The historic Gonski Review Report identified several highly
concerning trends in the educational outcomes of Australian students. It found
that over the past decade, the performance of Australian students had declined
at all levels of achievement compared to international benchmarks. Furthermore,
a concerning proportion of Australia’s lowest performing students were found
not to be meeting minimum standards of achievement.
In addition to declining performance, the review found that
Australia has a significant gap between its highest and lowest performing
students; far greater than in many OECD countries. Disturbingly, the review
identified an unacceptable link between low levels of achievement and
educational disadvantage, particularly among students from low socioeconomic
and Indigenous backgrounds.
The OECD has consistently argued for countries to address
disadvantage and increase equity in school systems, most particularly in the
publication 'Equity and Quality in Education – supporting disadvantaged
students and schools':
The highest performing education systems are those that
combine equity with quality. They give all children opportunities for a good
quality education...Educational failure also imposes high costs on society.
Poorly educated people limit economies’ capacity to produce, grow and innovate.
School failure damages social cohesion and mobility, and imposes additional
costs on public budgets to deal with the consequences – higher spending on
public health and social support and greater criminality, among others. For all
these reasons, improving equity in education and reducing school failure should
be a high priority in all OECD education policy agendas.
The Gonski Review stressed the need for an equitable school
funding system: one that ensures that differences in educational outcomes are
not the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions. To
address the current imbalances, the review recommended a national needs‑based
and sector-blind school funding model. The new funding model would provide a
level of base funding to all schools and additional targeted funding to
disadvantaged students in order to remove inequities and minimise the identified
Submissions to the committee's inquiry noted the strong
consensus that was developed through the Gonski process, across the public,
Catholic and Independent schooling sectors.
The previous government's National Plan for School Improvement
(NPSI) was the vehicle for implementing a national needs-based funding model
grounded in the findings of the Gonski Review and building on the consensus
achieved by the review process.
the former government expected that the NPSI, when fully implemented by 2020,
would see an additional $6.5 billion spent on schools per annum by the
Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments. This new funding model was
accompanied by an improvement framework for schools and teaching, with five
areas of reform identified for implementation.
However, following the 2013 federal election, and despite promises
of a "unity ticket" on education policy, the Abbott Government has
begun to effectively unpick
the overwhelming consensus built during the Gonski Review and NPSI
negotiations. Although for the first four years funding will remain as
set out under the Australian Education Act 2013, after 2017 funding will
be indexed to 'CPI plus enrolment growth'. By the Abbott Government's own
projections, this will result in a $30 billion cut to the education sector over
the medium term. Such significant cuts jeopardise the widespread improvements
in student outcomes that were to flow from a strategically funded needs-based
model. As a result, the quality of education provided to those Australian
school children most in need of additional support will remain inferior, and we
will continue to fail to realise the full potential of our latent human
Assessing evidence from around
The committee conducted public hearings in six states and heard
the views of a wide range of stakeholders: public, Catholic and independent
school associations; parents, teachers, principals; unions and, in some cases, State
and Territory Governments. In addition to the public hearings, the committee
received over 3400 submissions over the course of the inquiry.
The evidence collected through the committee's inquiry clearly
the complexity of previous, pre-Gonski funding arrangements; the
ground‑breaking consensus achieved by the Gonski Report;
the agreement and goodwill achieved amongst jurisdictions
covering approximately 80 per cent of Australian school students
through the implementation of the NPSI; and
the disruption and confusion which has resulted from the change
from the NSPI to the Students First funding arrangements.
As part of the evidence gathered in its inquiry, the committee
notes that a very significant majority of school funding stakeholders support
the findings of the Gonski Review and the arrangements agreed under the NPSI.
The committee identified a number of themes from the evidence
Uncertainty about future funding, particularly beyond the four
years of provided for in the 2013-14 Budget;
Lack of clarity regarding the process for amendments to the Australia
Education Act 2013 and the possible effect of removing the 'command and
control' mechanism from the Act;
The need for accountability and transparency measures to ensure
that funding is going to those schools which require it most; and
Transparency around the future levels of funding, particularly
indexation decisions, by states and territories.
The committee considers that without certainty, accountability
and transparency in school funding, achieving high quality educational outcomes
for Australian students will not be possible.
Needs-based funding for schools now
and into the future
As a result of its inquiry, the committee believes that the
Abbott Government's changes to school funding arrangements will be detrimental
to Australian schools, students, and to the broader Australian community. In
particular, the changes will put at risk adequate funding for those students
most at need, for example, students with disability.
At the recent Budget Estimates, Coalition Senators wrongly
claimed that it was the Abbott Government which had delivered a needs-based
It is the committee's view that without the Gonski Review,
without the NPSI negotiations with states and territories, and without the
passage of the Australian Education Act 2013, there would not be a
national needs-based school funding model in Australia. The committee submits
that, under the Abbott Government's arrangements, a needs-based funding model
will last for a mere four years. After that, amendments to the Australian
Education Act 2013 and the low level indexation of funding post-2017 will
mean that schools and the students they support cannot rely on adequate
funding. This in turn will lead to inferior results for those students most in
need and will further exacerbate the widening gap of educational achievement.
The committee's eight recommendations aim to ameliorate the
grim future for school funding in Australia.
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