12 MAY 2010


As the Lib-Labs and the Australian media hypes up the issues and rhetoric infotainment for the 2010 federal election, it is interesting to note the educational issue that has quietly dropped off the agenda: the phony baloney “Needs” policy of previous ALP and Howard governments.

DOGS suggest that this is largely because there is no more mileage in a cry of ‘Needy” schools for a Catholic and Independent (read Dependent) sector when these schools are so overburdened with public largesse and the public sector goes begging.

The recent media diversion into the BER (Building the Education Revolution) has emphasised the problems inherent in private/public partnerships, the contracting out of public buildings to private contractors in search of a quick profit. It has been used to once again knock the public education sector and its administration. The answer to these problems is not private/private partnerships –using public money for private profit – but public/public partnerships as we had with a public works department before the privatisation revolution of the 1980’s and 1990’s- the Hawke-Keating-Kennett years.

But this diversion has not completely masked the outrageous inequality inherent in current funding of education throughout Australia. The ‘Needs’ policies of successive governments since 1973 have merely exacerbated inequalities in Australian education and society. Why?  Sectarian schools divide children on the basis of creed, culture, and class. That is their main selling point for potential patrons. Insecure parents have never wanted their children’s chances in life affected by those less fortunate than themselves. The propping up of such institutions with public money underlines and creates greater inequalities in our society.

These are the basic truths that few people  in Australia feel free to articulate.

However, Noel Pearson, a spokesman for one of the most disadvantaged groups in Australian society, our indigenous people has scratched the surface. In an article entitled Education Reform Lies Buried under the Morass, in The Weekend Australian May 8-9 he writes:

The federal Labor government does not want to alienate the legions of aspirational families who have drifted to the private system. It does not want to open itself up to the kind of accusation recently made by Tony Abbott: “You can’t trust these people. They don’t like private education. They will, after the election, if they’re re-elected, as sure as night follows day, they will try to cut private schools funding.”

This means there is no willingness to discriminate between public and private schools when it comes to federal government investment. And the problem is that needs-based funding automatically invokes the public-private dichotomy, even though there are needy private schools as well.

So the BER sought to spread the largesse across public and private schools regardless of need.

A program that was large enough to provide a revolutionary change in the circumstances of the neediest schools ended up having more limited effect across the full range of schools.

Schools requiring new facilities have surely benefited from the program, but schools also have ended up with facilities without any strong rationale.

Frankly, the most privileged schools have ended up with a windfall they didn’t need and should not have received.

While controversy rages on the first two dimensions of the BER policy – its role in economic stimulus and its administration- there is near silence on this third dimension. The federal opposition has no interest in championing an educational investment policy based on need, and the Rudd government does not want to expose itself to the electoral accusation it is the party of public schools. …

Pearson who is currently director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, retreats to his own version of a ‘Needs’ policy, but his conclusion is worth noting:

Australians whose fate is to end up in our neediest schools is an interest shared by everybody. Why make the defense of privileged schools the singular priority?







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