Save Our Schools today condemned the Federal Government for secrecy and biased representation of private schools in its consultation on the Gonski funding loadings for low SES students which closes tomorrow. SOS National Convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said that the secret consultation on the loadings is extremely unrepresentative and threatens future funding for low SES students.
“The secrecy surrounding this consultation is scandalous. It is an invitation-only consultation. There was no public announcement that the consultation had begun and only select organisations were told of it and invited to participate. There is no process for public submissions. Submissions are restricted to invited organisations.
“The invitation list is loaded against public schools. Private school organisations comprise the large majority of invitees and are vastly over-represented compared to public schools.
“Of 47 organisations invited to the consultation, 29 are private school organisations. Only one directly represents public school organisations – the Australian Education Union. Eight state and territory government education departments are represented, but they are responsible for both public and private schools and all but two are controlled by Coalition governments. Another seven organisations represented are cross-sectoral organisations and the other two are refugee organisations.
“It is incredible that peak private school principals’ and parent organisations were invited but not the peak public school principal and parent organisations.
“Clearly, the consultation is rigged against public schools. Yet, it is public schools that enrol the vast proportion of low SES students. Eighty-two per cent of all students in the bottom SES quarter are enrolled in government schools compared to twelve per cent in Catholic schools and six per cent in Independent schools.
“The 690,000 low SES students enrolled in public schools are represented directly by one organisation while the 153,000 in private schools are represented by 29 organisations.
“This extreme over-representation of private schools demonstrates the Government’s contempt for public school organisations, but it is not surprising given the Prime Minister’s proud boast that “It’s in our DNA” to give priority to private schools.
“The consultation also excludes the broader public who have an interest in funding low SES students and schools. The Gonski review attracted over 7000 submissions, including hundreds and hundreds from parents, teachers and schools in low SES communities. All are disenfranchised by being excluded.”
Mr. Cobbold said that there is widespread concern that a secret deal is being hatched between the Federal Government and private school associations to dismantle funding for low SES students and schools.
“The Government’s secret discussion paper for the review re-opens the issue of whether there should be any low SES funding loadings. The first question asks: “Is there a need for a low SES loading?”
“Re-opening this issue can only be perceived as a threat to the future of the loadings given the biased representation in the consultation and statements by the Federal Minister for Education, his advisors and private school organisations denying the need for the loadings.
“Despite the evidence presented by the Gonski report, the Federal Minister has repeatedly said that Australia does not have an equity problem in education and he has even claimed that the Gonski report was not about equity. He told Lateline presenter Steve Cannane:
Steve, you’re the first person who has described the Gonski report as being all about equity… If it was all about equity then that is news to most people. [Lateline, 26 November 2013].
“Independent Schools Victoria has long argued that low SES students should not receive extra funding because it claims that “low SES has a minor influence on student performance”. The Minister’s senior advisor, Scott Prasser, says that the focus of education policy should be on “quality rather than disadvantage”. Another prominent advisor, Kevin Donnelly, says that the link between student performance and SES “is far from proven” despite overwhelming international and Australian research evidence to the contrary.
“The Government has already dismembered a key component of the Gonski funding plan by refusing to fund the last two years of the funding increases. Now, there is a clear threat to the future of the low SES loadings.
“This would particularly suit Independent school associations as their schools get little benefit from the loadings because the large proportion of their students comes from more privileged backgrounds. They would like to return to the incoherent Howard era funding model which suited them better.
“Only nine per cent of students in Independent schools are in the bottom SES quarter compared to 30 per cent of government school students. Almost 50 per cent of Independent school student are in the top SES quarter compared to 20 per cent of government school students.”
Mr. Cobbold called for an open public submission process to review the loadings. He said that SOS would be making an uninvited submission next week.