Imagine an organisation on a $150 000 budget a year without the mantra of making an annual financial profit but a moral imperative to invest all the capital to support the development of 370 workers’ talents and skills via 24 managers on a daily basis. The budget has to pay for the training of the managers and their replacement when absences occur, all the utilities (water, sewerage, gas, electricity, sanitation and communication) necessary to run the organisation, and the maintenance of the premises that dates back to 1928. Well, that’s what my public school does every year.
There is a minimal amount available for student resources by the time the budget is allocated each year. My school does not have specialist performing arts, sporting or music teachers, nor do we have paraprofessionals to support students. Instead we have full time classroom teachers to match the number of classes that can be formed, a Learning and Support Teacher, two English as a Second Language Teachers, a Reading Recovery Teacher, and a Teacher-Librarian. We rely on the multiskilling of primary teachers or the goodwill of the school community with fundraising activities or donations to supplement the learning programs in our school.
My staff and community are fully aware of the implications of our school budget and what is plausible to achieve. Over the past 8 years, we have collectively painted our classrooms, constructed gardens to improve the school environment, repair trip hazards and even arrange for the fixing of toilets in times of emergency. Yes, that’s right! When the aging toilets and pipes overflow, someone has to respond and quite often it’s the principal who is the only person in my school not on class apart from the office staff. We have achieved the maximum output with our budget by self-managing projects where possible and being judicious about the resources that are needed. We have made significant transformation but that’s only the surface to improving our students’ outcomes and engagement in learning.
It is not uncommon for public education teachers (and dare I say all teachers in all sectors) to use their own finances to purchase additional resources for their students, not to mention the provision of voluntary hours beyond class time for those extracurricular activities. Follow Australian educators on twitter and they are regularly using their own personal funds at places like Officework, Bunnings, Kmart, Ikea, Bookshops or similar stores during their weekends or school vacations to provide that little extra for their students knowing full well that the school budget is tight, or paying for their own professional development.
Gonski (now known as Better Schools funding) provides an opportunity for my students to access the resources that are necessary to achieve the highest possible learning outcomes. The additional funding would enable our school to employ a speech pathologist to assist students with expressive and receptive language needs instead of waiting on the two years public waiting lists and experiencing learning difficulties. Likewise, we could employ occupational therapists to assist some students to fully function at school or specialist teachers like Reading Recovery for additional early intervention over the next four years. The additional funding could replace some of our reading resources that are currently held together by sticky tape or invest in additional technological devices to enable our students to fully implement the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities and outcomes.
We only need to view the Channel 2 Four Corners episode about Claymore to remind ourselves that we have so many vulnerable young people and children in our society with limited disposable income by their parents. Gonski can assist schools to bridge the gap by providing educational outcomes that enables students to shift away from the inter-generation of poverty and eventually financial independence through full employment.
I must thank the NSW Minister for Education the Hon. Mr Piccoli MP for his support of Gonski and all the personnel behind the scenes that formulated a position that eventually led to our NSW signing an agreement with the previous Federal Government – a historic decision supported by so many educators, academics and NSW politicians. Gonski is not about education systems or schools – it’s system blind as we’re reminded. It’s about student learning and giving all young people every opportunity to succeed, especially the most vulnerable in our society. No child should be disadvantage because of their postcode, ethnicity or their socio-cultural or linguistic background. For this reason, I have added my signature to the www.needtosucceedalliance.com and voiced my support for the full commitment to the existing Gonski agreement.