Maurie Mulheron

A teacher usually has a finely-tuned antenna when it comes to spotting kids who are telling fibs or making up stories as to why their homework was not done. A teacher can easily identify a student who has not been studying, and can quickly recognise plagiarism. These are skills learned on the job.

I suspect there is much twitching of antennae among teachers whenever the Federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, speaks. Little wonder that some commentators have started calling him ‘Pyne-occhio’.

When the Gonski Review into schools funding was released on February 20, 2012, Christopher Pyne, then Shadow Minister, within minutes of the release, rejected the 319 page report, rejected all 41 Recommendations and rejected all 26 Findings.

And so, we fast forward to the present. The debacle of the last few days, which has seen the Federal Coalition position on Gonski change every few hours, has only exacerbated suspicions that Christopher Pyne has not completed his homework and actually read the Gonski Review into Schools Funding.

The Gonski Review found that: “Above all, the additional investment needed to implement a schooling resource standard is necessary because, without it, the high cost of poor educational outcomes will become an even greater drag on Australia’s social and economic development in the future. The need for the additional expenditure and the application of what those funds can do is urgent. Australia will only slip further behind unless, as a nation, we act and act now.”

But two years later, we have a Federal Government that will not act on Gonski.

A fairer funding system is more than an abstract concept for the students who it aims to benefit. For these children fairer funding of schools means a fairer world.

A fairer world means greater opportunities in life such as a higher earning capacity, improved health outcomes, longer life expectancy and better housing. For the most disadvantaged, it means the opportunity to break out of poverty.

The PISA* 2012 results were released on December 4th and reinforce the central call of the Funding Review that the nation must act.

The PISA results indicate that there are unacceptable achievement gaps between students of different backgrounds. In some cases, this gap can be as high as two to three years of schooling. By international standards, the gap is particularly high, making Australia a country that can longer boast that it is the “land of the fair go”.

The PISA report states: “Fairness in resource allocation is not only important for equity in education, but it is also related to the performance of the school system as a whole.”

There are quite significant gaps in student achievement associated with socio-economic status (SES), gender, sector, Indigenous status and geographic location. On raw scores, independent schools outperformed Catholic schools and they outperformed government schools. But when the SES backgrounds of students were taken into account, there were no significant differences across the sectors. This inequality of opportunity is exactly what the Gonski needs-based funding model is attempting to redress.

As mathematics was the main focus of this PISA cycle, it is worth noting that the effect of socio-economic status on student performance in mathematics is greater in Australia than on average across the OECD. This gap is even greater when it comes to Indigenous students. 51 per cent of Indigenous students fail to reach the Level 2 benchmark compared to 18 per cent of non-Indigenous students.

Unsurprisingly, metropolitan students outperformed regional who outperformed remote

These findings confirm the importance of ensuring that the architecture of the Gonski model (such as the loadings, indexation, school resource standard, state government co-contribution, and so on) is preserved.

When one considers that the decline in Australia’s PISA scores corresponds with all but one year of the discredited Howard Government SES schools funding model, it is extraordinary that we have a Federal Education Minister who would want to defend it.

Teachers’ antennae have picked up the signals, Mr Pyne. We know what you are up to. You have not done your homework. So, stop turning around and start paying attention. No more excuses, we have heard them all before. Get on with the task you’ve been given. Implement the full six-year Gonski agreement.

*PISA — Program for International Student Assessment (OECD)