Get Gonski Back on Track

The following is a slightly revised versions of a speech by Trevor Cobbold to the Schools Funding Conference, Why Money Matters in Education, held in Sydney on 18 February 20122. It can also be downloaded below. Please note that the figures on the over-funding of private schools were updated on 27 February.

Good morning, it is a privilege to be able to contribute to the 10th anniversary of the pathbreaking Gonski report. It was a watershed in the history of school funding in Australia because it made equity in education the centrepiece of education policy. Its legacy is enduring as its guiding principles provide the foundation to build an education system to improve equity in education.

As a point of departure, you will all remember that last year the currently suspended Minister for Education, Alan Tudge, announced that “the school funding wars are now over”. A few months later, the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, who played a central role in the war, said that Catholic schools “has never had it so good” in terms of funding. As I will show, the same is also true for Independent schools, but they are more careful to keep quiet about it.

This is the outcome of the war that was declared on the Gonski report at the outset by the Liberal and National parties. Tudge has long opposed the model. He told the House of Representatives in February 2013 that the Gonski plan “will penalise schools, particularly Catholic and Independent ones.”. As the journalist, Paul Kelly, observed: “Abbott and Pyne refused to endorse Gonski…They tried to suffocate the policy at birth”.

Once in office, their priority was to trash the model and deliver to private schools, especially Catholic schools, and they succeeded. In this, they were aided by own goals by Labor. But the war is not over for public schools as the current state of school funding clearly demonstrates.

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Labor’s Gonski Model: The National Plan for School Improvement

The following is the Conclusion of a new working paper published by Save Our Schools. It provides a comprehensive review of the of the implementation of the Gonski funding model by the Labor Government in 2013. The full paper can be downloaded below. Comments on the paper are invited. Notification of issues not covered and mistakes of fact, analysis and interpretation will be appreciated. Please excuse any remaining typos and repetitions. Comments can be sent to the Save Our Schools email address: saveourschools690@gmail.com

The implementation of the Gonski funding model represented a watershed in school funding in Australia. It changed the whole focus of school funding from increasing choice under the Howard Government’s SES model to improving equity in education. It also broke with the past by providing an objective and consistent approach to funding schools and to establish an integrated national approach to school funding across jurisdictions and school sectors.

The major achievement of Labor’s National Plan for School Improvement (NPSI) was to legislate the principles and framework for a funding system based on need. It established a minimum resource standard for every school in the country and provided additional funding loadings for various forms of disadvantaged students: low SES, Indigenous, remote area, language background other than English and students with disabilities.

The model was supported by the commitment of a massive increase in funding of nearly $16 billion over six years, the large part of which was to go to public schools. It offered the best chance in living memory to make a real difference in improving the education outcomes for disadvantaged students, most of who are enrolled in public schools. It promised a huge boost to public education.

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JobKeeper Gravy Train for Wealthy Perth Private Schools

Thirty-two WA private schools raked in $109 million in JobKeeper payments in 2020 contributing to profits of $121 million. Every school except one made a profit with JobKeeper and increased their profits over the previous year. The top 10 schools exploiting JobKeeper got $62 million and made $74 million in profits. Most of them are highly privileged, high fee schools.

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New School Funding Figures Pressure Labor to Step Up for Public Schools


New school funding figures show that government funding for private schools increased by nearly five times that for public schools over the last 10 years. They put pressure on Labor in the lead-up to the Federal election to end the chronic under-funding of public schools. Public schools face a funding crisis because they will continue to be massively under-funded over the rest of the decade under existing arrangements.

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JobKeeper Gravy Train for Queensland Private Schools

JobKeeper was a gravy train for many Queensland private schools. New financial statements published by the Charities Commission before Christmas show that 27 schools raked in $90 million in JobKeeper payments in 2020 contributing to profits of $100 million. Every school made a profit with JobKeeper and all except two increased their profits over the previous year. The top 10 schools exploiting JobKeeper got $53 million and made $63 million in profits.

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NSW Private Schools Profited Millions from Jobkeeper

Thirty-three NSW private schools raked in $72 million in JobKeeper payments in 2020 while making profits of $72 million. Every school made a profit with JobKeeper and all except two increased their profits over the previous year. Some of the state’s most privileged schools got four to eight million and made millions in profits. Just ten schools got $46.5 million and made $44 million in profits.

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Shameless Greed of Wealthy Victorian Private Schools

The shameless greed of some of the wealthiest most exclusive private schools in Victoria was revealed in their financial statements published before Christmas. Twenty-three schools received $94 million in JobKeeper payments while making profits of $102 million. Most of them serve highly advantaged families.

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Victorian Private Schools Profited Millions from Jobkeeper

Forty Victorian private schools raked in $135 million in Jobkeeper payments in 2020 while making profits of $96 million. Twenty of the most privileged schools in the state got $94 million and made profits totalling $71 million. Just six of these raked in over $57 million and made nearly $30 million in profits. Nearly all increased their profits over the previous year with the help of Jobkeeper.

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Question Mark Over the Accuracy and Reliability of PISA Tests

The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has extraordinary status and influence. It is seen as the gold standard for assessing the performance of education systems, but it is a castle built on sand. New data published by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) call into question the accuracy and reliability of PISA and its league tables of country results.

The new figures show that nearly three-quarters of Australian students didn’t fully try on the PISA 2018 tests. The ACER research found that “…the majority of Australian students (73%) indicated that they would have invested more effort if the PISA test counted towards their marks”.

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