Submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry on Philanthropy

Save Our Schools (SOS) welcomes the Commission’s draft recommendation to end the Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status of school building funds. The Draft Report makes a compelling case to end the tax concession for school building funds based on four clear reasons.

  • There is no clear rationale for the concession that was provided when private schools did not receive government funding. Any rationale that existed in the 1950s has been overcome by huge increases in government funding. The concession has outlived its usefulness. Private schools received a huge range of funding programs by the Commonwealth and state/territory governments;
  • The benefits of DGR status accrue to individuals connected with the schools such as students, parents and alumni rather than providing community wide benefits;
  • DGR status is not an effective or efficient way to deliver government capital funding to schools. There is no prioritisation of or systematic assessment of government funding for capital works according to need. Funding capital works through DGR status does not align with current funding principles which purport to be based on need;
  • The DGR status of school building funds depletes the revenue base of the Commonwealth Government unnecessarily.

SOS agrees with the Commission’s finding that the DGR system is not fit for purpose in relation to school building funds.

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Nearly 4 in 5 Australian Students Didn’t Fully Try in PISA Tests

Unpublished data provided to Save Our Schools by the OECD shows that nearly 4 in 5 Australian students did not fully try in the 2022 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The figures show wide differences in student effort between countries, which call into question the validity of country rankings of PISA results. Even more importantly, the high proportion of students in Australia and many other countries not fully trying in PISA indicates a broader problem, namely increasing student disaffection with learning and school. This appears to be a crucial factor behind declining results in many OECD countries that is often ignored in the commentary on Australia’s PISA results.

The new figures show that 77% of Australian students didn’t fully try in PISA 2022. This was the equal 4th highest proportion in the OECD. It was also the equal 4th highest of the 81 countries and regions participating in the tests. Only Denmark (81%), Sweden (80%), Germany (80%), Switzerland (80%) and Belgium (78%) had a higher proportion of students who did not fully try (Chart 1). Norway, UK, Austria and Singapore had the same proportion as Australia. The average for the OECD was 71%. Türkiye had the lowest proportion (47%) amongst OECD countries.

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Productivity Commission Should Recommend Ending Tax Deductibility For All Donations To Private Schools

The Productivity Commission has recommended that school building funds no longer be eligible for tax deductible donations. It should go further and end tax deductibility for all donations to private schools which are primarily benefiting the richest schools in the nation.

In its Draft Report on Philanthropy, the Commission made a compelling case to end the tax concession for school building funds. It said there is no rationale for the concession and that the benefits accrue to individuals connected with the schools rather than providing community wide benefits. This finding applies just as much to other tax-deductible funds operated by private schools, but the Commission failed to apply its principled approach consistently by recommending ending tax deductibility for all donations to private schools. It should do so in its final report.

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PISA Results Intensify Pressure on Governments to Fully Fund Public Schools

The OECD’s 2022 PISA results reveal Australia has one of the most unequal school systems in the OECD and that inequality is increasing. There are large achievement gaps in reading, mathematics and science of five or more years of learning at age 15 and the gaps have widened since 2006. As well, a large and growing proportion of disadvantaged students do not achieve international standards.

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Our Better Angels: Should We Include or Segregate Students?

A disputed recommendation from the Disability Commission’s Report is whether or not segregated education should be phased out from 2025. Those Commissioners advocating such a change are on the side of our better angels. It is proper to have an inclusive society and we should condemn any section of our community that segregates sections of the population. Any form of segregation evokes the injustice experienced when societies were divided by the colour of one’s skin. This segregation is motivated by a child’s ability, on the face of it equally offensive. So, why is there some support for segregation in education and why is this only a problem for students with disabilities?

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School Autonomy and Social Justice in Education

The following is a speech by Trevor Cobbold to a form at Deakin Univeristy to launch a report on School Autonomy Reform and Social Justice in Australian Public Education. The Report is available here.

First of all, I would like to congratulate the project team on its work. It has provided one of the most comprehensive reviews of the literature on school autonomy and contributed greatly to our knowledge about the implementation of school autonomy in Australian schools and its impact on students, teachers and principals.

Rather than review the array of its findings I would like to focus on a few key issues:

  • The meaning of social justice in education;
  • School autonomy and student achievement;
  • School autonomy and the bureaucratisation of schooling.
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Public Education – A problem for the ALP

One major problem the ALP has to face is the state of public education.  The new Federal Government may be able to shift some blame on to the Coalition for the current shameful conditions. However, they are in a bind, if they seek to redress these problems they will face substantial electoral backlash, the majority of swing voters have already left the public sector.  A further problem is that the geneses of these current conditions lies at the feet of the Rudd/Gillard ALP Governments. 

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The Purpose of Education

I find it hard to think of a time when the management of the education of our children is in such disarray.  Recent announcements by the NSW Minister for Education and I assume endorsed by her senior bureaucrats have exposed what I believe to be a level of incompetence not previously experienced by the teaching profession.  The implementation of an increased level of the supervision of teachers’ and schools’ performance implies that they are not of ‘quality’ resulting in the unrealistic and inconsequential levels of accreditation, the purpose of which seems to reflect a complete distrust of the teaching profession.  The latest initiative is to provide lesson plans to support the teachers, perhaps the most ill-informed and insulting policy I have seen.

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Behind the News – The Decline of Public Education

The NSW Education Minister’s idea that the offer of an increase in pay would solve the complete systems failure of NSW’s Public School’s education department reveals her inability to grasp even the fundamental problems facing our schools; the inadequacies that exist have reached crisis point.  There are many obvious explanations of what is wrong primarily the insufficient funding which Trevor Cobbold from the Save Our Schools public schools advocacy group persistently identifies.  Another evident problem is the exhausting, non-teaching duties and administrative workload that has grown in recent years.  It would seem, if the political will existed these problems could be easily solved.  However, the contemporary education bureaucracy is underpinned by a faulty belief system that is the corner stone of all public services, the dependence on the principles of neoliberalism.

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Fully Fund Public Schools to Increase Productivity

Prime Minister Albanese says that increasing productivity is a priority for the Labor Government. A key component of increasing productivity is improving workforce knowledge and skills. However, major barriers to improving Australia’s workforce knowledge and skills include the large proportion of disadvantaged students who do not achieve an adequate level of education and the large achievement gaps between rich and poor. Over 80 per cent of disadvantaged students attend public schools and they are massively under-funded. Fully funding public schools will be fundamental to achieving Labor’s goal of increased productivity and economic prosperity because money matters in education.

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