|(Never Cease To Learn)|
Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott have confirmed what many have long suspected: they run a government which feels no responsibility for government schools.
There is a pattern emerging from the public and private utterances of this government of favouring private schools over public schools.
Most recently, Mr Abbott has been talking up the US-model of allowing big corporations, such as IBM, to run schools and "shape the curriculum", with the aim of training workers for themselves.
Let's get this straight. There is no money to pay for the Gonski reforms, funding for all schools is to be cut in real terms, but the Prime Minister is talking about giving money to multinational corporations to run schools?
Allowing for-profit corporations into schools has been a disaster everywhere it has been tried, and has had a negative impact on overall educational outcomes and diminished equity.
Students need a broad curriculum to equip them for a life where they are likely to have several careers, not just one. They are not going to get this if the curriculum is designed to suit the short-term staffing needs of one company.
But the pattern goes more broadly than this. If you want more proof, look at the reports last week showing the Abbott Government's decision to scrap the last two years of the Gonski reforms would mean that the gaps between elite private schools and disadvantaged schools will continue to widen.
These schools will have their post-2017 funding based on what they received in 2013, which means they will receive more than their Gonski amount, while other schools will be indexed at CPI.
But for the real background you need to look at the remarks Education Minister Christopher Pyne made at a post-budget function organised by Christian Schools Australia in Canberra.
These show that the decision to end needs-based Gonski funding after 2017 was not due to a "budget emergency" but based on a philosophy that says the Federal Government should not play a role in funding public schools.
Mr Pyne told a friendly audience at the CSA function that:
Having talked to the Prime Minister about this matter many times, it is his view that we have a particular responsibility for Non-Government schooling that we don't have for Government schooling. The emotional commitment within the Federal Government is to continue to have a direct relationship with the non-government schools sector. I think the States and Territories would prefer that as well.These comments show the low regard with which the Abbott Government holds public schools, despite the fact they educate two thirds of Australian students.
Educating our children properly is a national responsibility, and one that requires effort and resources from all levels of government. There is nothing in our constitution that says only state governments can fund public schools. A federal government that took no responsibility for government schools is one that would turn its back on the majority of Australian students.
This government wants to drag education funding backwards and undo the progress that has been achieved through the Gonski reforms - a funding system where students were funded according to their needs.
After the Abbott Government was elected last year Minister Pyne attempted to tear down the needs-based structure the Gonski Review had put in place, but was forced into an embarrassing backdown after pressure from State Governments and the community.
He boasts of the extra funding he has delivered to schools through signing agreements with Queensland, the NT and WA but fails to mention that these agreements do not require the States to do anything in return for the money, maintain their own funds to schools or even allocate the money to schools!
This year's Budget has confirmed our worst fears that the Abbott Government would not continue with the Gonski funding reforms beyond 2017, stripping out two-thirds of the extra funding agreed to with the States.
This will maintain the resource gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged schools to the point where up to 20 per cent of schools will fail to meet minimum resource standards.
Moving away from needs-based funding after 2017, and indexing schools funding to inflation represents a real cut to all schools.
It also means that in the future public schools will get the same funding as in 2017, regardless of the make-up of their students. Any increase in the proportion of students with disability, for example, will not be met by the extra funding required to properly educate those students.
David Gonski recently made the cost of this course of action very clear. He said: "there needs to be a commitment to a properly funded needs based system of funding and a failure to do so will be to our detriment."
This government not only seems unconcerned about the gaps in resources and achievement between schools, but wants to pursue policies which will see those gaps widen.
This shouldn't be a surprise. Tony Abbott has made it clear in the past that his position is for the federal government to favour independent schools. In 2012 he said that:
Overall, the 66% of Australian school students who attend public schools get 79% of government funding. The 34% of Australians who attend independent schools get just 21% of government funding. So there is no question of injustice to public schools here. If anything, the injustice is the other way.I obviously have a different definition of the word "injustice" to Mr Abbott. I do not consider it unjust that wealthy schools, with access to income through fees and other sources, receive less than cash-strapped public schools which do the heavy lifting of educating the majority of students with disability or from disadvantaged backgrounds.
As eloquently put by David Gonski, "I cannot easily forget the differences I saw in the schools I visited. To say that many of the schools I visited in the state system need further assistance and tender loving care is to me an understatement."
I consider it an injustice that so many children are in under-funded schools that are not allowing them to reach their potential.
Public schools have a special place in our education system because are the only schools that are open to all Australians regardless of their social circumstances.
I am one of many who has an "emotional commitment' to the idea that every child should be able to get a high quality education regardless of their social circumstances and that public schools, which are open to all children, should lead the way in providing this.
For a government to try and evade its responsibilities to our public schools is to abandon the idea that we are a nation that will provide a quality education to every child as a basic right. This is not a situation I will accept, and is why the AEU will continue the fight for needs-based funding, which provides all children with a properly-resourced education.