Gillard Go Gonski?

Australians like to think of Australia as ‘the lucky country’, a country that provides its youth with equal opportunities so that all Australians have a fair go. As it stands, our education system does not reflect these values and we are lagging behind most other developed countries in levels of access to education by more disadvantaged Australians. This means Indigenous youth, kids from lower socio-economic backgrounds and youth who live in outer-urban or remote areas consistently under-perform academically which has a range of flow-on effects for employment opportunities and future income levels. The landmark Gonski Report contains a number of recommendations to produce a more equitable education system that benefits all kids, in all schools, across all systems.

Gonski is a new national funding model which is consistent across all schools and aims to rectify the problem of chronic, concentrated educational disadvantage. It includes an annual injection of $5 billion in extra funding across government, Catholic and independent school sectors to reverse entrenched disadvantage. The scheme recognises the reality experienced by schools, students and teachers across the nation that it costs more to effectively education disadvantaged students. Thus, in additional to the base funding rate received by all schools, those with high numbers of disadvantaged students (e.g. those with disabilities, Indigenous, low-income or non-English speaking families) will receive additional financial loading. The Gonski recommendations reform a system that currently produces educational segregation that means some Australian kids achieve and others under-perform.

It’s pretty simple. The Gonski Report looked at how much it cost to educate kids in high-performing schools and called this the “School Resource Standard”. The amount of funding given to any one school is then determined as a percentage of the Student Resource Standard and extra loading is provided for Indigenous students (between 40-100%) and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds (between 10-50%). This is a revolutionary scheme that tackles the very real and self-perpetuating problem of disadvantage in our school systems and provides a practical funding framework to address it.

The Gonski report is not only about minimising disadvantage – it’s also about improving education across the board in Australia. The Gonski report recommends an injection of $5 billion into our education system to ensure that it is internationally competitive which is increasingly important in our rapidly globalising world. $5 billion might seem like a lot of money. But, at less than 0.5% of our GNP – $5 billion invested wisely to increase performance of Aussie school kids is in the national interest and will benefit all Australians. Over 2/3 of Australians are on board with Gonski’s recommendations and want additional funding to be provided to schools. Despite this public support, the Government is being disappointingly quiet on the need for education reform and the Opposition has launched its latest scare campaign.

The need for reform is urgent. The current school funding model expires at the end of next year and so the time to implement Gonski’s recommendations is now. Despite the unified positive response to the Gonski report across all sectors; the Government has remained disappointingly quiet since the report’s release and now the Opposition is trying to spread fear and misinformation about the cost of our youth’s futures. It is in the national interest for the Government to stop stalling and to legislate the Gonski Reforms into effect before the next Federal Election. This would require both state and Commonwealth governments to commit to a phased implementation – beginning with hard work on the detail, the introduction of legislation this year for 2014, and a phased program for providing the necessary funds as the detailed work proceeds.

Education is key to prosperity and social inclusion. It shapes the lives that Australian kids will go on to lead. The Gonski Report has garnered positive responses across the sectors; demonstrating that the need for effective education reform transcends traditional vested-interest divisions. We need our Government to follow suit and show real leadership when it comes to education.

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