Opposition education spokesperson Mr Christopher Pyne has recommended the federal government place a moratorium on school funding as it explores options to implement Gonski review reforms with state and territory education ministers and their school bureaucracies (The Australian, 2013).
Mr Pyne's comments highlight the continuing delays which have dogged the government's implementation plan to undertake school funding reform as recommended by the Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling report which was delivered to the government in December 2011.
The Prime Minister released the Gonski review in February 2012. Since then the government has made little headway in implementing any of its recommendations apart from subsequent announcements in September 2012 that all independent schools will receive funding increases and that her government intends to commence an 'education crusade' to advance the nation's schools internationally.
All of these supposed schooling initiatives remain un-costed. Notably the Gonski Review recommendation for an additional $5 billion injection to improve schooling outcomes was effectively raised to $6.5 billion when it became apparent that Gonski's 2009 dollar value estimates would be insufficient to adequately finance school improvements at current values.
The government's 'education crusade' included nothing more than motherhood statements about the need to improve student learning outcomes. This self evident conclusion was confirmed when the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievements found that among 48 countries Australia's Year 4 students came 27th in reading.
Embarrassingly among the English-speaking participating countries Australia came last. So much for student intellectual return from the estimated $58-plus billion spent on Australian school education at the present time.
Equally significantly the government's Asian White Paper was largely panned by critics who tellingly pointed out that more considerable Asian business interaction commenced during respective Hawke governments more than 20 years ago and that the Whitlam government recognised China's regional significance in the 1970s.
Ms Gillard's penchant to dabble in her former education portfolio came to the fore with the inclusion of school Asian language study as a primary goal of the White Paper review. The juxtaposition between actually learning an Asian language at school (at the barest minimum of understanding) and linking with Asia was never quite explained by the Prime Minister. A none-too subtle string in the Asian tiger's tail was the proviso that funding would be conditional on school compliance with such language implementation. Ouch.
Mr Pyne's suggestion to delay funding reform, that is, continue the current SES-based recurrent funding for a further two years beyond 2014 because the implementation details arising from the Gonski Review have yet to be finalised with the states, would provide a circuit breaker to more critically determine school funding needs while offering some certainty for non-government schools regarding forward government funding receipts.
Mr Pyne's suggestions were welcomed by The Australian newspaper which recommended removing such fundamental reform 'from the electoral cycle' noting the federal election will be held in 2013. The newspaper suggested such a move would 'take the political heat' out of the education debate which inevitably seems to revert back to slanging matches over sector funding (The Australian, 2013b).
While this proposal appears sound in theory the practical reality of school reform – especially the vexed issue of government funding – continues to swirl around the following issues.
i) School funding will always remain a political issue, all the more so for the 2013 election when the Labor government will feverishly seize any initiative that shows a positive electoral outcome. Contrary to the newspaper's editorial the Labor government will seek to increase the political heat on the opposition over its lack of coherent school reform proposals.
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