The five-year gap in reading performance between the top 20 per cent of year 9 students, who are mainly in affluent schools, and the bottom 20 per cent, who are mainly in disadvantaged, is the direct result of sector-based, needs-blind school funding, Dr Ken Boston told Federation’s Annual Conference on June 29.
“It will not change until the situation is reversed, and funding becomes sector-blind and needs-based,” he said.
Dr Boston was a panel member of the Commonwealth’s Review of the Funding for Schooling (the Gonski review).
“Gonski [see panel below] is a fundamental re-imagining of Australian education, not simply a proposal for allocating resources to schools. It is a radically liberal rethinking of priorities and approaches and objectives, not an exercise in accountancy. [Federal Education Minister] Christopher Pyne understood that sooner than most people, and he is utterly opposed to it.”
Dr Boston said the Minister was opposed to the “redistribution of whatever funding might be available, according to measured need”.
“At present, the hard-working and talented children of the privileged have a somewhat better prospect of access to the very highest levels of educational achievement than the similarly hard-working and talented children of the socially disadvantaged. Gonski would change that … Mr Pyne correctly recognises this as a direct challenge to the neo-conservative heartland. A funding system designed to build a genuine meritocracy by creating an even playing field, and devaluing the benefits of private schooling, cannot be contemplated by the clique currently in charge in Canberra,” he said.
Keen to see the Gonski recommendations implemented, Dr Boston suggested:
- making the case for the Gonski reform to the Australian electorate, with the objective to elect a pro-Gonski government at the next election
- having the arguments at hand to counter fallacious and dishonest assertions about the positive impact of increased funding on student and school performance and the relationship between socioeconomic status and achievement
- keeping pressure on the Labor Party
- not getting diverted from Gonski campaigning by Mr Pyne’s Students First program.
He also suggested campaigning to get rid of “the albatross around the neck of the Gonski Panel”, the undertaking that no school should lose a dollar.
“I do believe that it is in the interests of the nation and the individual that whatever funding is available should be spent strategically on the schools that need it — government and non-government — and on the things that matter, rather than on the schools that don’t need it and on things that are simply nice to have,” Dr Boston said.
“I firmly believe that needs-based funding along the lines of the Gonski model will eventually be introduced to this country. The longer the delay, the greater the deterioration and injustice. But at some stage there will be a national government that will be prepared to act, to prevent Australian education going utterly to the dogs.”