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Saturday, 8 November 2014

Barry Spurr Is Not The Only Problem With Pyne's Curriculum Review |

Barry Spurr Is Not The Only Problem With Pyne's Curriculum Review |

Barry Spurr Is Not The Only Problem With Pyne's Curriculum Review

By Angelo Gavrielatos

wars in education serve a greater purpose for conservatives by helping
to distract from the real issue facing our schools. The Minister wants
us to forget about Gonski, writes Angelo Gavrielatos*.

220,000 young Australians complete their Year 12 exams, the correlation
between their results and the resource standard of the school they
attended should be a cause of national concern.

That is a truth that makes some, including our current Federal
Government, uncomfortable and one which makes them want to change the
subject from school funding reform to almost anything else, including
the review of the Australian Curriculum announced earlier this year.

They need to change the subject because it is hard to ignore the
findings of the Gonski Review, which diagnosed inequality as the problem
in our schools and more funding – targeted and accountable funding – as
the solution.

Differences in ability and motivation will inevitably exist between
children, but differences in results that flow from disadvantage are

It is within our power to deliver a more equitable funding system
that supports the needs of all children and gives them a chance to reach
their potential.

If the Government had intended to fully implement the Gonski reforms there would have been no curriculum review.

Setting up a review of a curriculum that is yet to be fully
implemented was always going to be a distraction, even before the
revelations of the shocking racist emails of one of the subject reviewers, Professor Barry Spurr, had been exposed.

The Review is based on the extraordinary suggestion that poor
performance in our schools can be blamed on a so called sub-standard,
politically-biased curriculum being forced onto students by a shadowy
clique of leftist academics and educators.

No mention of the fact that 100,000 students with disability do not
get the support they need in schools, of our class sizes and workloads
(higher than the OECD average), or the fact that 40 per cent of
secondary school maths classes are taught by unqualified teachers.

These are all hard problems that can’t be solved by slogans, rhetoric or stunts.

The Gonski Review set us on the path towards a fairer system, which
would see all schools reach a minimum resource standard and give their
students a better chance of reaching their full potential.

But the Abbott Government has chosen to walk away from these issues,
abandon the Gonski agreements with the states and territories and begin
an insidious dismantling of the architecture behind the Gonski reforms.

If it is allowed to get away with it, we could return to a funding
system which exacerbates the resource gaps between schools and the
achievement gaps between students.

We know that the Abbott Government does not support the Gonski
needs-based funding reforms. Earlier this year it abandoned the six-year
Gonski agreements with the states and territories, committing only to
the first four years of increased funding.

Because two-thirds of the extra funding was to be delivered in the
last two years of the agreements, that effectively ended the attempt to
lift all schools to a minimum resource standard.

It was like stopping a three-storey building after erecting just the
first level, but what’s worse is the way the Abbott Government is now
attempting to undermine the building’s foundations.

Then PM Julia Gillard Announces the Gonski Reforms in 2013
Then PM Julia Gillard Announces the Gonski Reforms in 2013
Gonski is not just about putting more resources into schools, although that is an important part of it.

It is about rethinking how we fund schools, by moving to a system
that is needs-based and sector-blind and making sure state governments
and private school authorities are made fully accountable for where the
money goes.

It recognises that we can get the best results by targeting funding to the schools where it is most needed.

The principal of any public school that has received extra Gonski
funding this year will be able to tell you how it has made a difference,
whether through more literacy programs, speech pathologists or other
support for staff.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne is on the record as saying he and
Tony Abbott feel a “particular responsibility” for private schools that
they don’t have for public schools. Where does that leave the majority
of Australian children who attend public schools?

In opposition the Abbott Government promised to increase the
‘disability loading’ which is paid to schools that educate students with
a disability from 2015. This promise was abandoned on Budget Night,
leaving over 100,000 students with disability without any funding at

Minister Pyne is also conducting a review of the low-SES funding
loading – a Gonski measure – which sees schools which educate high
numbers of students from low-income families given extra funding to
recognise the extra challenges they face.

The problem is the review is invitation-only and conducted in secret,
with the majority of organisations invited representing private
schools, which educate a disproportionately low number of students from
low-income families. There is no doubt this review will be used to
water-down the loading and divert money from needy schools.

The Abbott Government has also passed changes to the Australian
Education Act through the House of Representative which, if passed by
the Senate, will quietly delay the requirements of state governments and
private school authorities to report on how they are spending Gonski
funding and the mandatory “school improvement plans” which were part of
the Gonski agreements.

There will be no way of tracking the allocation, let alone whether
the money is being used for the implementation of programs for the
students for whom it was intended. This is setting up the Gonski reforms
to fail.

Opponents of Gonski push the line that giving schools more funding
doesn’t make a difference, and that Australian test scores have dropped
in the last decade.

They fail to point out the decline in Australian students test scores
took place from 2003-2012, a time when schools-funding was based on the
flawed Howard Government formula, delivering some of the biggest
increases in funding to the wealthiest private schools.

To use that to conclude that accountable, needs-based, targeted
funding will not assist in lifting overall student performance and close
student achievement gaps is ridiculous.

Meanwhile, every year that we delay needs-based funding, another
cohort of disadvantaged students misses out, and gaps in achievement

The two to three year achievement gap between advantaged and
disadvantaged students is unacceptable as is the difference in retention
rates of students from low-income families who have only a 60 per cent
chance of finishing Secondary School, compared to 85 per cent for those
from wealthier families.

What’s worse is that recent research has shown that gaps in
achievement between advantaged and disadvantaged schools have grown in
just the last three years, while the Gonski reforms were being designed.

A better, more equitable school system is achievable, but it can only
happen if we have governments which are willing to embrace the idea of
needs-based funding and increase resources to close the gaps in
achievement and opportunity between advantaged and disadvantaged

* Angelo Gavrielatos is the Federal President of the Australian Education Union


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