Fighting for Equity in Education

The struggle is long but hope is longer

Why is Gonski Funding Worth Fighting For?

Friday November 6, 2015

In their analysis of the My School website data, ex Principals Chris Bonner and Bernie Shepherd of Need to Succeed found that, even in the years of delay until Gonski funding actually became available to schools, the equity situation has worsened.

The researchers grouped schools according to their Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA), and separately tracked the performances of schools in high, medium and low ICSEA ranges. Using My School data, schools’ average NAPLAN scores were plotted against their ICSEA values to produce a gradient.

The data showed that Australia’s socio-educational gradient has progressively steepened from 32 per cent in 2010 to 37 per cent in 2013. ‘Socio-educational advantage has had an increasing impact on student achievement in just three years’, say the researchers.

Disadvantaged students are performing tragically below their high Socio-economic status (SES) peers. NSW Year 9 students from Low SES backgrounds are over four years behind in reading, writing and numeracy. Indigenous and remote area students are almost six years behind.

As David Gonski has said, ‘Differences in educational outcomes must not be the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions.’

The Gonski Report highlighted that there were many schools which don’t meet the minimum resource standard, particularly public schools who attract 80% of disadvantaged students. That’s a huge amount of ‘heavy lifting’ which requires extra funding.

Bonnor and Shepherd also noted in their analysis of My School data that there are still many schools with more disadvantaged students who receive less government funding per student than nearby non-government schools with more well-off students. ‘This is more than an anomaly – it is an absurdity,’ they pointed out.

OECD data puts Australia in a mediocre position compared to many other OECD countries who invest more in equity and use education to improve the outcomes and lives of disadvantaged children.

According to Pasi Sahlberg, former director of Finland’s Department of Education: ‘’If you look at the Australian performance in PISA, it has been downhill since the beginning, but I often argue it is not that the quality of teachers or quality of school is worse, but because the equity in schools has become worse.’’

The OECD Education Policy Outlook Snapshot for Australia states that ‘School funding has lacked transparency and coherence, and outcomes of numerous studies have shown the difficulty in determining how individual schools are funded. Expenditure on educational institutions as a percentage of GDP (for all educational levels combined) is below the OECD average, with a higher share from private sources than the OECD average.’

In its recent Budget, the Federal Coalition government confirmed that Gonski funding will be abandoned entirely after 2017 and only one-third of the promised Gonski funding will be delivered over the next two years. Australian children from disadvantaged families will be ignored and sidelined again.

Schools were counting on increased funds to extend literacy and numeracy programs to support children who need extra assistance. Instead, they will be forced to cut these programs, struggle with parent fund-raising (poorer areas affected even more!) or divert funding from other areas.

The state governments (including NSW) who signed up to the Gonski funding agreement will have to fight hard for the previously-promised federal support. The NSW state Coalition government under the leadership of Education Minister Adrian Piccoli has keenly supported the Gonski Report’s recommendations.

Australia cannot afford to cut Gonski funding. Abandoning under-resourced schools and allowing disadvantaged children to continue without assistance will mean negative economic and social results for our future society: poorer health outcomes, higher unemployment, mental health problems, domestic violence and crime.

The Federal Coalition’s recent budget robs the future for this generation of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and Australia will be less than it could be.

How do we get the message out?
The Broulee Public School P&C Gonski Sub-committee is presenting a series of short articles for the school’s online newsletter. The aim is to try to make the need for Gonski funding more understandable for the average person. We want parents and community members to be aware of how important it is (especially for regional areas) for governments to support disadvantaged children to rise above their background through education and take their rightful place in society.

The short articles will be mounted on our Gonski Sub-Committee blog too. Some of the topics include:
• Where are we at with Gonski funding?
• Public schools are performing as well as private schools when student SES is considered, but what does this say about funding disadvantage?
• Recent research on family background and education level as predictors of children’s educational success.
• Children are our most valuable future resource. It makes economic sense to help disadvantaged students achieve success.
• Social Justice: Disadvantaged children deserve a better future.
• Research on equity in education as a way out of poverty
• Employment is changing and a more educated workforce is needed to compete on the world market.
• Education of our future mothers will impact on the next generation’s school readiness.
• What difference would adequate disability funding make?
• What is the research on education funding saying and what are the myths?

If you would like to know more, we have collected and curated research and media articles on all these topics and more here.

Does Your P&C Give a Gonski?
P&Cs need to join the national conversation. Let’s talk louder. It only takes one person to lead small action that ripples outwards. Community pressure as well as intelligent policy is needed to change attitudes – parents, teachers, principals and the community need to let politicians know that we want fair and adequate funding of schools to be a budget priority.

Proper funding support for a strong, free and secular public education system is the only way to ensure all children have equal opportunity, and needs-based funding is the only fair, sensible and efficient way to lift Australian education standards.

P&Cs need to show politicians of all political persuasions that we support the long-term investment in ALL of Australia’s children that will build an asset for Australia: a workforce equipped to tackle climate change and profit from advancing technology, making a better society for all, rich and poor.

Jesse Rowan
Chairperson of Broulee Public School P&C’s Gonski Sub-Committee

This article was originally published in Parent and Citizen, the journal of the NSW P&C Federation, Term 4 issue.

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