Education International
Education International

The great Gonski

published 12 July 2013 updated 5 February 2016
written by:

A turn of the screw: a new prime minister

5 out of 8 states have signed up to the federal governments’ school funding reforms: New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria.

Those signed agreements will be honoured by a new conservative Government which took power in Australia at a federal election on September 7.

At this stage, however, the new government has only committed to delivering four years of funding. It has also refused to commit to delivering the Gonski funding to public schools in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory where there are no signed agreements.

EI President Susan Hopgood said the campaign would continue with the aim of getting the new Government to commit to the full implementation of the Gonski funding arrangements over the next six years, in every state and territory.

“The real challenge is to set aside political ideology and take action based on evidence,” she stated. “Australia needs a new model for schools funding, because there just aren’t the resources to provide the support to the students who need it most.”

Ms Hopgood went on to say: “Australia’s overall performance in education has significantly fallen in the last decade and, unless we change the way we resource our schools it will continue doing so. In the long-term, the cost of inaction will be far higher than the cost of investment."

To find out more about Gonski, read an interview with AEU President Angelo Gavrielatos here

A new funding framework

The Gonski Review was the most comprehensive investigation of Australian schools’ funding in the last 40 years. Commissioned by the Federal Government in 2010, the review was conducted by an expert panel headed by senior businessman and philanthropist David Gonski. The final report was released on 20 February 2012.

During 18 months of investigation, the panel reviewed over 7000 submissions from stakeholders and members of the public, visited 39 schools, and consulted 71 key education groups across Australia.

Key findings of the review included:

  • Australia is investing far too little in schools and the way money is distributed is not efficient, effective or fair;
  • There are growing gaps in student achievement: students in disadvantaged areas are up to three years behind those of the same age who live in wealthy areas.

As a consequence, the review recommended shifting to a new system that better matched student funding with student needs across the country. This would mean a base level of funding for every student, with additional loadings for disadvantaged students.

Public schools, which educate the vast majority of disadvantaged students, would receive the full base amount from both state and federal governments, while the amount given to Catholic and independent private schools would vary depending on the ability of parents to pay school fees.

Recurrent-expenditure funding for non-government schools would be calculated on the basis of the so-called socioeconomic status (SES) of a school community. All schools will receive additional funding in the form of loadings to reflect disadvantage.

Dependent on their student enrolment profiles, additional loadings will be provided for schools which serve students from poorer backgrounds, indigenous students, students with disabilities, students who lack English proficiency and for schools serving students in rural, remote and isolated settings.

Playing politics: Gonski in jeopardy

The campaigning and the review itself bore fruit. On 3 September 2012, the federal government announced its intention to legislate for a new funding model consistent with the Gonski recommendations. Nevertheless, the agreement of the states is also needed to co-finance the reform.

To help achieve this, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard tried to negotiate with state premiers and chief ministers on an AUD$14.5 billion increase in state and federal funding over six years. However, last April, at the Council of Australian Governments’ meeting, Gillard didn't convince any of the states or territories to sign up for the new schools’ funding plan.

Eventually, New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell was the first one to sign on to the Gonski package, after agreeing on an AUD$5 billion funding deal with Gillard.

Ms Gillard set a June 30 deadline for the rest of states and territories to sign up.

However, by the end of June, divisions within the governing Australian Labor Party reshape the political landscape. Following her defeat in a leadership ballot on 26 June, Julia Gillard was replaced by Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister.

Against this backdrop of instability, the AEU called on all political leaders to act in a spirit of bipartisanship and finalise agreements on Gonski funding negotiations between the federal and state governments.

After his swearing in as Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd affirmed his commitment to the Gillard government's school funding reform agenda. In doing so, he extended the deadline for negotiations with state governments to delivering fairer, more equitable funding arrangements for schools and a better education for children.

I give a Gonski: the union comes in

For over a decade, EI’s affiliate, the Australian Education Union (AEU), had been campaigning for additional and more targeted investment in public education.

When the school funding review was announced, the AEU grasped the opportunity to launch a nationwide campaign to get school communities involved in the review and build support for better public school funding. As part of that campaign, over 6,000 submissions were made by teachers, principals and parents to the Gonski Review.

After the final report of the review was released, the union launched a new campaign, I give a Gonski, to pressure governments to act on its findings and deliver the additional resources and the new funding system it recommended.

Strong campaigning by the AEU and its members boosted huge public support for its demands.   Community rallies have been held in towns and cities, from North to South. The name Gonski has acquired a whole new connotation of equity and quality in education.