It is incredulous and contemptible towards the Australian public that a Federal Government would even be considering an option of fully shifting the full funding of education or just shifting public school funding onto states and territories. This is on top of the “No cuts to education” pledge made by the prime minister at the last federal election. While according to the Federal Education Minister that there is no “emotional attachment” by the Federal Government towards public schools, there is however a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure that all children receive an adequate and appropriately funded education regardless of whatever sector of schooling. Shifting funding onto the states will result in a signifcant drop in school funding and a total abrogation of Federal Government responsibility.
The Review of Funding for Schooling by David Gonski AC and his panel in 2010/11, highlighted the need for a schooling resource standard to form the basis for general recurrent funding for all students in all schooling sectors with recognition that schools with similar student population required the same levels of resourcing regardless of whether they were located in government, catholic or independent school sectors. The report recognise a need for a transparent funding model that addressed students that than education sectors.
The NSW Government and Education Minister need to be commended for their ongoing support and advocacy of the full 5th and 6th years of Gonski funding, often called the outlook years. It was the first State Government in Australia to sign up to a joint Federal-State model for school funding. It is here that we see a difference in the way both State and Federal Governments perform in education – the State Government places a huge importance on the success of all students regardless of their life circumstances, ethnicity and language backgrounds or socio-economic levels. Time and time again, I often hear the minister speak at meetings with educators about the importance of the Gonski funding for students’ success. However at the Federal level, the Government seems to be divisive, commissioning a report by pseudo experts that lambaste teachers as using progressive and fad ways of teaching and being guides on the side, yet failing to work or accept advice from the various professional organisations representing principals and teachers, and committing the necessary resources.
In my school, the additional Gonski funding has led to the engagement of a speech pathologist and occupational therapist over the past two years. Imagine students with expressive and receptive language delays, articulation issues or fine motor skills having to wait on the public health lists for years while languishing at school without the adequate and necessary support. The stress and despair from both teachers and parents, while the frustration of students can be heartbreaking. Gonski funding has allowed our school to provide, and fast track the resources necessary to support students schooling. It has enabled our parents to reduce travelling time or attempting to find multiple services by having them at the doorstep of our school. It has allowed the case conferencing of students with multiple complexities and needs, without parents placed in stressful situations of explaining their child’s circumstance over and over again to each medical para-professional.
Gonski funding is not wasted in NSW public schools. There is no one installing swimming pools, new tennis courts or hiring a rowing coach (not that I know) to expand their facilities. Instead, many of my colleagues are addressing student needs by implementing programs that support students, hiring additional staff members to support the linguistic or disability needs of students and or purchasing the required resources that students and their families often cannot afford. Gonski funding has allowed teachers to be released off class to watch others teach and to provide feedback, collect and analyse data, develop personalised learning plans and collaboratively plan learning for students.
In my opinion, the Gonski funding in NSW has reduced the virtual divide between the government, catholic and independent teachers in professional development and the discourse of learning. Teachmeets and social media are prime examples of where principals and teachers, regardless of sectors, are often collaborating about learning, students’ outcomes and best practices. It is this new paradigm of collaboration that has seen the strength of many schools undertake a transformation to engage students in the best possible way within the available resources. I know firsthand that many of my catholic and independent colleagues would like to see a fully funded public education system based on needs just as much as their system is funded. However, if the Federal Government proceeds with some of their options, we could be back to an even greater divide of the school funding in Australia with a foreseeable widening of the inequity gap of students.
It is time for educators to take an advocacy role to ensure that our students are adequately funded. I give a Gonski. To do anything less would be to the detriment of my students and their needs.