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Hopefully, a final word on 'Gonski'

By David Robertson - posted Wednesday, 22 June 2016


My local state school's fence is plastered with green signs telling me that "Gonski is making a difference right here". Naturally I am curious about the evidence to support such a statement.

I go online to look at the school's NAPLAN data for the period 2013, 2014 and 2015, the latter two years being under the "Gonski" funding model. The school generally performs around or slightly below the state averages for Years 3 and 5 and there is no apparent pattern of improvement over the three years.

In fairness, we know NAPLAN is not the only indicator of student outcomes, so perhaps "Gonski" is making a difference in some other area, like student wellbeing or attendance. I look at the school's published Annual Reports which indicate student attendance rates have actually declined during the period 2012 to 2014. If "Gonski" is making a difference for this school, it's not clear from its published data.

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Curiously, whilst the school received additional federal funding of $860 per student in 2014 (the first year of Gonski) compared to 2013, this was off-set by a reduction in state funding of $1,683 per student, meaning the school actually received less government funding overall.

Federal Education Minister Senator Simon Birmingham, who wrote in Online Opinion on 17 June, must feel somewhat aggrieved to be the target of the "I give a Gonski" campaign given the Australian Government doesn't own or operate a single school nor does it provide the majority of funds for state schools. State and territory governments are in fact responsible for 85% of the funding for state schools.

"Gonski" is held up as a national system that funds all schools on the same basis regardless of their sector. But the reality doesn't match the rhetoric.

Three years ago, on the 26th of this month, the Australian Education Bill 2013 was passed by parliament enshrining the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) or "Gonski" funding model in legislation. However, the model, lauded as the panacea for our education system, only applies directly to the more than 900 non-systemic independent schools in Australia. State and Catholic schools are funded by the Australian Government on a systemic basis with the approved authority determining the actual funding for individual schools.

The "Gonski" funding model is glorified as being simple, fair and transparent; yet it fails on all these measures. It is complex and at the current time there are over 20 separate and different funding arrangements across states, territories and sectors, most of which are little understood, let alone well known.

What the new SRS funding model, implemented from 2014, has done is deliver a significant amount of additional Commonwealth funding to schools. This continues a long-term trend with figures showing that between 1987/88 and 2011/12 Australia's education funding has increased by 100% in real terms despite just an 18% increase in enrolments over the same period.

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Despite these significant funding increases, Australia's international rankings in terms of educational outcomes have fallen. This has provoked much worthwhile commentary as to whether simply spending more on schooling will actually reverse our declining educational outcomes.

The incoming Federal Government should as a matter of urgency commission an independent review of the severely compromised "Gonski" funding model. Three key questions should be the focus of the review.

Firstly, where has the additional funding gone? It should be relatively easy to establish which schools have received additional funding as a result of the SRS model and to verify whether the additional funding has been equitably distributed or whether it has been used to prop up state and territory government budgets.

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About the Author

David Robertson is Executive Director of Independent Schools Queensland.

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