Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table. 3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.
As Yogi Berra said: “It’s déjà vu all over again.” While we’re still recovering from the nightmare of Gonski 1.0, the government has unleashed Gonski 2.0.
The government’s announcement this week involved three main things: billions more taxpayer dollars for schools over the next decade, an announcement of another Gonski Review into how school funding is spent, and a decision to cut funding to 24 ‘overfunded’ non-government schools.
All three are a distraction from the real problems with the current school funding model.
When the Gonski 1.0 school funding model was released in 2012, it was hailed as a ground-breaking blueprint to shape the future of education (if it was so good, why is Gonski 2.0 allegedly necessary?).
But Gonski’s model turned out to be almost impossible to implement.
The model involved a base level of funding per student and extra funding for disadvantaged students. Disastrously, following the Gillard government’s negotiations with the states and non-government schools, the criteria for disadvantage was expanded so much that the majority of Australian students are now considered ‘disadvantaged’ and attract extra money. So much for ‘needs-based funding’.
This funding model is clearly not financially viable in the long-term. Consider 2017 school funding levels: government schools in almost every state and territory will receive thousands of dollars per student above the base level but are considerably ‘underfunded’ according to the model. This ‘underfunding’ is due to the unjustifiably high benchmark caused by the expanded loadings –not because a few independent schools are ‘overfunded’ as some would have you believe.
It would be a fantasy to pursue this funding benchmark for every school in Australia. The government should have grasped the opportunity this week to remove the ‘Gonski funding’ albatross from their necks.
Everyone is concerned about disadvantaged students and wants a school funding model that effectively caters for disadvantage, but the inescapable conclusion is that ‘Gonski funding’ does no such thing and is an irredeemable mess.
Blaise Joseph is an Education Policy Analyst at The Centre for Independent Studies and author of The Fantasy of Gonski Funding: the ongoing battle over school spending released this week.
The outcry against UK Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron’s delay in stating whether or not he personally believes homosexuality to be a sin — despite he and his party supporting LGBTI rights including marriage — has pointed to an emerging threat to the coherence of western liberal societies. It hinders the integration of people with strong religious convictions.
A sound and integrated liberal society is one in which all its members are committed to its liberal and tolerant ideals, at least as far as the civil rights of others are concerned. But outcries like that against Farron send the message that you must not only give such support to the full civil rights of your fellow citizens but you must morally agree with their behaviour — and believe that God does too. (After all, discussions of ‘what is sin’ do, as Farron tried vainly to point out, involve theological questions.)
The thing about those with deep religious convictions is that, whether rightly or wrongly, they believe that they have an overriding obligation to obey God in such matters. This is true of the devout Muslim, and for that matter Christian, Jewish or any other serious religious adherent. Therefore insisting they must personably agree with behaviour which they, again rightly or wrongly, believe God has declared to be sin simply becomes a price too high to pay for inclusion in liberal society. So they are left outside.
The problem is that not only is such an insistence in itself illiberal — after all one of the marks of a liberal society is that its members tolerate and give freedom to views and behaviour they may not agree with — but that by setting a barrier to the inclusion of the devout creates a recipe for a dangerously divided nation. It is a most dangerous form of Western liberalism.
With student numbers swelling in city public schools — partly because of population growth and partly because of a slowdown in the drift to non-government schools — the NSW and Victorian state governments have plans to build a bunch of new schools. Sensibly, they have realised that urban land availability does not allow the traditional sprawl of buildings and playgrounds, so the new city schools will be high rises.
Media reports in Sydney and Melbourne show the schools to be at the fancy end of the architectural scale. They’ll no doubt be equipped with all of the latest — soon to be outdated — technology and will have ‘learning spaces’ instead of classrooms, ‘information resource centres’ (RIP libraries), and cafés … vale, the humble tuckshop.
Contrast this with Chatswood Public School in Sydney. Due to its outstanding reputation for academic quality, its student numbers have almost doubled in the past 10 years. It is so over capacity that demountable classrooms have been placed in the car park and on the oval of the high school across the road to meet demand.
There is a high premium on house and rental prices in the enrolment zone. Parents are willing to bypass a nearby under-capacity school and pay a real estate premium to have their child educated in a demountable classroom in a crowded school. They do this because they believe the teaching and learning is first rate, and this outstrips all other factors. While Chatswood is perhaps the best known example of this phenomenon, it is far from the only one.
To be clear: students and teachers in public schools should have comfortable, high quality facilities that are fit for purpose. But in their eagerness to provide this, state governments should not lose sight of the fact that whizz-bang buildings are not necessarily the highest priority for parents. Astute parents know that there is no substitute for a great teacher and a strong curriculum — whether it’s in a demountable classroom or a multi-billion dollar learning space. Governments need to make sure their priorities are just as sound.
Dr Jennifer Buckingham is a senior research fellow and director of the FIVE from FIVE literacy project.