Home' Teacher : August 2011 Contents leader ship 61
ticular school. That’s their right, just as it is
the right of Australians to spend money in
order to obtain, s ay, private health insurance.
Some opponents of independent schools
say they are not against independent schools,
they are against the funding of independent
schools, which is like saying we don’t mind
these people existing, we just don’t want
them to breathe.
Removing government funding to inde-
pendent schools would lead to the closure of
many independent schools and would force
up the fees of the few that remained, m aking
them even more elite. When you consider
that 38 per cent of all secondary students
go to non-government schools, more in
Australia’s capital cities, it’s clear this is not
We need clever thinking from both sides
of politics. The Federal Coalition under
Opposition leader Tony Abbott needs to
revise its commitment to the socioeconomic
status (SES) funding model.
While in itself it was a good idea, the SES
funding model has been damaged by the ‘no
losers’ guara ntee introduced by the Com-
monwealth governme nt of John Howard
when the SES funding model began in 2001,
and which the current Commonwealth
government of Julia Gillard has continued,
which essentially maintains overfunding to
The second problem with the SES fund-
ing model is that it relies on the use of Aus-
tralian Bureau of Statistics Census data
grouped by post code to calculate a school’s
SES score, so despite having students from
high-SES families, if those families live in
low-SES post code areas, a school receives
higher levels of Commonwealth funding.
The view of Commonwealth Minister
for Education, Training and Youth Affairs
David Kemp in 1999, when he announced
the new system, was that this was better
than asking pare nts ‘i nt rusive questions’
about their income and other personal
information. It would have been better to
use individual family income.
So, what’s the answer? A ny funding solu-
tion for independent schools will find itself
somewhere between an entitlement argu-
ment (I deserve my share of the education
tax dollar because I pay taxes) and a needs-
based argument (needier schools should get
more funding). The voucher system epito-
mises the former and the removal of funding
to well-re sou rced schools epitomises the lat-
ter. Neither is likely to attract broad support
from the Australian public. A responsible
way forward is to have a funding model that
is a balance between the needs-based argu-
ment and the entitlement-based argument.
The biggest school cost is recurrent fund-
ing. In the past, recurrent funding models
have been very complex. Any new recur rent
funding model should be kept simple such as
being based on a score out of 10.
The model I suggest does this by taking
into consideration the SES of a school, the
level of fees charged and a measu re of how
well a school is resourced in terms of its
The most well-resou rced schools would
achieve the lowest possible score of three,
while the least well-resou rced schools would
achieve the highest possible score of 10.
This model would protect entitleme nt
because well-resourced schools, with the
lowest possible score of three , would still
get some funding, albeit much less funding
than less well-resourced schools.
Then there’s the matter of capital fund-
ing. Huge sums of money are needed to
repair Australia’s ageing schools and build
new ones. Of course, one way to do this is
to cut the funding pie differently: increase
the size of the funding slice for some schools
by decreasing the size of the funding slice
for other schools.
Another way is to place all families who
have children attending Australian schools
on an income scale of one to 10, with the
most affluent families required to pay a
full school levy, the least affluent families
required to pay no school levy, and those in
between required to pay more or less of the
school levy, depending on family income.
Given that 61 of the 100 wealthiest
school commu nities, as listed on the 2009
My School website, were state school com-
munities, this idea is worthy of serious con-
This school levy would not be unlike our
current Medicare levy. Like health, education
needs increased funding and that funding
should come from taxes, with the greater bur-
den falling on those with the greater wealth.
Finally, there’s the issue of funding
school children who are disadvantaged in
Again , I propose a 10-point scale. Chil-
dren with a significant disadvantage, special
need or disability would be given a higher
score than those without, a nd would receive a
funding entitlement on the basis of that score.
That funding entitlement, to the child,
would allow that child to use their funding
entitlement at any school, government or
Annexed to this initiative would be an
obligation on all schools to set aside a mini-
mum number of places for students with a
significant disadvantage, special need or
We need to make the funding of schools
socially responsible, with needier schools get-
ting more funding than less needy schools.
We also need to keep the funding model
simple, and bri ng all government and
non-government schools into the same
funding arrangement. This is vital if the
Commonwealth government wishes to avoid
accusations of playing sectarian favourites.
I’m sure the funding models I propose
can be improved and refined, but I’m also
sure it’s time we moved the debate about
funding beyond simple attacks and counter-
attacks by the various sectors of education.
Now is the time for new thinking. T
Dr Tim Hawkes is Headmaster of The
King’s School, Sydney.
For references, visit http://research.acer.
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