Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Axe to fall on school funds deal By Justine Ferrari


 The Gillard government is set to scrap a special school funding deal struck during the Howard years that provides half of the nation's private schools with more money than they are entitled to.

 
                                                                    Picture: Brianne Makin/The Sunday Telegraph
 Education Minister Peter Garrett at the French School of Sydney in Maroubra with Lara Elphinstone, Lucas Le-Roy, Melissa Manguy, Luc Lohier, Imogen Morris and Andreas Chauvet.


 In the clearest indication yet that the days of the current funding system are numbered, Schools Education Minister Peter Garrett has revealed the arrangement that maintains funding for about 60 per cent of Catholic schools had "reached its use-by-date".
 Mr Garrett's comments follow a briefing by the head of the school funding review, businessman David Gonski, to education ministers about a week ago that funding maintenance was a historic anomaly that had to be corrected.
 In an interview with The Australian, Mr Garrett said current school funding arrangements were in "urgent need of root-and-branch reform".
 "It's complex and not well understood . . . and it contains within it a system that effectively applies to only half the schools that are receiving it," he said.
 "So you really have different funding models applying to schools in the same sector and that's a real impediment to having a clear understanding about the way in which funding operates.
 "It also means to have a clear, effective and acceptable model you need to address those issues."
 The current model for funding non-government schools, based on the socioeconomic status of a school's students, was introduced by the Howard government in 2001 and initially only covered independent schools.
 The Catholic school system signed up in 2004 to a deal that maintained the relative funding levels of its schools. The deal was unveiled by John Howard and Cardinal George Pell ahead of the federal election later that year.
 A central policy of then Labor leader Mark Latham for the election was to cut grants to a "hit list" of elite private schools.
 Both Ms Gillard and Mr Garrett have pledged that no school will lose a dollar under any changes they make.
 Under the SES arrangements, about 20 per cent of independent schools and 60 per cent of Catholic schools that received funding higher than the amount indicated by their SES score were exempted. Most of the independent schools had their funding "guaranteed" at the same level until the funding allocation of their SES caught up.
 Most of the Catholic schools had their funding "maintained" in real terms, and have been receiving real funding increases.
 The federal government commissioned a review of the funding for government and non-government schools, the first since 1973, by a panel headed by Mr Gonski. It is due to report by the end of the year, with new arrangements expected to be implemented from 2014.
 Mr Garrett said the Gonski review was examining the underpinnings of the SES funding model and the way private school grants were calculated, which at present are based on the amount spent by the states and territories on their public schools.
 Depending on a school's SES score, private schools receive a percentage of the money spent in government schools, calculated from an index called the Average Government School Recurrent Costs. As a result, every time government spending increases in public schools, the amount given to private schools increases by the same degree.
 The other criticism of the AGSRC is that it is based on what governments have traditionally spent on education and does not reflect the costs of educating different types of students. Disadvantaged students generally require more resources.
 The SES model has also been criticised for not being a true reflection of the social circumstances of students, being based on census information linked to students' home addresses rather than individual student data.
 At a meeting of federal, state and territory education ministers on April 15, Mr Gonski outlined the directions being pursued by the review panel, including questioning the use of the AGSRC as a benchmark for school funding and examining more accurate ways of identifying disadvantage than the current SES score.
 It is believed the review is looking at developing a school resourcing standard to use as a benchmark and is examining alternatives to the SES model for determining the level of government funding to schools.
 Mr Garrett's and Mr Gonski's views are at odds with the position of the federal Coalition, whose education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, early this month supported the retention of current funding arrangements. At the National Press Club, he said the exemptions granted to schools were now accepted as part of the model and should remain despite the inconsistency of similar schools in the same system receiving different amounts of government funding.
 Mr Garrett described Mr Pyne as "a lonely ideologue on education" and said he heard on a weekly basis from education groups that the current funding arrangement "isn't a model which is well serving the sector".
 "It requires root-and-branch reform and now, after many years of accretion of different decisions about funding, now is the time to get on with the job," the Schools Education Minister said. "This is not a debate about systems, it's a debate about how we ensure that students - whether they are special needs students in remote Australia, whether they're students from low-SES communities, or students attending schools of their choice in inner-city Melbourne and Sydney - get the best from the education they have.
 "Mr Pyne is the last person clinging to the notion that what we have now is without flaw and doesn't require proper reform."

©theaustralian.com.au




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