This report has demonstrated:
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
in the implementation of the National Plan for School Improvement (NPSI); and
the disruption and confusion which has resulted from the change
from the NPSI to the Students First funding arrangements.
The committee sees the Gonski Review as a fundamental benchmark in the
history of school funding in Australia. The Review demonstrated the importance
of an equitable and nationally consistent funding approach and the link between
education outcomes and investment in the school sector. Equity was an essential
concern in the Gonski Review. As Mr Gonski said when delivering the Jean
One of the easiest decisions we were able to take is what we
as a review team believed “equity” should mean in determining a suitable
funding system in Australia.
We felt strongly and unanimously that a funding system must
ensure that differences in educational outcomes are not the result of
differences in wealth, income, power or possessions.
Flowing from this a funding system based on need was both
obvious and important.
The Gonski Review defined equity in schooling as 'ensuring that
differences in educational outcomes are not the result of differences in
wealth, income, power or possessions.'
This definition recognised that not all students are the same or can achieve
the same outcomes; rather it meant equity of access for all students to a high
Without a funding system which allocates resources to schools and
students most in need, equity of access to high quality education is not
possible. Dr David Zyngier, senior lecturer from Monash University who appeared
in private capacity, explained the importance of allocating funds to alleviate
The equity implications of a school's socioeconomic status
are, as we know, considerable. Individual students are advantaged or
disadvantaged by their own backgrounds—who their parents are—but the impact of
this can be reduced or magnified in the schools they attend. School choice is exercised
in Australia, favouring those with resources to exercise that choice while
reducing opportunities for disadvantaged students who are increasingly sitting
in classrooms alongside their own disadvantaged peers. Professor Richard Teese
of the University of Melbourne calls this 'sinks of disadvantage'.
Dr Zygnier argued that under previous school funding models that
pre-dated the Gonski Review, the idea that parents and students had choice in
regards to schools was a myth:
Choice is only available for those who have the wherewithal
to make that choice. We have heard about the end of the age of entitlement.
However, when a person on the basic wage of $55,000 a year pays his or her
taxes, that person does not have a choice, but their taxes go to enable someone
who is on a salary of $150,000 or more per annum to exercise that choice. So it
is a bogus choice.
The committee believes that genuine 'choice' will only be possible if
funding is targeted to address areas of need. This can only occur if Australia effectively
implements a needs-based school funding model, and adequately invest in that
model into the future.
The Gonski Review also built strong community support for a national
needs-based, sector-blind funding model which, if properly implemented, would
raise education outcomes and reduce inequity. The historical reforms to
education funding were driven forward by the NPSI, which began the process of
implementing a national needs‑based, sector-blind model, working with all
stakeholders and including the community in the process of change.
On the proviso that adequate time, expenditure and effort are dedicated
to embed these reforms, the committee is confident that these changes will
boost educational standards across the board, effectively support those
students with genuine needs, and address the long tail of underachievement
regardless of schooling sector.
However, with the Abbott Government's changes to school funding
arrangements, states and territories will have only four years of funding certainty.
After the shambolic first months of policy formulation from the Abbott Government,
some commentators reflected on what would happen if the Gonski Review
But it's worth reminding ourselves what the Gonski review
tried to fix (which Pyne might have been reminded of, had he accepted the
invitation made by Gonski panel member Kathryn Greiner to talk him through the
Under the existing arrangements, the ''educational outcomes''
of indigenous kids have fallen two years - two years - behind those of
Sixty per cent of children who are not proficient in English,
and about 30 per cent of indigenous children and those living in ''very
remote'' areas, are considered ''developmentally vulnerable''.
And that too often means they're dropping out of the system.
In 2009, the report tells us, 56 per cent of children from
low socio-economic backgrounds finished year 12, compared with 75 per cent of
children from high socio-economic backgrounds.
Professor Stephen Dinham, national president of the Australian College
of Educators stressed that the consequences of the Abbott Government's changes
would be highly detrimental to Australia as a nation:
...It is hard not to conclude that what we are seeing is a
deliberate strategy to dismantle public education, partly for ideological and
partly for financial reasons.
If these developments continue then the inevitable outcomes
will be greater inequity and continuing decline in educational performance, something
that will provide the proponents for such change with further
"evidence" to support their position and for even more far-reaching
Australia is becoming a less equitable society both generally
and in respect of education and as has been demonstrated, inequality in society
is actually worse for everyone.
Although noting that there are arguments both for and against linking
the amount of funding to educational outcomes, the committee considers that
schools cannot set high standards for teacher quality and student outcomes
without adequate funding. Without certainty of funding, and adequate funding
from both the Commonwealth and State Governments, schools, students and the
Australian community will suffer.
At its public hearing on 16 May 2014, the committee heard from Dr Ken
Boston. Dr Boston was able to offer a unique and important perspective on
school funding: that of a former Gonski Review panellist, former head of the
NSW Department of Education, and ongoing commentator on school funding and educational
outcomes. The committee considers that Dr Boston provided one of the clearest
summations of the need for school funding arrangements to be clear, consistent,
and certain into the future:
The disturbing thing is that there has been real growth in
education spending in the years 2000-2012, the high water mark of sector based,
needs-blind funding, and during those years our national performance has
declined. The government and Commission of Audit conclude that funding is
therefore not the critical factor in the decline, but the issue is the
increased funding is not then spent strategically. Too much is being spent on
schools that do not need it. Not enough is being spent on what matters where it
In concluding I go back to the five-year gap in reading
performance. The government is quite wrong on the cause of this and other
similar gaps. This gap is not the result of insufficient autonomy to schools
and their principals. It is not the result of underachieving schools having
poor teachers. It is not the result of an unchallenging curriculum. It is not
the result of failing to make Thomas Hardy compulsory reading in year 8. It is
the direct result of sector based, needs-blind funding; and, so long as that
system continues, the quality of education provided for disadvantaged children
will remain inferior, the oxygen will continue to be sucked from any genuine
competition, we will continue to fail to realise the full potential of our
latent human capital and Australian education will remain an international
The committee recognises that school funding is a policy issue on which
the States, Territories and the Commonwealth Government must work together with
each school sector and school communities. In conducting public hearings in six
states, the committee was able to take views from a range of stakeholders:
public, Catholic and independent school associations; parents, teachers,
principals; unions and, in some cases, State Governments.
The committee notes that a very significant majority of stakeholders in
education funding support the findings of the Gonski Review and the
arrangements agreed under the NPSI. For this reason, the committee is
particularly concerned that this consensus is in danger of being undermined in
the confusion created by the Abbott Government's changes to school funding.
The committee believes that it will not be possible to achieve the best
educational outcomes for Australian students if there is not a genuine
commitment by the Australian Government to a national needs-based, sector-blind
funding model which is implemented across all jurisdictions.
The committee urges the Abbott Government to fulfil its pre-election
commitment so that the strong community consensus developed through the Gonski
Review and the NPSI implementation can be preserved. The committee has made the
following recommendations in this report as a way forward for the Australia
Government implement a genuine needs-based funding model.
Recommendation 1 (commit to implementation of the
The committee believes that the significant consensus
achieved from the Gonski Review and the agreements negotiated under the
National Plan for School Improvement (NPSI) must not be lost with the current
government's harmful and confusing changes. The committee recommends the
Australian Government honour its pre-election commitments to fully implement
the national needs-based, sector‑blind funding model incorporated in the
NPSI to improve equity across Australian schools. In particular, the Australian
Government should commit to the following elements of the NPSI:
the six year transition to a nationally consistent Schooling
maintain the commitments made under the National Education
Reform Agreement (NERA) and bilateral agreements with participating states and
territories, in particular the five areas of the NPSI:
empowered school leadership
meeting student need
greater transparency and accountability; and
conduct reviews prescribed under the NERA and strive for equitable
funding for schools most in need.
Recommendation 2 (non-participating states)
The committee recommends that the government work with
non-participating states and territories to:
maintain the existing education spending of all
non-participating states and territories;
ensure appropriate indexation of education spending for all
non‑participating states and territories;
ensure that adequate co-contribution arrangements are agreed
by all non‑participating states and territories to establish a national
School Resource Standard; and
achieve agreement with non-participating states and
territories to the national funding model and NPSI established under the Australian
Education Act 2013.
Recommendation 3 (disability loading)
The committee recommends that the government moves, as a
matter of urgency, to a disability loading based on actual student need. To
this end, the committee recommends that data collection and decisions about the
loading for students with a disability should be expedited so as to provide
certainty around a needs-based disability loading to replace the temporary
arrangements in 2015. This must happen in close consultation with advocacy
groups, the various school sectors and states and territories.
Recommendation 4 (disability loading)
The committee recommends the Federal Government honours its
election commitment for increased funding to cover unmet need for students with
Further, the committee recommends that the government works
with all states, territories and advocacy groups to clarify the interaction
between the disability loading and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Recommendation 5 (disability loading)
The committee recommends that information assisting parents
and carers of students with a disability be produced and distributed as soon as
Recommendation 6 (federal-state relations and
The committee recommends that the Department of Education
produce an annual 'report card' detailing the breakdown of school funding
funding provided to states and territories (participating and
non‑participating) and non-government schools by sector;
comparable information contributed by state and territory
governments about their school funding;
the extent to which these arrangements are achieving equitable
funding to schools and students in most need; and
funding broken down to a school level.
Recommendation 7 (indexation rate post 2017)
The committee recommends that the Australian Government
should reinstate an appropriate indexation rate for school funding. The
government should ensure that Commonwealth school funding is not cut in real
terms by adopting a more realistic indexation rate that ensures annual
indexation is not below actual cost pressures. The committee notes that the
previously agreed rates increased Commonwealth funding at 4.7 per cent per
annum and states' contributions at 3 per cent per annum.
Recommendation 8 (ongoing scrutiny)
The committee recommends the Senate pay particular regard
any further cuts to Commonwealth or state education funding;
the effect on Commonwealth-state relations with any further
cuts or changes, particularly the effect on states' ability to adequately fund
any reviews conducted or amendments proposed to the Australian
Education Act 2013.
The committee also recommends that the Senate refer any
amendments proposed to the Australian Education Act 2013 to the Senate
Education and Employment Legislation Committee for inquiry and report.
Senator the Hon Jacinta Collins
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