Wisdom from the middle

There’s an adage in sport that says ‘play the ball, not the man’. It means that despite opposing views, all sides should be mature enough to debate the issues rather than launch personal attacks. The recent debate over a new funding model and what it will mean for the Catholic education sector has seen a lot of ‘playing the man’.

The Catholic education sector has been accused of robbing the poor to pay the rich while the Turnbull Government has been accused of taking money from schools and not consulting with those responsible for the delivery of schooling. As history has shown, this kind of language achieves little. It simply distracts from the work of creating better schools.

In Australia, successive governments have continued to increase funding for education. Recently, the Prime Minister announced an additional $19 billion would go into education over the next decade. That commitment to funding all systems (government and non-government) is a recognition not only of the contribution all schools make to their communities but the right of parents to make a choice.

What the new funding arrangements will mean for  Catholic schools and families is still not entirely clear although there has been progress of late. I am particularly pleased that fears in the past week of large fee increases for some families are starting to dissipate.

There remain a number of issues that still need to be addressed before Catholic school leaders can feel confident with the new model. One is the the use of the Socio Economic Score (SES) to determine how much funding each school will receive. This coarse-grain analysis ignores the fact that you can have families with high and low incomes living in the same SES catchment. David Gonski and successive governments have realised that we need a better indicator or a finer-grain analysis for developing equitable funding models. I agree with him.

The other major issue is the importance of enshrining in the legislation the capacity of systems to redistribute resources to where they are most needed. That is the strength of the Catholic education system. We all know that it is at the local level that need is best determined.

In reality, no funding model is ever going to tick all the boxes. Hopefully sensible discussion will follow in the months ahead based on what we all agree on. Firstly, there must be a base level of funding that goes to every child in Australia. Secondly, that we address equity through clear and transparent processes that provide additional funding to children and schools in greatest need.

Polarising the debate does not score educational goals – the wisdom has to come from the middle.



4 thoughts on “Wisdom from the middle

  1. So true, Greg, The issue here is about the need for genuine dialogue to work out the concerns of all involved. Listening is essential. The country needs to have everyone agree that the funding formula is as fair to all as it can be. Fixing that problem requires understanding all facts and seeing the issue from all perspectives. We all have an interest in investing in every child’s education. It is such a critical issue for our country and its future.

  2. Greg, your post sent me back to reread some of the press and conversations about Gonski 2.0. I suspect we really won’t know much till the senate debates the bill/s and more comes out. A base level of funding and then a needs based (more fine grained – yes) additional sum has always made sense.

    Unfortunately when Julian said no school would lose a dollar (politics I suspect) the original plan became unfundable (or so most say).

    What the real debate I think is and what we have been saying for a while is $$$$ or less $$$ is only the resource side of the picture its the essential strategies (taking into account each schools context) that are needed to be implemented if we are ever going to impact on all students learning.

    Given quality caring honest relationships (teacher – young person – parent/s) as foundational, more formative assessment data and improvement processes (leading to instructional adjustments), more collaborative teacher time (read $$ there) so all students needs across a cohort are considered and teacher professional learning that is embedded in their work (some $$ there) then we can add in specific contextual data informed needs based interventions (e.g. targeted vocabulary programs for those not advantaged or social skilling for others). Result improved student learning then have something to “crow” about.

    I recently heard that 70% of young people who do not complete Year 12 (and lets face it we potentially know these students by year 5) suffer chronic illnesses in their lives and live shorter productive lives. Want a morale imperative lets tell these stories, putting names to faces and then we might change the debate.

  3. Mark, I wish every policy maker and politician in Australia reads your comment. The moral imperative is just as important for politicians as it is for the education profession.

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