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Better results from a classless education system

  • 16 March 2012

The Gonski Review isn't just a new way of 'doing' school funding. It opens up new ways of linking school funding with improved life chances, a key factor in school reform. With more parents sending their children to non-government schools, the government must address the implications of this for all Australia's school-children.

It would have been easy simply to deregulate funding and invest it to reflect trends in school enrolment. However, the school results picture isn't simple.

While some government schools don't achieve good results, others do. Similarly, when equivalent school results from the public and private sectors, broken down by socio-economic status, are compared, some state and Catholic schools do exceedingly well.

Finally, the socio-economic profile of non-government school students is generally higher than that for state school students, so poverty and disadvantage are inescapable factors in Gonski's attempt to reconfigure school funding for the next 50 years.

What the figures additionally show is a long 'tail' of poor achieving students at one end, while Australia's top performers do not do as well as top performers in other countries. The reasons for this are complex: Australia has the largest non-government school sector in the world, whereas Finland, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore have almost no private schools, while Canada's Catholic schools do exceedingly well, but unlike Australia, and similar to New Zealand's, are public schools.

Indeed, every single Catholic school in New Zealand, such as Baradene — a sister school to Sydney's Kincoppal-Rose Bay, which charges $23,514 p.a. — is part of the fully-integrated, fee-free public education system. There are no private Catholic schools in New Zealand and a handful of unfunded independent Catholic schools in other countries. Australia's Catholic school model is a distortion from the norm, insofar as fee-requirements are conditional on enrolling in them.

Also, Asian countries at the top of the table have selective secondary schools, whereas Australian differences are defined by wealth exclusion and class (i.e. socio-economic) differentiation. Even among predominantly Western countries there are vast cultural differences: Finland has a culture in which teachers are regarded as being on a par with doctors, whereas Australian teachers feature lower down the scale in salary terms, being about the equivalent of social workers in socio-economic status.

The political ramifications of any funding