The highlight of the TJ Ryan Foundation’s 3rd anniversary event was a keynote address from Dr Ken Boston, former Director-General of Education in South Australia and New South Wales, and member of the Gonski Review panel. Dr Boston spoke on the topic of 'Gonski Report: Vision or Hallucination?'
The key messages from his address are:
- Neither the “last two years of Gonski funding”, nor reducing overall funding to the wealthiest schools, will solve the real problem facing Australia’s schools. Nor will cosmetic changes to Commonwealth/State governance and funding arrangements with regard to education;
- Any long-term solution must be based on the assessment of the needs of individual schools – treating government, Catholic and independent schools in exactly the same way;
- The most recent iteration of the My School website gives detailed information on government recurrent funding for every school in the country. This information is validated by schools and systems, accurate, and available online. No longer need we rely on broad statements, averages or generalisations about school funding, from the Productivity Commission, the Commonwealth Government or other sources. We are now in a position to make evidence-based statements about the funding of schools, based on publicly available data at the level of the individual school;
- While the existence of Catholic and independent schools might be justified on other grounds, they can no longer be justified on the grounds that they are saving taxpayers’ money. Catholic and independent schools are now receiving virtually the same amount of government funding as government schools serving similar SES communities;
- Five years after Gonski, Australia has two virtually government-funded systems. One is open to all, takes students from all sections of the community, and has several accountabilities to government. The other – state-funded to nearly the same extent – sets and charges fees; has a selective enrolment process; has a statutory exemption from certain anti-discrimination provisions; can borrow money, and because the high-level of government funding covers their recurrent teaching costs, can apply their fees to servicing loans on major capital works;
- In suburbs and towns across Australia, adjacent schools receiving similar levels of taxpayer support now operate under quite different conditions, in facilities of sharply differing standards, and with clientele deeply divided on the basis of class, ethnicity and income;
- Both the Rudd/Gillard Government and the Turnbull Government failed to implement Gonski. Radical change - along lines I will discuss – is now urgent.