Education International
Education International

Australia: union rejects government funding plan for education

published 4 October 2016 updated 10 October 2016

Education unionists have strongly rejected new financing arrangements for education proposed by the federal Education Minister, arguing that they would lead to a schools not receiving the minimum resources needed to provide quality education.

On 27 September, the Australian Education Union (AEU) Federal President, Correna Haythorpe, said that abandoning needs-based funding after 2017 would mean that no state’s public schools would reach the minimum resource standards recommended by the Gonski Review.

The Gonski funding is designed to ensure that all children are educated in properly resourced schools. This needs-based funding started in 2014, after the independent Gonski Review warned that too many children were missing out due to a lack of resources. The Gonski agreements were designed to allow all school systems to shift to a minimum resource standard over six years, ending in 2019.

Schools can use the funding in ways that help improve the results students achieve such as: reducing class sizes; employing additional specialist teachers in areas such as literacy and numeracy; providing greater assistance and support for students with disabilities or behavioural problems; and building the skills and knowledge of teachers through increased training.

No consultation with states

“There has been no consultation with States, no input from experts and no detail around Minister Birmingham's plan,” Haythorpe said. “Compare that with the Gonski agreements which were the result of widespread consultation and the most thorough review of schools funding arrangements in a generation.

“Pitting one state against another will do nothing to lift results in schools – what is needed is to lift our overall investment in schools and target the extra funds to addressing disadvantage.”

Scale of cuts

The Coalition’s funding plan, as outlined in the Federal Budget, will still see schools $3.9 billion AUS worse off in 2018 and 2019 alone, she warned, adding that it will still see 62 percent of federal funding increases distributed to private schools, whose needs are far less than public systems.

Now Education Minister Simon Birmingham says he wants to take funds from some states and give them to others, she noted. “How will that improve results for students? Who is supporting Minister Birmingham's funding model?”

No support from states

To their credit, she said, the majority of State and Territory Ministers have rejected the plan. At the last Education Ministers’ Meeting at end-September in Adelaide to discuss post-2017 funding arrangements for schools, ministers rejected the proposal because it means less funding for schools than they would have received under Gonski.

She explained that Minister Birmingham claims that the Gonski agreements signed with each state were unfair because different states were getting different amounts of federal funding for schools with the same needs. Birmingham wants to redistribute funding between the states, while not offering any extra overall funding. This will leave some worse off, said Haythorpe.

She stressed that the Coalition’s push to replace Gonski with an agreement that delivers the bulk of extra federal funding to private schools will take Australia further away from the goal of ensuring every child has the help they need at school.