'.

Based on her Sydney Institute speech, clearly the Minister's intention is to use the review to argue that funding should be re-directed from so-called privileged non-government schools to those, mainly government schools, that are defined as disadvantaged.

Under the current socio-economic (SES) funding system, introduced under the Howard government, private fees and income are not included when the federal government measures the amount available to a school in terms of overall income.

The justification is that governments have a moral responsibility to invest in every student's education and non-government schools and their communities should not be penalised as a result of monies raised privately.

Minister Gillard's intention is to identify all sources of funding for non-government schools, private and public, and to post such information on the MySchool webpage. It will only be a short step to then conclude that non-government schools, as they charge fees, should have their funding from governments, state and federal, cut back or removed.

While it might be unintentional there is also the concern, when the Minister states "this is not about taking money from schools", that government funding to non-government school will not be indexed from year to year, as it currently is.

It also needs to be clear that a strong case can be put, instead of simply guaranteeing existing levels of funding, that the ALP Government should increase its share of investment to non-government schools.

Productivity Commission figures show that even though 34 per cent of students attend Catholic and independent schools across Australia, such schools only receive 21 per cent of government funding available to school education. The 66 per cent of students at government schools receive the remaining 79 per cent.

Put another way, based on 2007-2008 Productivity figures, average government expenditure on each state school student is $12,639, the equivalent figure for a non-government school student is $6,607. Clearly, a case can be put that any funding review needs to remedy the imbalance.

As to whether the proposed funding review will reach the same conclusion, non-government school parents will have to wait for the answer until next year - some months after the next federal election and when Rudd and Gillard hope they are safely ensconced for another three years.

Dr Kevin Donnelly is director of on Education Standards Institute and author of Australia's Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars (Connor Court Publishing).



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ALP education revolution fails
19th April 2010
Rudd and Gillard argue that the ALP's education revolution is a success - in the following, I argue otherwise.Under examination: the education revolution - ABC The Drum UnleashedKEVIN DONNELLYIs there...

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