Earlier this week, Federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, was sprung trying to sneak through a review of funding loadings for low SES students in a secretive process that was divulged only to selected stake-holders, who were overwhelmingly from private school organisations [The Australian, 9 September]. Under pressure from outraged public school organisations, the Government has moved to open up the enquiry, and has extended the submission date from today to the end of the month.
However, true to form, the Government has made little effort to tell anyone apart from the biased group of selected stake-holders that these changes have been made. The review is publicised only on a restricted part of the Federal Department of Education website which is not readily accessible without knowing about the review. Nevertheless, at least the review is now taking on some resemblance of a genuine review process.
Save Our Schools believes that all those interested in the outcomes from the Gonski review, which attracted over 7000 submissions, need to know about this review. It should be widely publicised by public school organisations so that schools, teachers, principals and parents can take the opportunity to make submissions.
The Government has also been forced to back down on a key element of the review. Formally, at least, it has taken the issue of whether there is any need for the loadings off the review’s agenda.
In trying to lead the review, the first question posed in the original discussion paper given to selected organisations was: “Is there a need for a low SES loading?” This question has now been deleted from a revised version, now called a background paper, re-issued yesterday on the website of the Federal Department of Education.
But, whether this is fully off the agenda remains to be seen. Given Pyne’s belief that there are no equity issues in Australian education, and the view of prominent advisors and private school organisations that SES has little impact on student results, it may not be the end of the matter.
The terms of reference published on the Department’s website state that the review will consider:
• the current structure and operation of the Low SES loading as it related to evidence of educational disadvantage;
• the intent of the Low SES loading;
• current and other potential data sources to measure student disadvantage, taking into account the need for nationally consistent, robust and verifiable data;
• the quality, timeliness and usage of data.
Save Our Schools believes that the Gonski funding plan is the most positive step forward in education funding in Australia for many decades. It recognises the prime importance of tackling educational disadvantage by providing schools serving disadvantaged students with additional funds to develop and implement programs to make a difference to these students and give them something like a level playing field.
Save Our Schools will publish a brief on the loadings for low SES students in the next week or so. It will lay out the evidence on educational disadvantage in Australia, and the international evidence that the current loadings should be significantly increased so as to make a real impact on disadvantage in education. Increased funding loadings for disadvantaged students should be a key element in a Gonski Plus funding model.
Now that they know of the existence of the hitherto secret review, Save Our Schools urges public school organisations, teachers, principals and parents to tell the Government what could be done with increased funding for low SES students and how it would make a difference to the results of these students. Submissions can be made to the Federal Department of Education online or sent to LoadingConsultations@education.gov.au.