Fighting for Equity in Education

The struggle is long but hope is longer

David Gonski Turns Up the Pressure on Turnbull and Shorten

Monday November 9, 2015

In a rare public statement on education funding, David Gonski has turned up the pressure on the Federal Government and the Opposition to fully implement his funding model and reduce disadvantage in education.

Writing in the latest issue of the Youth Unemployment Monitor, an e-newsletter of the Brotherhood of St. Laurence, Gonski said that more funding is needed to overcome the effects of disadvantage in education and that it will pay-off in terms of increased productivity and social benefits.

Gonski reflects on the experience of his grandfather who didn’t have a proper education to make the point about the importance of education for disadvantaged students:

I do believe that all should be given the basic opportunity of full school education.

Being educationally disadvantaged for whatever reason – including lack of funds – doesn’t mean that one isn’t clever and able to do well at school and beyond.
This concept was the essential thrust of what our review of school funding – which has become known as the Gonski Review – recommended should be the basis of funding of schools throughout Australia. We advocated strongly for a ‘needs-based funding model’, which put simply is a model that recognises that those facing educational disadvantage may require additional assistance.

Gonski goes on to say that “to fully implement our recommendations and not take away money from other priorities, more money is needed.” He points to its benefits:

Each time I hear that point being made, however, I think: what if someone had used money to address the educational disadvantage of my grandfather? The result undoubtedly would have been an improvement in his life and, given his capabilities, an increase in his productivity, with benefits to his society generally.

Gonski has made a very strategic intervention. It adds to the pressure on the Prime Minister who recently put the Gonski plan back on the public agenda by hinting that he is prepared to look at funding it beyond 2017. Gonski’s mention of the social and economic benefits of his plan accords with many past statements by Turnbull on the role of education in supporting a fair and prosperous society.

It also turns up the heat on the Federal Opposition which continues to dance around fully funding the Gonski plan. Bill Shorten has refused to commit to the final two years of the plan. The Shadow Minister for Education, Kate Ellis, last month refused to commit to it in response to a direct question in front of some 500 NSW primary school principals. The Shadow Assistant Minister for Education, Amanda Rushworth, similarly refused to commit in response to a direct question at an education forum held in the ACT last month.

Just when the Prime Minister is prepared to countenance fully funding Gonski, the timorous position of the ALP is shameful. It is ironic that the ALP could find itself outflanked on school funding if Turnbull takes it up in the Budget given that Labor legislated the plan when in government.

Trevor Cobbold

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