July 8, 2010

In an article entitled ‘Gillard ranks as a failure on education,’ in The Age of July 5, 2010, p.11. Kenneth Davidson gives a long list of reasons why public school supporters cannot vote for the ALP in the coming federal election.

His provided five reasons for Gillard’s failure as an Education Minister for Public Education:

1.                  Continuation of the Howard Government’s ‘toxic’ policies: The continuation to 2012 of the reprehensible funding system for non-government schools. As a supporter of some form of ‘Needs” policy Davidson notes that the latest figures show that total resources per secondary school student available to Geelong Grammar is $30,000 per student including nearly $4000 from the Commonwealth. By comparison, total recurrent expenditure on secondary students was $12,288 for Catholic systemic schools and $11, 407 for government school students, after excluding the imputed cost of capital because it is not included in the official estimate for non-government schools. Davidson also notes the ‘incremental cost’ argument, pointing out that the private religious sector can ‘cherry pick’ the education market. They have no obligation to provide remote schools or take students with learning difficulties.This means that Australia is developing a two-tier system with government schools providing a residual service to almost two thirds of the population. This is not only socially toxic, but economically disastrous.

2.                  Bad Policy from the Perspective of Education as a Public Good: Davidson agrees with Julie Bishop and Gillard that education is about values. But he points out that it is now about whether education should be seen as a commodity that can be bought to give access to top jobs, high incomes and social status, or as a public good equally available to all in order to underpin an egalitarian and democratic society. The major initiatives introduced by Gillard under the rubric of the education revolution were bad policy from the perspective of education as a public good. They were even worse administratively.

3.                  Administrative Bungles:

i.                    School Computers: were an insult for schools with dysfunctional toilets, leaking roofs and a disproportionate number of traumatized refugee children. They didn’t have the funds needed to cover the cost of operating and maintaining the computers.

ii.                  The $16 billion Building the Education Revolution: Elite schools with swimming pools got as much money as schools of a similar size with playgrounds that are dust bowls in summer and bogs in winter. It should have been directed to maintenance upgrades according to the greatest needs.

4.                  NAPLAN Testing  and the ‘MySchool” website allowed the “naming and shaming” of underperforming schools – mainly government schools in poor areas. Teaching for tests impoverishes education and intensified residualisation as the few parents with options scramble to get their children out of “failed” schools.

5.                  The Funding Review: Finally someone besides the DOGS has woken up to the fact that the Funding Review panel set up by Julia Gillard to inquire into school funding is outrageously stacked against the public system. David Gonski, the chairman, is a lawyer, investment banker and chairman of the Australian Stock Exchange and Coca-Cola Amatil. He is an ex-student and now chairman of Sydney Grammar School, where fees are more than $23,000 and the school gets $3.5 million from the Commonwealth. Three of the four other members of the review are products of lavishly resourced Catholic schools.

Kenneth Davidson is right. Julia Gillard and the ALP has failed public education. So, where are its supporters to turn in the coming election. The Greens Education Policy is not anti-State Aid, but it does, on paper at least, place public education and the common good rather than the values of the market place into account. Their manifesto reads like the results of a brainstorming session with butchers paper. Nevertheless, the sentiments expressed are laudable. They remind DOGS of the motherhood statements of the Whitlam years and the Interim Carmel Report of 1973.

DOGS quote some of their statements:


The Australian Greens believe that:

1.    universal access to high quality education is fundamental to Australia's prosperity, environmental sustainability, well being and social fulfilment.

2.    all people are entitled to free, well-funded and high quality, life-long public education and training.

3.    the government has a primary responsibility to fund all levels of the public education system - early childhood education, schools, vocational education and training and universities - to provide high quality education to all students.

4.    federal funding policy should prioritise the public education system to ensure that public schools are able to provide the highest quality educational experiences and high levels of enrolments in the public sector….

10.    early childhood education is a critical component of lifelong learning and should be provided by government and accredited community organizations and not-for profit providers.

11.    vocational education and training (VET) should be primarily provided through the public TAFE system while the community and not-for-profit VET sector should also be supported…



The Australian Greens want:

15.    a public school system that is recognised as among the best in the world.

16.    every child in Australia to have access to at least two years of public preschool education.

17.    increased funding to public education through funding models for all sectors of the education system to prioritise public education.

18.    public education infrastructure to be adequately funded for capital works and maintenance to meet the highest environmental sustainability standards and remain in public ownership and control.

19.    smaller class sizes throughout the public education system to ensure manageable workloads for all educators and best educational outcomes for all students.

20.     higher teacher-student ratios in schools that suffer socioeconomic disadvantage, educate children with special needs and schools with a high proportion


The Australian Greens will:

35.    fund the construction of new public preschool facilities.


39.    introduce the same accountability and transparency frameworks for government funding to non-government schools as applies to public schools and extend the anti-discrimination measures that apply in public schools to private schools.

40.    ensure the viability and diversity of existing public schools is not endangered by the development of new private schools.

59.     abolish the Commonwealth Government's inequitable schemes for funding private schools which link private school funding to the cost of educating students in the public system, including the socioeconomic status (SES) and 'funding maintained' formulae.

60.     invest the money saved from ending public subsidies to the very wealthiest private schools into a national equity funding programme for public schools.

61.     support the maintenance of the total level of Commonwealth funding for private schools at 2003-04 levels (excluding that re-allocated under previous
clauses), indexed for inflation, with a review at the end of the 2005-08 quadrennium.

62.    end government funding for schools that operate for private profit.


It they did their history, the Greens would discover that the Carmel “Needs” policy was flawed from the very beginning. The wealthy Protestant schools forgot their principles of church separation once the Catholics prised open the public Treasuries . They were in for their cut of the taxpayer dollars. But Sectarian schools have never been about equality of opportunity. If they were they would open their doors to all comers without fear, favour, religious and academic tests, or fees Their values and practice are diametrically opposed to those of public education and never the twain shall meet. 


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