We can win on Gonski

Cameron Malcher

The Federation and AEU delegation to Canberra

We can win the campaign for the full funding of the Gonski school funding model, Federation President Maurie Mulheron says.

“Through dogged determination on the ground, telling your Gonski success stories and through a continuation of the campaign that was so successful during the federal election, we now know there is a real chance that the Gonski model can be preserved,” he said.

The comments follow independent legal advice that the federal government would need to pass changes to the Education Act in both houses of parliament in order to make their desired changes to federal school funding — a task that promises to be particularly difficult for the Coalition government.

In recent weeks, the Australian Education Union (AEU) released an analysis of the Turnbull government’s school funding plan that showed the Coalition’s plan to scrap the Gonski funding model would ultimately return the kind of inequitable funding distribution seen under the Howard-era Socio-Economic Status (SES) funding model.

Referring to the implications of the funding analysis, Mr Mulheron reminded Federation’s September Council meeting that “at the heart of Gonski is a schooling resource standard … the schooling resource standard is the very instrument that’s going to provide the money, and we’re pulling all schools up to that standard”.

“By 2017, only public schools in the ACT will be at the minimum resource standard — while public schools in every other part of Australia will be up to $3000 per student below [the resource standard].”

According to the AEU analysis, conducted by Dr Jim McMorrow, cancelling the Gonski funding in 2017 would still result in federal education funding being distributed 62:38 per cent in favour of independent and non-government schools.

“This would see public schools $4.47 billion worse off from 2017 to 2020 than under the Gonski model and McMorrow’s verdict is that there is no underpinning principle of fairness behind the government’s funding proposals,” Mr Mulheron said.

Campaigners in Canberra

On September 12–13 a group of teachers, parents, and Federation officers joined with a national AEU delegation in Canberra to continue the campaign for Gonski school funding, in the first major campaign activity since the federal election in July. The delegation was led by AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe and Federation President (also AEU Federal Deputy President) Maurie Mulheron.

Representatives from NSW, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia scheduled meetings with some of their state Senators, and with Coalition MPs who are in increasingly marginal seats. Delegates provided examples of the significant difference Gonski funding had already made to the lives of students in their schools, presenting copies of the Getting Results booklet and outlining plans for further improvements should the full Gonski funding model be implemented.

The delegation was hosted in Parliament House by Labor deputy leader and shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek and shadow assistant minister for schools Andrew Giles, who met with the delegation in one of Parliament House’s committee rooms to state their commitment to Gonski.

A more equal society and stronger economic growth are inextricably linked, Ms Plibersek told the delegation. “So we’re in this fantastic position where the thing that we want to do emotionally — to have a fair system where the most disadvantaged kids get the most help to catch up so that they can have every opportunity in life — [is] not just a fair thing to do and good for those individual kids, it’s good for all of us because more equal societies have stronger and longer economic growth.”

Homebush Public School principal Cate Davis and assistant principal Alex Moussawer wanted to ensure that the Liberal Party understood that significant improvements had already been achieved with only the small amount of Gonski funding released to schools so far.

In their school, many kindergarten students come to school with language processing difficulties. Increased funding has allowed them to engage the services of a speech pathologist and, as a result of targeted intervention, students are learning to speak much quicker and therefore better able to engage with their school environment.

Alex told of one parent who was moved to tears at the rapid improvement in a previously non-verbal child, and how so many more students were able to engage more confidently in their learning activities in later years as a direct result of the Gonski-funded interventions that would not otherwise have been so accessible for families.

Jill, a parent from the electorate of Reid in NSW, told of her son’s special needs and the cost and impact of late intervention that ultimately required him to attend a special school. She told MPs she was campaigning for Gonski because adequate funding for in-school support could greatly assist future generations of families like hers by allowing schools to better identify and support student needs earlier in life.

“My son’s teachers did a fantastic job, but I think that if they had more support in the school, then my son might have been able to get away without having a very expensive education,” Jill said.

Sanctuary Point Public School principal Jeff Ward spoke of the generational poverty that affected sections of the community his school serves. “Gonski needs-based funding has turned our school and our community on its head,” Mr Ward said. “Ten years ago our school and community was a low socioeconomic community with all the problems associated with it. Now, with the Gonski funding, we’re able to change lives, not only for our kids but for the community.”

A key part of the strategies at Mr Ward’s school involve targeted services such as speech pathologists and occupational therapists, as well as social supports to make the school a more nurturing environment.

“We’re currently providing breakfast for about 80 kids a day so they’re able to start the day with a full stomach and more ready to learn,” Mr Ward said. “We couldn’t do that without Gonski funding.”

Click here for PDF of this story.

More on campaigning:
Critical time for disability campaign
Tinkering is not enough to fix the training sector
Prison teachers strike
Sign the petition to keep Safe Schools in operation