‘No blank cheques’ in Gillard’s school revolution
Prime Minister Julia Gillard wants Australia to be among the world’s best when it comes to education and has paved the way for some substantial changes in the Aussie school system with her ‘national crusade’.
THE federal government has warned the states and territories there will be “no blank cheques” under a new schools funding model aimed at lifting the global ranking of the nation’s education system.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday announced Labor’s long-awaited response to the Gonski review of schools funding.
The national funding goal would be $6.5 billion a year, although Labor would negotiate with the states over who would pay what. At present, the Commonwealth pays 30 per cent of schools funding.
“We should aim to make new money of this order available,” Ms Gillard told the National Press Club in Canberra on Monday.
There would also be higher requirements for studying teaching, more power for principals and more information for parents through the My School website.
“We will now start discussions with state and territory governments, and Catholic and independent schools, over the details of our plan,” Ms Gillard also said in a joint statement with Minister for School Education Peter Garrett.
“The Gillard government is prepared to make a substantial investment over time to deliver this plan for better schools, provided states and territories contribute their fair share and agree to the national plan for school improvement.
“There will be no blank cheques.”
Ms Gillard said it was the start of a “national crusade” on education.
She set a 2025 deadline for Australian schools to be among the top five best-performing education systems in the world.
By then, Australia should be ranked in the top five for reading, science and mathematics.
The country is currently in seventh spot for reading and science and 13th for mathematics.
Ms Gillard said Asian nations had a relentless focus on education to shape their future economic success.
“To win the economic race, we must first win the education race,” she told the press club.
“For our children to get the jobs of the future, we must give them a great education now.”
Funding for each school would be based on the needs of individual students.
This would be done through a new benchmark amount for every student – a new Schooling Resource Standard – based on the costs of schools that are already getting great results.
Schools with students who face challenges would be entitled to extra funding based on six categories.
These include low income families, indigenous students, students with disability and limited English skills, the size of the school, and rural and remote schools.
“This additional money would be a permanent feature of the new funding system,” the government’s statement said.
“It would help pay for things like teachers’ aides, specialist literacy and numeracy coaches, and special equipment. Schools would no longer need to rely on grants or short-term programs.”
Ms Gillard said teachers would be reviewed annually and their skills assessed to determine where improvements were needed.
“Every school will have a school improvement plan and will be held to account against it,” she added.
Ms Gillard said the government had not accepted every aspect of the Gonski model “because we want funding for all schools to continue to rise”.
“But we agree with that broad standard plus loadings structure and that is the new model we will adopt for funding all schools,” she said.
The states, however, must put in their fair share.
“No sleight of hand, no fiddling of the books to substitute federal funding for cuts by the states,” Ms Gillard said.
“And we should take the time necessary to get the right result.”
The prime minister said she would not be “held to ransom” by the states, but was prepared to work with them through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).
“I will personally lead these discussions and my aim is to settle the funding model through COAG processes,” she said.
“I want to conclude these discussions by the time of the first COAG meeting next year.”
The government’s so-called National Plan for School Improvement will be phased in over six years from 2014.
The key goal to raise Australia’s education system ranking would take 13 years.
Labor also plans to introduce a bill into parliament by the end of 2012 to “enshrine our nation’s expectations about what we will achieve for our children”.
The Australian Education Act would state the nation’s support for children’s education as one of the entitlements of citizenship.
Ms Gillard said Labor took a very different approach to education than the opposition.
“I’m for improving the nation’s schools, I’m for better investing in the nation’s schools,” she said.
“They’re for cutting back funding to our schools.”
Ms Gillard said Australians will make their choice when they go to the polls next year.
“This will be one of the great contests of the 2013 election.”
Ms Gillard said work was underway on the definition of the “needs loadings” which would be added to the benchmark amount of funding per student.
She said the My School website had generated a lot of useful data, but the final decision would be made through a series of working groups and talks with the state and territory governments.
“So if you go on the My School website now you would be able to click up a chart that shows you the preponderance of kids in different quartiles, from the poorest quarter to most advantaged quarter,” she said.
“To take disadvantaged children, we are looking at a loading for children who are in the two lower quartiles, from the poorer homes, but there would be a sliding scale.
“Each of these loadings is being worked through.”
Ms Gillard was asked whether Labor had the “political capital” needed to ask the community to wait for the reforms to be rolled out.
“People can judge us on what we’ve done to date, and having seen us do all of that, they can judge our intentions for the future,” the Labor leader said.
“People intuitively get it that when you are changing something as large as our education system … it does take some time.”
Ms Gillard said under the proposed changes no school would have its funding frozen – as is the case now for some.
“There would be no school that is frozen and experiencing no growth in funds.
“(But) in terms of working out what is the appropriate indexation rate, we’ll need to work that through in discussions with state and territory colleagues.” - AAP