There are multiple signs that Australia’s education system is in crisis. This includes declining study results, teacher shortageclients faced abuse and a resurgence violence at school.
Above that are the productivity commissions Review January 2023 that what we’ve done with Australian education over the past decade has “so far done little to improve student outcomes”.
Education authors Tom Greenwell and Chris Bonnor agree. In an ambitious new education initiative report Australian leather readingthey provide a way forward.
She propose a framework for Australian schools to increase parental choice (including for religious schools) and improve the inequality that plagues the system.
What’s the problem?
Greenwell and Bonnor say too many underprivileged students are concentrated in underprivileged communities. This results in
unacceptable gaps in learning (which) separate disadvantaged students from their more privileged peers.
Since the introduction of government funding for non-government schools in the 1960s, we have seen an increased concentration of privileged students in some schools, and the same is true for disadvantaged students. The The OECD has warned Australia been talking about this for a while. But the current policy settings offer little incentive for change.
As Greenwell and Bonnor argue, we are unlikely to meet our national education goals if:
we pile up the odds against the kids who are least fortunate in terms of the circumstances they are born into.
Read more: The Productivity Commission says Australian schools are ‘falling short’ on quality and equity. What happens now?
Here too there is a conflict with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms that education should be free and compulsory at least at the basic level. Crucially, parents have “a prior right to choose the type of education provided to their children”.
Australian non-government schools allow parents to exercise this right, but even the lowest level of school fees charged by some Catholic system schools can still be paid. out of range from some parents.
As the authors note, this is not a problem for non-government schools alone. Segregation within government schools exacerbates the situation. Selective Schools (government schools that select students based on their academic or performing arts):
attracting a large number of advantaged students, further increasing the concentration of the combatants in broad public schools.
Read more: What is the National School Reform Agreement and what does it have to do with school funding?
What is their proposal?
Greenwell and Bonnor offer a five-point plan, the first three of which are relatively uncontroversial.
First, they want to fully fund school fees under the so-calledGonski model”. This would ensure that all schools receive the financial resources they need to provide quality education. Some estimates show that government schools currently receive less than 90% of their dues.
Second, they call for a candid conversation about a new common framework for Australian education. This includes not only funding arrangements, but also “proportional obligations and responsibilities” for schools.
Third, convene a national summit at which “common interests are identified and agreement reached”. Greenwell and Bonnor are at pains to point out that their suggestion is not to prescribe the total solution. Rather, they invite stakeholders to come together and design a system where “equality and choice can be expanded in a win-win manner”.
A change in school funding
Greenwell and Bonnor’s fourth point is likely to be a catalyst for much debate: they propose full public funding for all non-government schools, within a commonly agreed regulatory framework.
Yes, this means that non-government schools are fully funded by the taxpayer. But they would not be able to charge their own costs.
The authors argue that this would remove the fee barrier for non-government schools and open up the possibility for any family to choose a non-government school without charging fees. It expands rather than restricts parental choice. And the bonus is that non-government schools can continue to “enforce enrollment and other policies necessary to promote their particular religious or educational ethos.”
If non-government schools don’t want to do this, they don’t have to, but there’s a catch. Schools that “continue to charge or reject inclusive enrollment obligations would no longer receive government funding.”
Their fifth point is the creation of a new authority to oversee the implementation and monitoring of the new framework.
Read more: Still ‘Waiting for Gonski’ – a great book about the sad story of school funding
Can it work?
The Albanian government has committed to “cooperating” with state and territory governments to move each school “on the path to 100% of its fair funding level”, following the Gonski model.
This will be examined in the context of the next National School Reform Agreement. This links school reforms to the funding the federal government provides to the states and territories. The next agreement will begin in January 2025 and is currently under review.
Holding a national summit should be easy, a national common framework has considerably more barriers to overcome. The different sectors of education governance in Australia (state/territory, Catholic, independent) and the many legal instruments governing them make this very difficult, even from a practical perspective.
At the simplest level, education remains a state/territory constitutional responsibility that is not likely to be collectively relinquished to the federal government any time soon.
The idea that non-government schools would have to choose between government funding or charging their own fees is also likely to be politically difficult. That is not to say that the proposal is far-fetched. Unesco, in his Global education monitoring report has noticed
government-funded education does not have to be provided by the government.
As the review of the next National School Reform Agreement gains momentum, Greenwell and Bonnor invite us all to come together with a vision for something different in Australian education.
Certainly, the evidence strongly suggests that what we’re doing now isn’t working.