Coalition senators reject outright the implication in the majority
report that the Coalition does not fully support public schooling or State
school systems. Coalition senators recognise and support the key role that
public education systems make in ensuring all young Australians are provided
with high quality, relevant and meaningful education. It is a birth right and a
vital investment in people and the future prosperity of our nation. Coalition senators
regret that the government did not see fit to ensure enough time to fully inquire
into the detail of the bill and the many issues that stakeholders raised both
within the context of the inquiry and in other forums.
Lack of detail
The bill exhibits a glaring lack of detail, stating broad objectives
without making clear how these will be achieved. While the inclusive nature of
the Preamble and Objects is attractive, and the Coalition does not disagree
with the principles it espouses, the lack of practicality of the bill as a
whole renders it largely meaningless, a frustration echoed by many stakeholders.
A fact recognised in the bill, as it is not legally enforceable.
For submitters, the main area of concern centred on the ambiguity in
funding arrangements. Their concern went beyond questioning the adequacy of the
$6.5 billion per annum suggested to implement the changed funding model, to
questions regarding the proportion to be contributed by State governments,
indexation, capital funding arrangements, loading metrics, definitions and
proportions under the proposed 'as yet to be agreed' arrangements. It seems to
Coalition senators that, notwithstanding the Government's obsession with
education funding models it still has not been able to deliver any worthwhile
proposal. As the Independent Schools Council of Australia submitted:
The information provided in the Bill regarding both funding
and plans for school improvement lacks detail and this lack of detail creates
further uncertainties for individual independent schools.
Christian Schools Australia summed it up when they submitted that:
The complex nature of the task being undertaken is understood
and appreciated. Nevertheless the lack of detail in relation to the future
funding of non-government schools is disappointing and frustrating. In less
than a year non-government schools would be expecting to receive their first
tranche of 2014 funding. At this time there is no legislation in place nor tabled
that would allow that payment to occur. There is no way for schools to estimate
what that payment might be and consequently plan for staffing or school
development for 2014 or beyond.
Whilst Coalition senators welcome the government's guarantee that no
school will be worse off under the new funding model, there are real concerns
given the number of variables being considered in any of the 16 models under
consideration. Our concern is that the one size fits all model can mask the
local impact. On this point, Mr Stephen Elder had this to say:
...the modelling work undertaken by the Catholic sector (based
on a modelling tool provided by the government), provides sixteen different
scenarios that show that nationally, Catholic funding will either not change, or
may increase by up to 10 per cent. This hides large losses in individual
schools and across separate dioceses across the country.
Coalition senators recognise the crucial need for schools to secure
funding for 2014. The new funding model needs to fulfil community and
stakeholder expectations in a now tight timeframe, which has resulted in the
need for 'intense negotiations' between the Government, states and territories
and non-government school sectors.
We note Mr Stephen Elder's comment that:
Ultimately, losses faced by the Catholic sector may be a moot
point...the bill has been drafted in such a way that if the state governments and
non-government systems do not agree to the Australian Government's funding
methodology, they will not receive any additional potential funding.
Coalition senators agree with the numerous submitters who consider that
the Prime Minister's assurance that no school would lose a dollar under the new
funding arrangements leaves too much ambiguity for comfort. Indexation, and the
method of its application, remains the government's elephant in the room. It
was made clear to the committee from the Department's evidence that the
Government has not yet decided what method of indexation will be used, and that
there were 'a whole range' of options on the table.
Mr Barry Wallett, from the Independent Schools Council of Australia, summarised
the concerns of many submitters when he gave evidence that:
...the modelling shows there are a number of schools—and that
is several hundred schools—that are still outside of the model; that is, their
current funding levels are higher than what they would be entitled to under the
full implementation of the Gonski model. We know that the Prime Minister has
said that no school will lose a dollar, and if they are resourced to a certain
level in 2013, they will receive that money in 2014. Plus, this will include a
level of indexation that is yet to be determined. If the school is funded above
on the model, they are funded below what they get in 2013. Then at some stage
they have to be brought into the model and how that happens is what concerns
us. In other words, they are not going to attract the full educational indexation
over the coming years in order to bring them into that model. We do not know as
yet the details of the transitional arrangements for those schools.
Similarly, representatives from the Catholic system were keen to remind
the committee that indexation must keep pace with the change in the real cost
of education in government schools.
Even before indexation is applied, Coalition senators note with concern Mr
Stephen Elder's response to a question on notice that:
Critically, the results show that the Australian Government's
proposed funding model which is supposed to address equity, results in 25 per
cent of low-SES Catholic schools losing funding.
The lack of funding detail is also particularly worrying in relation to
loadings, which are a central plank of the Gonski model, and are designed to
account for variable disadvantage. The Coalition senators support a funding
model for education that targets public money on areas of need and welcomes the
loadings outlined in the bill. However, given the variability of loadings, the
lack of agreement as yet on metrics and the issues surrounding their
application there remains concerns. The Independent Schools Council of
Australia expressed the following misgivings:
In principle, the independent sector supports the provision
of base recurrent funding to each independent school. However, critical to the
effectiveness of this base recurrent funding will be that the base funding is
set at an appropriate level. If the level is set too low, schools will need to
rely on loadings to maintain their level of government funding. Utilising
loadings to maintain current funding levels is not appropriate. The quantum of
loadings funding is reliant on a school’s point in time enrolment profile and
which means they are a highly variable funding source. Such an outcome would
result in potentially dramatic, unpredictable and long-term changes in funding
arrangements for individual independent schools. This would not provide the
necessary funding certainty for the operation of independent schools.
Two areas of additional concern are around the loadings for students
with a disability and school location. Stakeholders are clearly concerned that
the bill does not deliver in a meaningful way and it is disappointing that
students with a disability will have be covered by a 'temporary loading'
until definition work is completed. The Australian Federation of Disability
Organisations submitted that its recommendations should be implemented to make
the legislation 'real' for students with disabilities.
Children with Disability Australia submitted that:
To achieve the level and type of provision required by the
standards, and indeed those required by students and parents, consistent and
sufficient funding must be part of the core amount provided to schools.
Capacity to do this must be built into the funding model. This must be
considered in the current negotiations to ensure that this core funding enables
all schools to meet the [Disability Standards for Education] requirements. Much
of what is required to do this must be part of every school’s routine practice,
not bolted on with a loading in the event of a student with disability
enrolling at a particular school.
In relation to the role of loadings in addressing geographical disadvantage,
Isolated Children's Parents' Association of NSW was disconcerted by the lack of
commitment in the bill to set funding based on what was required to close the
gap in outcomes between schools in different geographic locations:
...the gap in educational achievement is evidence that the
current funding is insufficient to compensate for the concentration of
disadvantage in some remote schools, and therefore should not serve as a basis
for future funding. If loadings are set on the current additional operational
costs of operating a school in remote and very remote areas, then that new
funding model may serve to entrench rather than improve the current disparity
in outcomes. There should be additional funding beyond an estimate of current
costs added to the loading to achieve the goal of increasing equity in our
school system when it comes to location of the school, rather than just
maintaining the status quo, so as to provide resources for teachers and
administrators to provide equitable opportunities and close the gap in
Coalition senators are also sceptical of the Government's ability to
accurately define rural and regional areas, given its lamentable track record
of drawing seemingly arbitrary lines on a map, in the context of funding
provision for the Youth Allowance and rural health programs. Close to a million
young Australians attended regional schools in 2011, over 680,000 of them in
their respective State government public system.
It is imperative that those students facing challenges stemming from their geography
be identified and their special circumstances addressed.
It seems to Coalition senators that the Government, and specifically
Minister Garrett, has little or no idea about how schools operate in practice.
Planning for staffing and capital expenditure necessarily happens well in
advance, and the lack of firm foundations as little as nine months out from a
new funding period is highly disruptive, particularly for Catholic and
From evidence it is clear that negotiations still have a way to go.
This was an urgent concern of many submitters, and was summarised by Christian
Schools Australia in their submission:
There is some way to go before this is settled yet the time
to achieve the necessary agreement and secure the required funding commitments
is short. The Government needs to urgently release far more detail in relation
to school funding to allow consideration and consultation. Modelling of the
impact on individual schools and school communities is critical at the impact
at the individual school level is the most important aspect of any funding
However, this is at odds with statements by Minister Garrett, who was
reported as telling the ABC as late as 26 February 2013 that 'all that needs to
happen now is for us to effectively plug in the final set of numbers'.
Similarly, Mr Garrett told Lateline on 25 February 2013 that the
Government was 'waiting to settle some final data from 2011 figures that
will mean we have an absolutely completed model'.
The fact that progress has been so delayed is remarkable considering the
Gonski report's release in December 2011, not to mention Labor's promise of a
new school funding model as early as 2007, nearly 5 years ago.
Another clue that the Government is disconnected from the reality of how
schools operate is given by the bill's lack of specificity on non-government
education authorities. The Independent Schools Council of Australia had this to
For independent schools the distinction between
non-government education authorities and non-government schools needs to be
made clear. For example, in sections 6 and 8, the Bill refers to negotiating
with non-government education authorities (presumably not every independent
school but rather their representatives). In other places, for example section
9, the Bill refers to non-government education authorities reaching agreement
with the Commonwealth on implementation of the national plan in return for
Commonwealth funding. In this context, non-government education authorities
must refer to individual independent schools, as it is the individual school in
the independent sector that will make the agreement with the Commonwealth
Government to implementation of the national plan, not their sector representatives.
Coalition senators are mindful of the evidence from the Independent
Schools Council of Australia that, unlike other sectors in Australian
education, the majority of independent schools operate autonomously.
Independent schools do not rely on central bureaucracies or bodies, and are
separately accountable to their parent and school communities; while Catholic
schools operate as part of a centrally coordinated Catholic school system, the
bill fails to acknowledge and account for these variations in school
organisation. Whether Catholic or Independent, individual schools operate in an
environment of choice and diversity, recognised and supported by their
respective parent bodies and all levels of government. The incentives that
operate in this environment impose an imperative on independent schools to
constantly strive to ensure they provide a high quality educational experience
for their students.
This, Coalition senators consider, is as it should be.
Additional cost to schools
A number of submissions expressed serious concerns about the cost of
additional data collection which will seemingly be required. The committee
heard from the National Catholic Education Commission of their concern that
'...the bill as it stands is a model for school reform through increased
regulation rather than increased funding.'
Data collection is already a serious impost on schools, particularly in the
independent sector which has no 'head office' to coordinate and collate
While governments and their agencies pursue more
comprehensive and fine-grained data collections, the cost burden of collection,
collation and submission rests with the individual school and the school
community. While the benefit of additional data is accrued by governments and
researchers, the cost of this benefit is shifted to the parents of students in
independent schools...Future data collections will necessitate complex
information technology solutions, the costs of which will not be able to be met
by a large number of low fee, low SES schools in the sector.
Coalition senators were alarmed to hear from representatives of the
Catholic system that:
Under the Gonski proposals, the minimum fee for recurrent
purposes expected under the Student Resource Standard (SRS) is about 10 per cent
for low-SES schools. For high-SES schools this expectation reaches 80 per cent.
The Gonski report suggested that the SRS for primary schools was
$8000...According to the Catholic sector's modelling, around half of the Catholic
schools would have to raise fees to meet both the Australian Government's
capacity to pay fee expectations, and any shortfalls in funding, due to changes
in the funding process. These fees may need to rise in excess of 200-300 per
cent in many Victorian Catholic primary schools if the model is applied
This augers badly for maintaining fees at an affordable level for
families seeking to exercise choice in the education of their children at
Finally, many stakeholders such as Christian Schools Australia, the
Independent Schools Council of Australia, the National Catholic Education
Commission and others have indicated the bill should be amended to recognise
that every child should be entitled to at least a basic grant which the Prime
Minster referred to in her 3 September 2012 speech as a 'citizenship
entitlement'. Coalition senators agree that the bill should establish the
nation's support for a child's education as one of the entitlements of
It is a pity that cheap political points are being scored by government
senators, in reaction to State government attempts to address educational
reform within their own jurisdiction, particularly when negotiations on the
funding model have been protracted and acrimonious. Coalition senators
highlight that these concerns are not isolated to Coalition State governments,
and note the ALP government in Tasmania has also outlined its concerns about
increases of Commonwealth interference in State School funding matters.
The aspirations of an effective and efficient education offering to
Australian families that is 'system blind', where parental choice is
acknowledged, disadvantaged students are funded appropriately and principal
autonomy is encouraged is one Coalition senators fully endorse.
Coalition senators are all too aware of the importance of meaningful and
effective reform to the Australian education system. We are at risk of failing
the educational needs of our future generations. However, we question the
usefulness of the bill in achieving meaningful and effective change as so much
of the detail required is not available for consideration.
While the Coalition does not oppose the bill in its current form,
it notes the Government's intention to substantially amend it following the
next Council of Australian Governments meeting in April, and in particular to
include the new funding model. Coalition senators note the obvious need for the
bill to be reconsidered once this detail is known, and its financial and
educative impact can be properly assessed.
Coalition senators recommend that the Objects of the bill should
be amended to read:
(a) families must have the right to
choose a school that meets their needs, values and beliefs;
(b) all children must have the
opportunity to secure a quality education;
(c) student funding needs to be based
on fair, objective, and transparent criteria distributed according to
(d) students with similar needs must be
treated comparably throughout the course of their schooling;
(e) as many decisions as possible
should be made locally by parents, communities, principals, teachers, schools
and school systems;
(f) schools, school sectors and school
systems must be accountable to their community, families and students;
(g) every Australian student must be
entitled to a basic grant from the Commonwealth Government;
(h) schools and parents must have a
high degree of certainty about school funding so they can effectively plan for
(i) parents who wish to make a private
contribution toward the cost of their child’s education should not be
penalised, nor should schools in their efforts to fundraise and encourage
private investment; and
(j) funding arrangements must be simple
so schools are able to direct funding toward education outcomes, minimise
administration costs and increase productivity and quality;
Coalition senators recommend that definitions in the bill be
amended to recognise and account for the administrative differences between systemic
and non-systemic schools.
Coalition senators recommend that the bill be amended to provide
that current funding arrangements be extended for a further two years, to
guarantee funding certainty for schools and parents, in the event that no
agreement is reached at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in April
Senator Chris Back
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