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Let’s create a fair schools funding system, let's get on with Gonski

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Penny Wright 3 Sep 2012

Australia needs a fairer schools funding system.

The recommendations of the Gonski Review provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to achieve this and establish an education system that is more equitable and will give all our children the best start in life.

The Australian Greens are concerned that the Government will ignore key findings of the Gonski Review panel. The Prime Minister's recent comment that she has "never looked at a big independent school in an established suburb and thought this is not fair" is a worrying sign that the Government is abandoning the fact that we need a first class public education system. Any fair-minded person would have to admit that it is indeed unfair that some schools have heated swimming pools while others have such bad heating they have to provide blankets to their students in winter.

Similarly, Tony Abbott and the Coalition refuse to accept the evidence that the system is flawed and continue to attack our public school system, which educates the vast majority of Australia's students. An Abbott-led government would cut $2.8 billion in funding to our schools. In contrast, the Australian Greens remain solely focused on improving our schools funding system so that it is fairer and more equitable for all Australians.

Education is the foundation of a democratic society and access to high-quality education can be tremendously empowering for individuals; it can lift people out of poverty and enables people to reach their full potential. It is therefore essential that all Australian children, irrespective of their economic or social circumstances, have access to a high-quality education.

The Government is finally preparing to give its response to the Gonski Review and has indicated its intention to introduce legislation into the parliament this year. In assessing the Government's response and any legislation the Australian Greens will be applying the following principles:

1. A new funding model must focus on the needs of students and promote equity and high standards. Gonski recommends a needs-based funding model, which the Greens support, as it is the best opportunity to ensure significant on-going investment in our public education system. We are concerned by the government's suggestion of linking much needed school funding to performance, as this risks perpetuating disadvantage and inequity.

2. A significant investment by the Commonwealth government in our public schools. Gonski recommends a $5 billion investment a year into schools, predominantly public schools. The Greens call for this level of investment at a minimum, and say further that the Commonwealth government should take the lead and provide the bulk of this funding as it is best placed to raise necessary revenue.

3. Any new funding model must ensure that the greatest amount of new funding is directed to Australia's public schools. The first priority for the allocation of any new funds to implement the Gonski reforms should be our public schools. Our public schools teach the majority of students with higher needs. For example, 77% of students from low income backgrounds, 86% of Indigenous students, 80% of students with a disability, 72% of rural students and 84% of students from remote areas are educated within Australia's public school system.

4. Ensure that our education system can adequately meet the needs of all students, particularly those with special needs such as students with a disability. The Greens believe that every student - irrespective of their background, family income or geographic location - should have an equal opportunity to be enriched and extended through their educational experience. This is not the current experience of many students with disability. It is a common experience for students with disability to experience discrimination, low expectations, bullying, inadequate resourcing and assistance through their education journey. This systemic inequality facing students with disability cannot be addressed unless schools are adequately funded and resourced. It is well past time for the Commonwealth and the States to address the yawning gap of inappropriate support for children with disabilities in our schools.

5. All non-government schools that receive public funding should be required to comply with high standards of transparency and accountability and community standards. Non-government schools should be completely transparent in relation to their resourcing and their use of public funds. Furthermore, schools receiving public funds should live up to community standards in matters such as non-discrimination. Unlike public schools, non-government schools can choose which students they enrol, can hire and fire teachers on matters unrelated to performance, and are not accountable for where the money they receive is spent.

A high-quality public education system is the best guarantee for ensuring that all Australian children have equal access to a good education. However, for decades Australia's public education system has been chronically underfunded. Our public schools and their committed teachers are doing their best to deliver a good education to their students but they are doing so under increasingly strained circumstances.

We know that, in Australia, there is a significant performance gap between the top 20 per cent of students and the bottom 20 per cent. This performance gap is far greater in our nation than in many OECD countries and points to the inherent inequity and unfairness in our current education system. This inequity must be addressed, particularly because our public schools educate the vast majority of students with higher needs and we cannot continue with a system wherein the differences in educational outcomes are determined by differences in socio-economic, geographic or other social factors.

The Gonski Review provides the first opportunity in more than three decades to fundamentally reform our schools funding system so that all Australian children can access educational opportunities and reach their full potential.

We need to prepare Australia for the challenges of the 21st century and to do that we need to invest now in a fair school system, to give our children the best start in life. Gonski will benefit our children and our nation alike.

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