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Audit Commission's Gonski landmines

  • 06 May 2014

The Commission of Audit has planted so many landmines across the political landscape that two have been scarcely noticed. One is planted directly under Gonski, the other under the federal role in schooling. 

Of the many issues tackled by the Commission, school funding is one of the few about which the Government has to do something, soon. The Government has gone along with the remnants of the Gonski scheme, but only until 2016. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has already announced that after that, all bets are off. What the Commission suggests in this area is therefore of immediate interest.

The Commission finds that present school funding arrangements waste time and resources, and frustrate efforts at educational improvement. No surprises there. That is why the Rudd Government appointed Gonski in 2010, and that is what Gonski's report describes in detail.

Two levels of government, federal and state/territory, give money to non-government schools. The Federal Government also subsidises government schools, and runs special programs which come and go, targeting everything from computers to school chaplaincies, in all three schools sectors.

It is not surprising that Australia finds difficulty in getting any traction in educational reform or, as the Commission and others have noted, that spending has gone up much faster than detectable 'performance'.

The Commission doesn't like Gonski's proposed fix and, since some states signed up for Gonski and some didn't, it likes the upshot even less.

Saying that it's a mess was the easy part of the Commission's job. Figuring out what to do next is not so simple, although the Commission seems to have thought that it is. It has proposed two measures.

First, the Federal Government should give its schools allocations to the states. They, in turn, should do the distributing they currently do, but with more money (although not as much more as Labor promised). Rather than head toward a funding formula common to all states/territories and all three sectors, as suggested by Gonski, the Commission wants to head in the opposite direction.

Second, the Federal Government should set national ground rules — a national curriculum, national reporting on outcomes, and national disclosure by the states of how they do their distributing.

This could be workable, had the Commission gone about its task in the right spirit. But it has focused on getting an 'efficient' funding system, which is just one part of the puzzle.

Another, put front and centre by Gonski, is 'need'. The Commission says that