Submissions on the whole expressed support for the findings of the
Gonski review and the principles underpinning the national plan, as outlined in
the Prime Minister's address to the National Press Club in September 2012. In
evidence before the Committee, the Australian Education Union (AEU) stated:
The [Gonski] review established beyond any doubt an urgency
for funding reform. It established that the current system is broken and failing
too many of our children...[I]t showed that the current funding system is
contributing to a deepening inequality in the provision of education, but more
disturbingly still, a deepening inequality in educational achievement...
All school sectors endorsed the Government's commitment to a high
quality, high equity schooling system. The AEU submission noted that the bill
provides a long overdue legislative platform for attaining this goal through
major reform of current school funding arrangements. The bill's recognition
that future funding be based on the real needs of schools and students is
'...long overdue and very welcome'.
There also was general agreement that failure to reform the school education
system will have ripple effects throughout the national economy for decades to
come and potentially compromise Australia's political and economic ties the Asia.
While the evidence received is generally supportive of the bill, some
organisations raised a number of concerns. They offered qualified support for
the bill depending on the outcome of negotiations with state and territory
governments and education providers, and not until details of the funding model
have are finalised. The main concerns raised in evidence address the following
- the definition of terms and coverage of the bill;
- the funding model proposed;
- educational disadvantage and portability;
- the level of consultation with state and territory governments
and other education providers; and
- how the national plan interacts with other educational
These five areas of concern are addressed in turn.
Definitions and coverage
A number of submissions expressed a degree of concern over definitions and
use of key terms in the bill, with 'equitable' and 'excellent' providing two
key examples. Other submitters expressed concern over the absence of a definition
for 'disability' and the lack of a set of definitions for common educational
terms such as 'needs', and 'evidence-based'.
Still others argued the bill neglects the area of gifted and talented
education, including the needs and concerns of gifted students.
Mission Australia argued that lack of clarity over the definition of 'equity'
must be rectified given the lack of equity in the allocation of funding for
schools, and suggested that the following definition provided in the Gonski
review be considered for adoption:
...ensuring that differences in educational outcomes are not
the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions. Equity in
this sense does not mean that all students are the same or will achieve the
same outcomes. Rather, it means that all students must have access to an
acceptable international standard of education, regardless of where they live
or the school they attend.
The Save our Schools submission stressed that failure to clearly define
'highly equitable' could lead to ambiguity and confusion about education policy
goals and outcomes and the direction for school funding:
It is educational outcomes rather than inputs which are the
ultimate focus of education policy goals. Inputs to education are a means to an
end, namely, the education outcomes expected for all children in modern
society. Thus, any definition of equity should have regard to educational
The National Disability Services submission contended that the absence
of a definition of disability is a significant omission from the bill because
the proposed school funding reforms cannot proceed with it:
NDS is aware that work continues on the development of a
nationally consistent approach to identifying school students with disability
but is concerned that the forthcoming trial will take three years to complete.
Children with disability should not have to wait this long for additional
resources to be made available.
Some submitters maintained that the Preamble to the bill (at a minimum)
should explicitly acknowledge the important role of not-for-profit community organisations
in supporting improved educational outcomes. It was argued that such organisations
currently play a significant role in improving the educational outcomes of
children and young people through 'deep school-community partnerships'.
The Not-For-Profit Community Organisations Alliance submission, for example,
argued that not-for-profit community organisations '...are currently engaged in a
range of partnerships with schools which are contributing to the wellbeing of
hundreds of thousands of children and young people across Australia', and thus
should be acknowledged in the bill.
Other organisations drew attention to the absence of any specific
mention in the bill of 'parent engagement', with parents apparently being
lumped together with 'broader community' and 'other partners' referred to in
the Preamble. The Australian Parents Council submission expressed its
disappointment at the lack of acknowledgment of parent engagement, given that the
Gonski review identified family and community engagement as one of the five key
reform strategies required to achieve greater equity and improved educational
As previously mentioned, evidence to the inquiry overwhelmingly supports
the findings of the Gonski review which demonstrated that current arrangements
for funding, accountability and transparency of schools are inequitable and not
capable of supporting quality outcomes for all students. This is well
illustrated by the Smith Family submission which stated:
The current funding arrangements for school are complex,
inconsistent and ineffective. There have been historical and piecemeal changes
over 40 years which have created multiple funding models for schools and an
overall framework that lacks a coherent rational basis. Current arrangements
cannot address the long tail of educational disadvantage and they lack
sufficiently robust monitoring and accountability mechanisms to drive the
It was widely acknowledged in submissions that the bill does not provide
any detail on the new funding model for Australian schools, and that its main
purpose is to provide a broad funding framework based on the funding model
recommended in the Gonski review. The Independent Schools Council of Australia
told the Committee that the level of indexation that is to apply to hundreds of
schools currently outside the funding model proposed by the Gonski review is
yet to be determined. Indexation reflects education costs which in 2013 were
running at approximately eight per cent. The committee was told that indexation
would need to be maintained at eight per cent for schools to keep the real
value of their money.
There is concern that when these schools are brought into the model: '...they are
not going to attract the full educational indexation over the coming years in
order to bring them into that model'.
Organisations representing the public school sector submitted that the
current national investment in school education is inequitable. Public
education caters for the majority of students from disadvantaged backgrounds
including those who have special needs, live in transient families and have
culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Yet according to the
Australian Council of State School Organisations submission, the proportion of
total government schools funding which is spent on public schools declined from
77.1 per cent in 20013 to 68.6 per cent in 2009, compared to an OECD average of
85.8 per cent.
While there is general support for the proposition that future funding
arrangements be based on the real needs of schools and school students, concern
was expressed from some quarters about the lack of detail in the bill and the
uncertainty this has created across the entire schools sector. This concern is
summarised by the AEU submission:
We are concerned that the Bill does not provide any details
on the quantum of funding required for its implementation, the balance between
Commonwealth and State/Territory contributions, the formula for determining how
it will be allocated or future plans for indexation given that Gonski has
recommended abolition of the inequitable AGSRC.
The lack of detail in the bill with regards to specific funding
arrangements or the administrative implications for schools is of particular
concern to the independent school sector, whose funding arrangements expire at
the end of 2013. The Christian Schools Australia submission stressed that lack
of certainty around funding is impacting Christian Schools as they seek to make
plans for future growth to accommodate an expected growth in need for
non-government schools over the next decade.
The Independent Schools Council of Australia submission captured these
concerns by stating:
The uncertainty surrounding future funding arrangements for
independent schools is making it increasingly difficult for schools to
undertake important financial and administrative planning. The parents and
potential parents of students in non-government schools are also impacted as
the current funding uncertainty means it is difficult for parents to determine
their capacity to make a long-term financial/educational commitment for their
children's school education.
Organisations representing families who live in rural and remote
Australia expressed concern about the lack of equity experienced by distance
education students and families and the new funding model to be used for rural
One submitter argued:
...it is extremely important to the future of rural and remote
communities that the funding models for rural schools and boarding schools are
structured and quantified so as to allow rural and remote students to achieve
their potential in learning. In order to do so, funding will need to be
sufficiently targeted so as not just to maintain the status quo, but to
actively reduce the currently entrenched disparity in educational outcomes...
Other organisations, while fully supporting the structure and vision set
out in the bill, argued that the bill should be delayed until the funding
arrangements and other reform measures have been discussed, negotiated and
agreed with the relevant parties.
In a similar vein, Christian Schools Australia Ltd argued that if funding
details were not available by the end of March 2013, the Government should
introduce into the Parliament legislation that would extend the current funding
arrangements for a further 12 months: '...because, quite frankly, at the end of
this year the money simply runs out, and I am sure no-one...wants to see schools
unable to pay the wages in January 2014'.
The National Catholic Education Commission likewise submitted: 'The Bill in its
current form lacks the necessary substance, and the appropriate language, to do
justice to the Government's policy intent'.
Educational disadvantage and portability
One aspect of the bill that received favourable comment in submissions
is the provision of additional recurrent funding in circumstances of
educational disadvantage, which includes having a disability, being an
Aboriginal person or a Torres Strait Islander, having a low socio-economic
status, not being proficient in English and the size and location of a
student's school. The relationship between inequality and educational
disadvantage was highlighted in evidence from the AEU:
What we have seen is a deepening inequality...over the last 15
years such that we now have one of the most segregated schooling systems in the
world...As a result of that, we have incredible concentrations of disadvantage in
our schools. What we see now is an over-representation of disadvantage in government
schools and an under-representation of disadvantage in non-government schools...
Organisations representing children and young people with disabilities
commended the government for highlighting disability in the new funding
framework. The committee was told by one disability organisation that
discrimination and exclusion is a regular part of the educational experience of
students with disability, who also face an entrenched culture of low
expectations in Australian education. Students with disability are frequently
forced to attend school part-time, deprived of normal school experiences and
suspended or expelled in high numbers. The result is comparatively poor
educational outcomes for students with disability.
The bill was also viewed as an important companion piece of legislation
to other reform proposals to improve opportunities for people with disability
(including the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Disability
Strategy). According to the Children with Disability Australia submission:
The Bill provides a vital opportunity to articulate the
attitude and cultural change which is critical to ensuring the recognition of
educational rights of students with disability. It also provides a formal means
to a society in which students with disability are valued members of a school
community rather than just an additional cost or modification.
One issue raised in evidence to the inquiry was the provision of
portable funding, or vouchers, for students with disability. Opinions were
sharply divided on the issue. Organisations representing Christian schools
provided strongly worded support for portable funding:
...portable funding for students with disabilities needs to be
the No. 1 issue for Australian governments to tackle this year for 2014. It has
been far too long that those students have been disadvantaged compared to their
brothers and sisters in not being able to have a choice of a school...We would
put [portability] above anything else we have said today as our No. 1 request
of government around the country.
Other organisations, including the AEU and disability groups, raised
serious concerns about the effect of portability and its value for money in the
education system. It was argued that problems within the education system as
they relate to students with disability cannot be solved by attaching money to
an individual in the form of a voucher. Australian Federation of Disability
Organisations gave a clear example to illustrate the weaknesses of portable
...how would a voucher help a kid and his family who need a
lift installed to go to a second floor of a school building? How would a
voucher help somebody with the modification of the school curriculum to make it
more accessible for that student and other students around their learning and
The committee was told there is no guarantee that a student with
disability who possesses a voucher will have access to a school of their
choice. Families are regularly rejected by schools in the private, independent
and religious sectors. It was also suggested that the voucher system does not
give parents any more negotiating ability:
It does not matter whether you bring $20,000 or $30,000 with
you if the school does not have the capacity or the desire to have those kids there.
They may have the issue where other parents do not want their kids' education
to be compromised because of the stigma of having a child with disability in
It was suggested that some schools, including mainstream and special
schools, have such low expectations of students with disability that parents who
seek extra literacy support for their child, for example, will often be told:
'Why do you want your child to read? What is the point?‑because they have
On the issue of portability, the committee was reassured by the
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) that a
student with a disability should attract the same loading regardless of which
school they attend, government or non-government: 'That consistent philosophy
is something that is important in terms of the work that we are doing in
government at the moment'.
However, the department conceded that the issue was complex and a number of
issues had not yet been resolved, especially regarding the amount of loading.
While the new school funding model is based on available data, there is no
nationally consistent dataset for students with disability. On a positive note,
the committee was told that state ministers have agreed to national definitions
of adjustment in relation to students with disability:
We have trialled those definitions twice and we are actually
undertaking the first part of the national data collection this year.
Therefore, it is unlikely that we will be able to use that full dataset for the
total model. There are arrangements that we have put in place that we will be
discussing or have been discussing with jurisdictions about still having a
temporary loading for students with a disability.
Submissions from disability organisations focused on two additional funding-related
issues as they affect students with disability. First, existing disability
support programs and funding eligibility criteria are designed to supplement
the normal operations and practices of schools, not to deliver improved
outcomes and value for money. Part of the problem is that many students with a
need for funded educational support cannot access it due to strict diagnostic
criteria governing access to funding. There are also limitations to the
Disability Standards for Education (DSE), which provide the current default
position for schools working with students with disability. While the DSE are
recognised as extremely important, one submitter observed that they need to be
seen for what they: 'a marker of actionable discrimination. The DSE are not a
guide as to how to provide quality inclusive education'
The Children with Disability Australia submission stated:
A student-by-student approach has been taken rather than a
systemic approach, and so the capacity of schools to routinely deliver
effective programs for students with disability has not increased. Across the
country, the ability of schools to deliver inclusive education is very patchy,
and driven largely by attitudes and experience of school teachers.
The second issue relates to the relationship between the proposed
funding system, which places students with disability in a category of
disadvantage, and the systemic or structural deficiencies with the funding
system currently in place for students with disability. The National Disability
Strategy Implementation Reference Group submission argued that the systemic
improvements to education required by students with disability should be at the
centre of education reform:
To achieve the key goals of the education reform the funding
system must address the systemic barriers for students with disability that are
entrenched across education systems...and not rely solely on loadings to address
the equity and excellence issues. Funding reform requires addressing the key
barriers at a systems level in additional to the individual student level.
There needs to be investment in improving school capacity and infrastructure as
well as resourcing individual students in order for students with disability to
be fully included.
Some organisations expressed the view that the national plan does not
adequately address the needs of schools with a high concentration of students
from disadvantaged backgrounds. According to the Australian Federation of
Graduate Women submission:
Poverty, which is often combined with a lack of fluency in
English, impedes young people's educational achievements and undermines
attempts to improve productivity through education. As a matter of urgency,
these schools need funding for professional support staff including nurses,
accredited counsellors, social workers and community liaison staff who can assist
students and their families.
Consultation with education partners
The Independent Schools Council of Australia is concerned that despite
the Government's timeline imperatives, there is little evidence of any
substantive progress in negotiations with state and territory governments to
flesh out the more complex and critical aspects of the Gonski review. It
submitted that the school communities of the 1100 independent schools have
ongoing concerns with the apparent lack of progress and continuing uncertainty,
'...particularly as the Review is now entering its fourth year without any
tangible outcomes in sight'.
These concerns were echoed by a South Australian and Queensland member
organisations which expressed concern that the absence of detail on funding and
the lack of transparency regarding consultation is undermining the independent
school sector's confidence in the reform process and creating a high degree of
cynicism across school communities. Their submissions argued that all school
communities should have had an opportunity to comment on proposed changes and
receive details on the following areas before the bill was introduced in the
the level of prescription in the National Plan and its
the level of funding to be received by each school, indexing
arrangements and mechanisms for distribution (including arrangements for direct
- the timing of payments to schools;
additional programs to support students with special needs;
- funding for capital works programs;
- indexation and transition arrangements for schools; and
- compliance and accountability requirements.
The Christian Schools Australia submission urged the Government to
extend the existing consultative arrangements to encompass a more
representative range of stakeholder groups, including Christian schools.
This view is supported by the Australian Association of Christian Schools
submission which argued that any final decisions regarding funding agreements
between the Government and schools must be the subject of wide and inclusive
consultations with all peak bodies in the non-government sector.
It went further in suggesting that consultations have been restricted to the
National Catholic Education Commission and the Independent Schools Council of
Australia which have been required to enter into confidentiality agreements:
We simply do not know what the Government is considering by
way of detail. We simply don't know whether the arrangements will be fair and
equitable. We simply don't know what conditions may be attached to Funding
Other disability organisations, such as South Australian based Novita
Children's Services, submitted that for the Government to determine appropriate
funding loadings for categories of school children with special needs,
consultation should extend beyond the education sector to include the
collective knowledge of leading children's disability service providers.
The Foundation for Young Australian submission focused on the role of
students in education policy, arguing that students are key stakeholders of the
education system. This stems from the Foundation's belief that young people
have the potential to positively influence education outcomes for themselves,
their schools, their communities and the system:
Student consultation is fundamental to the development of
effective education policy and improving learning outcomes. Not only do
students have unique perspectives as the producers of education outcomes, but
their involvement also increases the chance of policy buy-in.
The submission drew attention to the fact that students continue to be
an untapped resource in educational policy. This partially explains why their
perspectives on education are often at odds with the goals and reform levers
identified in the bill. It recommended that students should no longer be
treated as passive recipients of reform, but embraced as genuine partners in
educational improvement and consulted in the implementation of the national plan.
Interaction with other education goals
A number of submissions expressed concern that the bill does not mention
the agreements, commitments and understanding captured in the Melbourne
Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians which was signed by the
Australian Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth
Affairs in 2008. The declaration identified two main goals for the period
2008-18: Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence; and all young
Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals and
active and informed citizens.
It was argued that the Declaration should be directly referenced in the bill
because it enjoys wide political and community support and would ensure greater
public confidence in the bill.
The Smith Family submission went further and argued that in addition to the
Melbourne Declaration, the Preamble should reflect a more comprehensive view of
the purpose of school education drawing on Article 29 of the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Australia is a signatory.
Mission Australia submitted that the bill's definition of school should
extend to a broader range of education providers which fall under the general
heading of 'alternative education', including second chance education,
re-engagement programs, flexi schools or flexible learning options, community
based programs and non-traditional or unconventional programs:
It is estimated that there are up to 33,000 young people
currently enrolled in over 400 programs in 1200 locations across Australia. A
further 4,100 young people are on waiting lists. Alternative education is
important for young people who may otherwise fall through the gaps in a
mainstream education setting.
The Save Our Schools submission expressed concerns that one of the
reform directions included in the bill, empowered school leadership, would
undermine collaboration between schools and the spread of best practice in
teaching and learning. Drawing upon analyses of school autonomy in New Zealand
and Great Britain, the submission concluded that greater school autonomy and
school self-management, together with the move towards publication of school
results and school league tables, 'encourages schools to see themselves as
isolated silos rather than as part of a system working together to achieve
particular education goals'.
The committee welcomes the broad in-principle support for the legislative
framework established by the bill, reflected in submissions representing the
government and independent school sectors. It also welcomes the support for the
Government's proposal to link school funding with implementation of a new
The committee reinforces the Government's commitment to improving
student achievement by targeting resources to where they are most needed, for
example schools with disadvantaged students with particular educational needs.
The committee acknowledges the qualified support offered by some organisations
on the grounds that many details regarding implementation of the new school
funding model, and monitoring and accountability mechanisms, are yet to be
The committee, however, reiterates the fundamental point that the main
purpose of the Gonksi review was to devise a new funding model for a
needs-based system; it was not meant to address educational policy development more
broadly, which state and territory education authorities are actively engaged
The committee is of the view that concerns raised in evidence from the
independent school sector about the risk of receiving less overall funding and
the level of anxiety this allegedly has created, while genuinely held, were overstated
and contradicted by evidence from DEEWR and other education providers. The
committee is confident that when the new funding model is finalised, with all
the variations in levels of growth taken into account, no school will receive
less money in 2014 than they did in 2013. In fact, it is more than likely that
every school will receive increased funding on a year by year basis.
Concerns about the level of indexation for independent schools also have
to be assessed in light of the significant cuts to education budgets undertaken
by the New South Wales, Victorian and Queensland state government and the
effect this will have on indexation over coming years. The committee accepts
the concerns of some organisations that state governments are playing politics
with school education by slashing their education budgets while publicly
calling for an increase in school funding.
On the issue of portability or portable vouchers, the committee is
concerned by some of the evidence it received from national disability
organisations. The committee accepts that there are strong arguments on both
sides of the debate regarding portable vouchers, but it was surprised to hear
about the attitude of some schools towards students with disability and their
families, which probably reflects an underlying systemic bias. The committee has
formally requested that DEEWR provide it with a considered response to the
concerns raised in evidence by national disability organisations.
The committee is strongly of the view that the bill represents a
once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the performance of schools and student
outcomes. Delays will have a detrimental effect not only across the school
sector, but on productivity levels and Australia's long-term economic
performance. The committee agrees with the Australian Council of State School
Organisations which stated:
...research has clearly shown that a higher level of education
means higher earnings, better health and a longer life. By default...the social
and financial ramifications of educational failure for Australia will be
enormous. Those without the skills to participate socially and economically
will generate higher costs in areas such as health, income support, child
welfare, social security and the penal system.
The committee shares the concerns of organisations that failure to pass
the bill, or attempts to delay its passage through the Parliament, could see
schools losing up to an estimated $5.4 billion in funding over the next five
years if there is no change in the way schools are funded.
The committee rejects outright the continued opposition to the Gonski review
by the Coalition and, recently, the Victoria and Queensland state governments who
are publicly threatening to walk away from this fundamental reform for blatant
political reasons. The committee reiterates the importance of all states and
territories coming on board to support the Government's proposed national plan.
The committee recommends that the bill be passed.
Senator Gavin Marshall
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