Gonski a threat to non-government schools
12th April 2013

In the following published on the Age online I argue that the Gonski report, and the ALP commonwealth government's response, will harm Catholic and independent schools - both financially and and in terms of their autonomy.

Like Mark Latham, who led Labor into the 2004 election campaign, Prime Minister Gillard is learning that school funding, especially for Catholic and independent schools, is a political minefield.

Political commentators argue that one of the reasons Labor lost the 2004 election was because of Latham's hit list of so-called privileged private schools. It is increasingly obvious Gillard is also in danger of making school funding a political liability ahead of the September 14 election.

Even worse, a recent analysis by Independent School Victoria suggests that instead of reducing funding to wealthier schools, the new Gonski-inspired funding model will most affect schools from low socio-economic status communities.

Despite Gillard's assurance that no school will be financially worse off as a result of any new funding model, nobody should be surprised that non-government schools are financially at risk.

As I have argued since the funding review was established in April 2010, and when the report was first made public in February 2012, the Gonski report adopts a cultural-left approach to school funding that discriminates against non-government schools.

The Gonski report is based on the assumption that government schools need priority funding as, supposedly, they are the only schools open to all. Ignored is the fact Catholic and independent schools across Australia enrol about 36 per cent of students, with the figure rising to more than 50 per cent at years 11 and 12 in some areas.

Also ignored are selective high schools and those privileged government schools in well-off areas where enrolments are restricted to those who can pass the entry test or those whose parents can afford expensive real estate.

It is also the case that unlike parents whose children attend well-resourced government schools in high socio-economic status areas, non-government school parents will be financially penalised.

The amount of government funding received will be adjusted as a result of parents' capacity to pay, and non-government schools, unlike government schools, will be made to contribute at least 10 per cent from local funds to their base level of funding; what is termed the schooling resource standard.

Instead of treating all students equally, it is obvious the Gonski report discriminates against those whose parents choose Catholic and independent schools.

The reasons for this are not hard to find.

Two of the Gonski review members - Ken Boston, one-time head of the NSW Education Department, and ex-Labor WA premier Carmen Lawrence - are on the public record attacking funding to non-government schools.

It is also the case that in a 2011 speech to the AEU's national conference, the chairman of the review, David Gonski, appeared to accept the cultural left's argument that any new funding model must embrace equity of outcomes and stop the enrolment shift from government to non-government schools.

Central to the cultural left's view of school funding, and embraced by the Gonski report, is the mistaken assumption that the principal cause of educational disadvantage is a student's socio-economic status.

The assumption is the only reason students in non-government schools do well is because they come from wealthy and privileged backgrounds, while working class, migrant and non-English speaking students are destined for failure because of their postcode. This is not the case.

A report released last week by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research - The Impact of Schools on Young People's Transition To University - concluded that other factors, such as school culture, classroom environment and student ability and motivation, are equally, if not more, important when explaining why some students do better than others.

Such research mirrors that of Gary Marks of the University of Melbourne, which also concludes that socio-economic status is not the main influence affecting student performance as measured by year 12 results and success at tertiary entry.

In one paper, Marks states “research has shown that socio-economic background has only a moderate relationship with educational outcomes, not a deterministic relationship so often claimed”.

In a second paper examining why non-government schools generally outperform government schools, Marks writes: “Therefore socio-economic background accounts for only between 20 and 30 per cent of school-sector differences in tertiary entrance performance.”

Other factors influencing success or failure include a student's ability and motivation, school culture and classroom environment, and the expectation that students can do well.

Instead of embarking on a class war where so-called privileged and wealthy non-government schools are stigmatised and discriminated against, and based on the principle that all students deserve to be properly treated, any new funding model should be sector blind.

To do otherwise is to unfairly discriminate against the increasing numbers of parents choosing Catholic and independent schools.

Even worse, at a time when Gillard is promising that Australian students will perform among the top five nations by 2025, failing to properly resource non-government schools will penalise those schools more likely to achieve world's best results.




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Gonski a threat to non-government schools
12th April 2013
In the following published on the Age online I argue that the Gonski report, and the ALP commonwealth government's response, will harm Catholic and independent schools - both financially and and i...

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