Home' Teacher : August 2010 Contents LEADERSHIP 61
'In the past the question of school fund-
ing has been used to divide the Australian
community. . . . My intention is not to follow
this path.' She announced a review of school
funding to be conducted by an expert panel
and stated firmly, 'This is not about taking
money away from schools,' and, 'No school
will lose a dollar of funding -- in the sense
that their school budget per student will not
reduce in dollar terms.'
Roses, it seemed, have been placed in the
muzzles of guns.
It's hard to imagine they'll stay there for
long. As the submission of the Australian
Education Union to the current funding
review states, 'The review cannot. . .turn a
blind eye to the relative exclusivity and fee
structure of private schools which means
they enrol a greater proportion of students
from higher socioeconomic status back-
grounds with lower support needs.'
Against that, the submission of the Inde-
pendent Schools Council of Australia
states, 'The review must recognise the
significant private contribution to the
costs of education made by independ-
ent school parents and communities.
The outcomes of the review
should not operate to
about a per-
ceived lack of
ance in Gillard's
expert panel for
review, since the
panel chair, David
Gonski, is also the
chair of the board of
Sydney Gram mar School.
There's also unease among some
in independent schools about a perceived
lack of political balance in the working
groups that advise the Ministerial Council
for Education, Early Childhood Develop-
ment and Youth Affairs.
Much of Gillard's rhetoric as Minister
for Education has been soothing and, thus
far, I think she's done an extraordinary job.
Her work to improve teaching, curriculum,
accountability and transparency is all admi-
How well the new Minister for Educa-
tion Simon Crean handles transparency
may prove tricky. Will he want to reveal
that the average funding of a student at a
government school is $11,874, whereas at a
Catholic school it's $6,442, and at an inde-
pendent school it's $5,810? Will he want to
reveal that a student at a government school
in New South Wales in 2008 got $5,352
more than a student in a non-government
school, while a student in a Western Aus-
tralian government school got $8,945 more,
and a student at a government school in the
Australian Capital Territory got a stagger-
ing $10,133 more? Will he want to face
questions about the fairness of states and
territories getting vastly different amounts
of government funding for their students?
Transparency is fine providing you are going
to like what you see.
As Minister for Education, Gillard has
always been a believer in needs-based fund-
ing. Her more recent pronouncements are
about allowing school assets to influence
funding. If Crean pursues that idea it may
return Labor to the disastrous policies of
the Latham era.
Many assets in government as well as
non-government schools exist as a result of
self-help initiatives. Penalise these initiatives
and we may develop a welfare mentality
that this country can ill afford.
If government funding is linked to the
measure of a school's wealth as reported on
the My School website under the Index of
Community Socio-Educational Advantage
(ICSEA) score, Crean has a worry. Of the
100 wealthiest school communities, as cur-
rently measured by ICSEA scores, 61 are
government schools, 21 are independent
and 18 are Catholic. Uh-oh.
A cease-fire in the school funding debate
can only last for so long by saying, 'Let's
wait for the review.' At some stage, the wait-
ing and the talking will stop and policy will
be formed. Already, the peace is as fragile as
a politician's promise, as sitting members in
marginal electorates well know.
Roses might stay in the muzzles of guns
if the Commonwealth government is able
to ensure that no school, government,
Catholic or independent, will be worse off
in relation to government funding -- in real
terms. A good start is to guarantee that no
school will have its funding frozen, let alone
reduced, in the years ahead. T
Dr Tim Hawkes is the Principal of the
King's School, Parramatta .
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