This post was originally published by Mike Seccombe at Powerhouse. It is an interesting analysis of the coalition’s opposition to the ALP’s National Plan for School Reform inspired by the Gonski review. Many including myself have been incredulous that the Libs would object to it on the basis that some schools will be worse off. For example Queensland Premier unbelievably tweeted on the fifth of June that “Any Fed MP or Senator from Qld that votes to reduce funding to Qld Schools needs to have a long hard look at themselves #qldpol #auspol”. This of course, is not true. No school will be worse off in real terms. Elite schools that don’t need any more money will continue to have their funding increased at the current indexation rate. The most interesting insight of this post from Powerhouse is, for me, that it’s not about “real terms”. It’s about relative terms. Under Gonski, the elite schools will be worse off in relative terms. This is because, although they will continue to have their funding increased, it won’t be by as much as poor schools get their funding increased. And so students that go to elite private schools will see the HUGE advantage they receive over the rest of us be decreased. AND THIS IS WHY THE LIBERALS OBJECT. The Liberal party exists to maintain privilege. If the rest of us are allowed to catch up, they will find themselves no longer born to rule. Their path to the bunyip aristocracy won’t be as clear. And so for the Liberals rely on keeping regular Australians in their place. Hence they oppose the National Plan for School Reform. A cynical view? Perhaps, but I have yet to hear a better explanation for their opposition. Here’s the article.
“Christopher Pyne is the Tom Waterhouse of Australian politics. He seems to be everywhere, and he is annoying. Toothy, insincere and annoying.
We most often encounter Pyne in his role as manager of Opposition business in the House of Representatives, a role which gives him maximum scope to irritate the body politic. He also turns up far too regularly at media ‘doorstops’ and on TV panel shows, a glib and facile presenter of the party line.
There is not a lot of gravitas about Christopher; he is sharp and witty, to be sure, but also somehow lightweight, like he never quite matured beyond the school debating society and undergraduate politics.
Poodle Pyne, they call him around Parliament, and it’s an epithet which captures well his effete demeanour.
But we shouldn’t laugh. For in his other role, as education spokesman for the Liberal Party, Pyne is in the front lines of a class war. He and his colleagues on Wednesday voted against the government’s Australian Education Bill which, if implemented, would see an extra $14.5 billion in state and federal money flow to schools across the nation over the next six years.
The Opposition has marshalled various arguments against the reform measure, but in essence, its position can be summed up in a single word: “choice”.
It is a code word, of course. What it refers to is a fear that the private schools (which most of the Coalition front bench attended) would lose some of the relative advantage they hold over the public school sector (which most Australian kids still attend, despite a big shift in recent years to the private sector).
It was the conservative mantra on school funding all through the term of the previous Howard government, too.
That’s reasonable, isn’t it? Parents should have a choice about how their kids are educated.
Well yes, except that for many families there is no choice. State schools are all they can afford. And, unique among developed countries, Australian taxpayers subsidise the choice of the relatively wealthy to send their kids to private schools.
And that has had dire consequences for the overall educational outcomes of Australian kids. The outcomes were set out in minute detail in last year’s Gonski review of school funding, on which Labor’s proposed education reforms are based.
The fact is that under the funding model used by the Howard government, which is still the Opposition’s policy, Australia slid rapidly in terms of average academic performance.
As Prime Minister Julia Gillard noted at the release of Gonski, on February 20 last year, over the previous decade Australia had slipped in world rankings “from being equal-second in reading … to being equal-seventh, and from being equal-fifth in maths to being equal-thirteenth.”
But let’s not just quote the Prime Minister, let’s quote the research which informed the Gonski report and the government’s major education initiative.
That research noted that under this country’s unique, two-tier education system, it is not just parents who chose, but the schools, so that “the schools that cannot choose (mainly the government-sector schools) are left with a student body that is less supportive of good performance for each individual student who remains”.
Advantaged kids were streamed into advantaged schools, and disadvantaged kids into disadvantaged schools.
“Fully 60 per cent of the most disadvantaged students are in schools whose SES [socio-economic status] ranking is below the national average. This is higher than in all similar OECD countries, and the OECD average,” the report said.
It pointed to a “compounding effect on disadvantage and underperformance, creating a vicious circle… (which) plays out in teacher morale, community alienation from the local school, and difficulties in attracting good teachers as well as good students. As a school’s reputation worsens, so more and more parents send their children elsewhere.”
The result was that academic outcomes became increasingly divergent, and that overall, the relative achievement of our kids declined.
In contrast, the best-performing school systems in the world, as well as the fastest-improving – in places as diverse as Canada, Korea and Finland – were marked by higher levels of equity.
Gonski proposed measures to address this growing Australian achievement gap. It advocated that school funding should come in two parts: The first would be a standard amount per student. The second component would consist of added loadings, intended to address disadvantage of various kinds.
Smaller and remote schools would attract extra funding, so would indigenous students and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds and students with limited proficiency in English, or a disability.
Now, you can see why the elite schools would not like this; they would get less in relative, if not absolute terms, because they have fewer poor, black and disabled students.
And the Labor government realised it would encounter such opposition. To try to minimise the squealing from the private schools (only partially successful, I might add), they promised that all schools would get more under the new model.
But it was to no avail in the Parliament.
Come the vote in the house on Wednesday, the Coalition opposed it. Perhaps that’s not surprising, given the educational backgrounds of most of them, particularly the Libs. As was pointed out in an analysis by The Canberra Times a week ago, fully 21 per cent of Tony Abbott’s front bench came out of high-fee Sydney GPS schools, and almost all the rest came from other elite schools.
And Pyne, himself a product of St Ignatius College, Adelaide, has made it repeatedly clear that his principal concern is with the private schools.
As far as he is concerned, moves to broaden educational opportunity equate to “the politics of envy”.
As he told the ABC’s Lateline last year: “The fact remains it is one of the most equitable systems in the world and there isn’t actually an issue in Australian schools that revolves around equity.”
Absolute rubbish. The package, whatever its imperfections, is not about anything other than addressing a very real problem. And, I am pleased to report, it was seen as such by the majority in the House on Wednesday.
Now, if we can only see a few more states follow the lead of New South Wales and the ACT in signing up to the reforms, we might just get a better future for our kids, and our country.”