The Age goes Gonski at the Government

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Caroline Milburn’s article in The Age about the Gonski Review unfairly verbals the Government, says Vince O'Grady.

Having read the main parts of the Gonski review into School funding, including the recommendations and findings, I looked forward to reading the report in The Age on Monday 25 June, entitled ‘Is Gonski a goer? The $5bn question’.

Caroline Milburn commenced this article with an observation:
‘Some are questioning the government’s commitment to a new school funding blueprint.’

But who, I wonder, is questioning the Government’s commitment?

The article opened with:
‘THE dapper businessman David Gonski, well known and highly respected in Australia's corporate boardrooms, is mostly unknown in households where the nation's school children are being raised.

‘That may change as teacher unions embark on an " i give a gonski" national television and grassroots community campaign, aimed at persuading the Gillard government to pass laws this year for a new funding model for all schools, based on recommendations from Mr Gonski's landmark review into schooling.’

Rather than simply accepting this statement as face value, perhaps we should go back a couple of steps and review the facts which led to the Gonski report.

In 2001, The Howard Conservative government implemented a new system of funding for schools.

Andrew Dowling from the Australian council for Educational research (ACER), Policy Analysis and program evaluation unit, wrote a very good paper describing ‘Australia’s School funding system 2007’.

The Howard model of School funding increased the amount per student in non government schools.

Dowling uses 2005 data to show the distribution of funds.

Of the $31 billion spent in that year:

  • 22.1 billion was state funding to Government schools;

  • 4.8 billion was Commonwealth funding to non-Government schools;

  • 2.1. billion was Commonwealth funding to Government schools; and

  • 1.8 billion was state funding to non government schools.

  • The basis for funding the non-Government schools was a combination of the average Government school recurrent cost and a socio economic status (SES) score. Half of the non-Government schools (1,300) were funded by the SES score and half (1,302) were funded under three other categories, because they would have received less funding if their SES score were strictly applied.

    As a policy, Howard said that it gave people who wanted their children to receive the best education choice.

    Then, on 15 April 2010, the then Minister for Education Julia Gillard
     “…initiated a review of these funding arrangements for schooling to develop a funding system which is transparent, fair, financially sustainable and effective in promoting excellent educational outcomes for all Australian students”.

    The review was chaired by David Gonski.

    As part of their review they also had access to the following commissioned research,

    1. 230 page report from Nous group;

    2. 151 page report from Deloitte Access Economics;

    3. 112 page report from the Allen consulting group; and

    4. 161 page report from the Australian council for Educational research.

    5. The Gonski review was delivered in December 2011. It was 319 pages long.

      A summary government web site is located here.

      There were 41 recommendations and 26 findings.

      A basic theme of all of the research was that Australia had fallen behind in the critical areas of Literacy and numeracy viz a vis other Asian and Finnish school systems.

      It confirmed that there was a lot of diversity in the school systems in Australia, including Catholic and independent private schools, as well as State funded government schools — each State having a different school system and priorities, as well as the inbuilt disadvantage of rural against urban areas and the different socioeconomic factors of each of those divisions.

      So, the review undertaking was huge and complex. In my opinion, though, Gonski did a marvellous job in his report; publishing his findings and also some well-considered recommendations.

      None of the recommendations mentioned adding  $5 billion to the recurrent expenditure of the Australian school system.

      The review team did however do some modelling, which is detailed on page 207 of the report.

      Gonski determines the estimates of his modelled School resource standard and then adds loadings for the following

      1. School size and location

      2. Low socioeconomic status

      3. Indigeneity

      4. Limited English language proficiency.

      5. Gonski went on to say:
        'As acknowledged earlier in the report, both the resource standard per student amounts and the loadings will require further work with the states and territories and non-government sector to develop and check these initial estimates. This will need to be progressed urgently in the first half of 2012 to facilitate negotiations over the implementation of the new funding arrangements and to enable governments to conclude negotiations leading to legislation in the second half of 2012.

        'Once it is established, the National Schools Resourcing Body will provide independent and expert advice to governments on setting and updating the primary and secondary per student amounts and the loadings.'

        Gonski’s modelling came up with a figure of $5 billion at 2009 dollars.

        Having set the Gonski scene, we now have a platform for some critical evaluation.

        Of course, the Education union is concerned to see the recommendations of the Gonski review implemented. They are committed professionals in a profession in which they are often treated as non-professionals. They are fully committed to these reforms, which will provide the fairness and equity to school funding across Australia.

        Not one of the 41 recommendations mention anything about injecting $5 billion into the school funding system. Note Recommendation 1:
        Recommendation 1

        The Australian Government and the states and territories, in consultation with the nongovernment sector, should develop and implement a schooling resource standard as the basis for general recurrent funding of government and non-government schools. The schooling resource standard should:

        reflect the agreed outcomes and goals of schooling and enable them to be achieved and improved over time

        be transparent, defensible and equitable and be capable of application across all sectors and systems

        include amounts per primary and secondary student, with adjustments for students and schools facing certain additional costs

        complement and help drive broader schooling reform to improve Australia’s overall performance and reduce inequity of outcomes.

        It is no wonder, then, that the Minister Peter Garrett said:
        “We want to deliver a better way of funding but at the same time we want to be sure we get it right.”

        The report was released in February 2012 and we are now at the end of June — four short Policy months later.

        As stated earlier, Gonski modelled a $5 billion increase in spending based on his assumptions, which he said [refer page page xviii of the report] would be split 70 per cent to the States and 30 per cent to the Federal Government.

        As the article states, it will be a difficult job to work through the recommendations with the States and also the Federal opposition, and will be a test of Federal Government leadership from the Labor Party.

        So far, they seem to have done little wrong. They initiated the review in December 2011, they read the review and released it in February 2012 and are now working through the recommendations. We are still only about six months from the date of the report being given to the Government.

        In my view, the bigger test is for the Coalition parties to sign onto the review and its recommendations at once.

        So, what is the response of the Liberals?

        In NSW, Barry O’Farrell is quoted in The Age as saying:
        “He [Gonski] put in place what I think is a reasonable formula for the way in which education could be funded into the future.”

        In fact, Gonski put nothing in place, except a set of recommendations to be worked through — nothing was carved in stone.

        As for the Federal Liberals, the Opposition Education, Apprenticeships and Training spokesperson, Christopher Pyne, doesn’t believe that the Howard model is broken, but just that it might need improvement.

        He has also swooped on the $5 billion figure and done some of his own modelling.

        At St Pius, a school in his own State, Pyne and Abbott had a swipe at the Labor Party and backed up with another Liberal party blog here.

        In both articles, Pyne states that the Labor Government hasn’t committed to the $5 billion a year required and that, over the next 12 years, the bill will be $113 billion.

        According to the article, this $5 billion is based on a 6 per cent increase per year. If we take the $5 billion and index it by 6 per cent each year from 2009 [2009 dollars were used in Gonski’s model] then the resultant 12 years of funding from 2012 to 2023 actually works out as $100 billion and, in the 12 years from 2013 to 2024, the figure works out to be $106 billion. So, it is a wonder where Christopher got his funding for the Federal Government from; a black hole in his calculations of $13 billion or $7 billion — take your pick.

        Here is the spreadsheet (in MS Excel).

        Pyne either doesn’t he realise – or chooses not to acknowledge for political purposes – that the Government is working through the funding model. Further, he doesn’t appear to have read the report, because the Gonski report states that only 30 per cent of current funding is the Federal Government responsibility.

        Isn’t it ironic that the Federal opposition Spokesman for Education apparently can’t add up and can’t read? And we wonder why Australia is falling behind in literacy and numeracy…

        In Victoria, it is not certain what the Liberal Baillieu government will do. However we do have a fairly good idea what might happen to school funding through what has happened to the funding for the Victorian Certificate of applied learning (VCAL). An alternative to the VCE for those less academic students who needed a more practical course. In the 2011 budget, the Baillieu Government took $50 million out of this program in schools, placing them under severe funding stress.

        Baillieu’s commitment to education generally is demonstrated in this year’s budget, with a further reduction of Funding to the TAFE sector of $300 million.

        At the behest of the government, the Education department in Victoria released a discussion paper recently as to the best way forward to Source, evaluate and make teachers accountable. A big stick approach?

        The discussion paper can be read here for you to make your own judgement.

        This follows Baillieu’s election promise to make Victorian teachers the best paid in Australia. A promise which has now been broken and led to the Government and teachers in Victoria being in a serious industrial dispute over pay.

        So, to reviewing the review.

        Barry O’Farrell was agreeing with something that wasn’t proposed. Pyne and Abbott are playing Politics as usual and Ted Baillieu is cutting funding to education generally as well as advocating a didactic approach to the hiring of teachers and their professional development and accountability. No mention is made of increasing their funding. He has also failed in his promise to make Victorian teachers the best paid in Australia.

        Back to the question, “Who has a commitment to Schools funding?” I think the Labor party might come out the winner there. The Liberals have a lot to say, but not about the actual facts of the report.

        Milburn finishes her article with the stakeholders in the exercise and what they think in the polls:
        “Nine out of ten Australians believe it is important for the federal government to lift funding for the public school system.”

        Hardly surprising; all good parents want their children to do well at school.

        Let me repeat the facts. The Labor government commissioned the review, they accept the finding and recommendations and are working through the detail. They get that the funding system is broken and needs to be changed. That is further evidenced by the government commissioning the Productivity Commission to report on the Schools workforce a report (376 pages) published in April 2012.

        This was part of a series of commissioned reports on the Education and Training workforce requested in April 2010.

        The actual issue for the press is “Do the Liberal National party get it also” Do they believe what nine out of ten parents believe? Judging by the evidence shown here, they haven’t read the report and they haven’t got the mathematical ability to do the most basic of sums. Or to read a report correctly.

        The journalist has made the same mistakes as the Liberal National party — not reading the report and not doing enough due diligence.

        In effect, it is symptomatic of the problem with Australian education — journalists seemingly haven’t got the level of education (or will) to actually tease out the issues from the facts. You question the Government’s commitment to the new funding blueprint, but you have entirely missed the mark. The people who have no commitment to the blueprint are the Federal Opposition.

        The article is a classic example of why the newspapers are declining as a source of news. Perhaps if the newspapers decided to do some really meaty factual journalism about the real issues, they would secure jobs and increase the sale of newspapers — and then advertisers would flock back.

        Surely the objective of good journalism is to put the facts to the public and give them the details, so they are able to make up their own minds using unadulterated facts and their own political predisposition, or otherwise.

        Milburn’s article about the Gonski review entirely misses the point. It starts off with an unattributed accusation “Some are questioning...” then seeks to place a wedge between the Federal Labor Government and unions: showing acceptance by Barry O’Farrell and conditional acceptance by Christopher Pyne and ending with the people who really matter – the parents of the children –and what they think.

        In my view, the articles construction gives entirely the wrong impression about the Government and its commitment to funding reform, it deals in fantasy rather than fact and doesn’t question the serious deficiencies in the Coalition’s reading of the document of its own modelling of the $5 billion over 12 years (which is incorrect).

        It also fails the balance test, by criticising the Government and giving the Coalition a free ride. It doesn’t ask the same question of both sides of politics. It ignores the facts and is entirely misleading as a result — making it look as if the Government is dragging its feet and that a leading supporter of the Government (a Union) is concerned about a lack of progress.

        The worst part about this type of article is that people will not (as I have done) go and read the actual facts of the matter. They take what they read in the newspaper to be objective truth. This is not journalism, it is akin to political fraud. It cheats the public of their right to know the facts. God help us if Gina Reinhardt gets editorial control, the situation may become a lot worse.

        What it also does is trivialise an important issue down to a set of “he said/she said”, or “he thinks/they think”, lowest denominators.

        If this is the type of journalism we allow ourselves to put up with, we will get the type of Governments we deserve.

        In the absence of a balanced view from The Age, I have attempted to redress that balance. All the relevant details are available at the links provided. Further opinion can be gleaned by searching the web for further content. I am not trying to get anyone to agree or disagree about the issue; all I am doing is providing links to the unadulterated facts, so you can make an informed decision about the truth of the matter.

        Creative Commons Licence
        This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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