Gonski panel member, Ken Boston, has slammed the Labor Party for failing on the politics of delivering the full Gonski school funding model. He said that Labor has failed to prosecute a public case for the six year funding plan, made major mistakes in delaying implementation of the Gonksi model for nearly two years and is now failing to put sufficient pressure on the Abbott Government to implement the full Gonski.
In a speech to the Victorian Association of Secondary School Principals, Boston said that the Labor Government failed in the politics of delivering Gonksi and is now failing to come up to the mark in opposition.
Six months after the election we have no road-map from a party that commissioned the most important education report since the Karmel report and failed in the politics of its delivery.
Boston said there is a great risk now that the Labor Opposition will fail to put sufficient political pressure on the government to achieve the Gonksi reforms.
Before I, for one, would want to link arms with the Labor Party on the future of Gonski, I would want to know that it has learned the lessons from that lost 21 months [of delaying implementation of the Gonski model]; that it has gone beyond the easy rhetoric; and it has mastered the hard task of developing a step-by-step and achievable strategy for putting pressure on government to implement Gonski now – in this government’s current term of office – rather than hope the pendulum might swing back in another three years.
He said that the Opposition has not rammed home to the Australian public the case for a six year rather than a four year Gonski funding program. He said that restricting the school funding increase to only 2016-17 will leave up to 20 per cent of public schools well below the national resource standard. The six year funding program is critical for these schools: “They are the genuine emergency wards of Australian education”.
The implementation of the Gonksi plan over six years requires an additional $15 billion, with $10 billion from the Commonwealth and $5 billion from the states. However, the assurances given by the Abbott Government are only to provide $2.8 billion to 2016-17. This leaves a shortfall of $7.2 billion in Commonwealth funding.
Boston also criticised Labor for its long delay in implementing the Gonski model. It took nearly two years from the time the Labor Government received the Gonski report before it announced its National School Improvement Plan.
He also said that the Labor Government made several mistakes along the way. It rejected the recommendation to establish a national schools resourcing body responsible to all education ministers to determine a nationally consistent funding plan. Instead of this, the Goverment negotiated the details separately with state governments, private school organisations, church leaders and unions after the Gonski inquiry had consulted with these same organisations for more than 18 months.
The result, Boston said, was “an unholy scramble” in the last few weeks of government to entice the states to sign up to deals in which “the fundamental principles were secondary”.
Boston said that the Gonksi vision of a fair go for all young Australians is at risk because the Abbott Government is opposed to a re-distribution of school funding between government and private schools. He said that the Federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, is “utterly opposed” to a more even playing field for public and private schools: “what Pyne is really opposed to is the redistribution of whatever funding might be available, according to measured need”.
The risk is that the large achievement gap between the top and bottom 20 per cent of students will continue, Australia will continue to have knowledge and skill never created and “educational attainment will continue to be a positional good available more to the privileged than the disadvantaged”.
Boston said there is strong support throughout the country for the Gonski funding model, including from within the Liberal and National parties and from church-based charities. For this reason, Pyne will not risk a frontal attack on Gonski but will launch diversionary and flanking attacks such his Students First program and the review of national curriculum.
He said that advocates of Gonski should not be distracted by such diversionary manoeuvres because the Gonski model “is an opportunity that has never come before, and if lost will not come again for many years”. He told principals that they are at a watershed in the history of public education:
If we lose Gonksi we will lose public education….The purpose of education will be to sort the wheat from the chaff. Generations of children will continue to be lost. Australia will be diminished.