30 September 2011







The Political Perspective

The ALP and Gonski Committee are involved in a hopeless exercise because they studiously avoid the obvious truth:

Only public systems of education can provide equitable outcomes.

They are politically correct in avoiding  the public/private ideological divide,  concentrating on ‘schools’ not systems and their underlying objectives.

Forty years of ‘Needs’ policies and pages of statistics later, all Reports have discovered that the current funding arrangements have failed to provide equitable outcomes. Surprise! Surprise!

 All ‘independent’ Reports reveal a growing tail of disadvantage in Australia.  These inequities are far greater than any confronting the nation in the 1960s, and occur in the public school systems.  


 Because since 1969  private religious systems have been provided with billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to divide children on the basis of creed, class and culture.

No-one, except the DOGS and ordinary public school parents, have the plain guts to spell out the obvious. If you subsidise the wealthy, the poor get poorer.

SO…with the reports commissioned by Gonski we are looking at evidence of obvious failure of the various versions of “Needs’ policies. Yet, because ‘no school will lose a dollar’,  the citizen taxpayer is left with recommendations  for ‘more of the same’.

i.              The Allen Report talks about a school resource standard for all schools. with added weightings for specific needs. This is favoured by the sectarian systems.


Without open accountability for all private school financial resources, this will quickly descend into a voucher system - and greater disadvantage. The added  ‘weightings for disadvantage’ will lead to continued rorting by the sectarian sector.

The Allen Report also argues that the concept of a schooling resource standard ( p. vi) has particular relevance as, across many areas of human service delivery, governments have sought to distinguish their role as ‘purchasers’of services, from their role as a ‘provider of services.’


Whereas it may suit the sectarian sector to have governments ‘purchase’ their educational services – with public money diverted to fee paying schools,  in a democracy it is the obligation of the government to provide a free, secular, compulsory and universal education to the highest standard for every child.

The one bright light in the Allen Report is their admission that the Average Government School Recurrent cost has proved a failure as the basis for a sustainable and transparent school resourcing measure for sectarian school subsidies.

ii.            The ACER Report reveals the need for a substantial long term investment in schools with disadvantaged students, primarily government schools.

But :

This rehash of the ‘Needs’ policy will be open to abuse by ‘needy’religious schools.

The ACER Report  also suggests that residualised schools should be targeted with ‘significant investment funding’ above and beyond recurrent funding for a five to ten year period. 


This assumes that schools are cogs in a market economy, rather than an essential  local community resource, part of a system provided by governments out of taxpayer funding.


This assumes that education is a ‘charity’, not a ‘right’.

iv.           The Deloitte report  recommends a streamlined and co-ordinated approach to funding  and notes that the effect of funding maintenance for the private systems has negated the SES ( Needs) model. The allocation of funds using students’ home addresses as a proxy for socio-economic status is also criticized as a ‘crude measure’.


 Deloitte does not take the next step and point out that only a public authority accountable for public money and responsible to parliament can provide certainty of educational outcome.

The Historical Perspective


When Australian taxpayers and the faithful were blackmailed by the Catholic Church  with  ‘poor needy parish schools’ in the 1960s, State Aid to sectarian schools recommenced after more than eighty years . What started as a few million dollars is now billions, billions and even more billions for myriads of private schools offering sectarian variety and a growing number of residualised public schools for those considered unworthy of a first class ticket to heaven or the good job.

 DOGS opposed the giving of State Aid in 1969.  Eductionaists like Sir Harold Wyndham of NSW argued that finally, Australia had the opportunity to place all its children in community schools open to all. The alternative was the current descent into the tribalism of the market place and division of chidlren on the basis of class, creed, culture and geographical location.

DOGS were aware of historical precedents. We are now back  at the stage our Australian forefathers were at in 1844. Unlike the educationists writing Reports for the Gonski Committee, these men were prepared to do straight talking as follows:

1844: select committee recommends a general system of education:

1.The first great objection to the denominational system, is its expense; the number of schools in a given locality ought to depend on the number of children requiring instruction which that locality contains. To admit any other principle is to depart from those maxims of wholesome economy, upon which public money should always be administered.

It appears to your Committee impossible not to see, that the very essence of a denominational system, is to leave the majority uneducated, in order thoroughly to imbue the minority with peculiar tenets.

It is a system always tending to excess or defect, the natural result of which is, that wherever one school is founded, two of three others will arise, not because they are wanted, but because it is feared that proselytes will be made; and thus a superfluous activity is produced in one place, and a total stagnation in another. …Being exclusively in the hands of the Clergy, it places the State in an awkward dilemma… supplying of money whose expenditure it is not permitted to regulate, or of interfering between the Clergy and their superiors, to the manifest derangement of the whole ecclesiastical polity.

The NOUS Report

The Nous Group Report beats around the bush, but eventually reaches a similar conclusion. But that does not mean that they bite the State Aid bullet. Oh No! - they shilly shally around enrolment policies implemented in the UK some years ago.

In several contexts however, the statistics force them back to the simple fact that the private sector can cherry pick students while the public system takes all comers. DOGS quote: 

If the school that can select the students who are likely to do best are allowed to, the schools that cannot choose ( mainly the government sector schools) are left with a student body that is less supportive of good performance for each individual student who remains. p. 5


It is not that schools themselves are doing ‘better’. Once the research took account of the student quality and other resources of the school, government schools do as well or better than private schools. Once they take account of the student quality and the other resources of the school, government schools do as well or better than private schools.

Or, after establishing that the bulk of disadvantaged students are in the public sector: 

The gap between the quality of the educational resources in schools with advantaged and disadvantaged students is large and significant, favours schools with advantaged students, is around twice the OECD average, and is larger than in any similar OECD country.  And

Teacher shortages are significantly great in schools attended by disadvantaged students, with the gap being over twice the OECD average and larger than in all similar OECD countries other than Iceland. P. 109

After examining cases of residualisation of the public sector, they finally arrive at the position realised by the 1844 Commissioners. :

History wins out …Cultural intervention in residualised, demoralised schools are essentiallyindustrial – primarily targeted at changes in occupational values and practicers. Theyare not targeted at the culture that influence behaviours within the educational market: those on the demand side where parents seek the best school, or on the supply side where schools seek the best students, and where most school leaders and teachers seek the best school and least demanding working enrolment, at least in the long term, like almost all other occupational groups…pp. 169-170..

And finally

p. 170

At this point in time Australian school education policy appears to be beset with a dualism. There are multiple interventions that are attempting to improve school leadership and teaching practices. At the same time the commitment to market principle and policy unwillingness to address the structural imbalances in the market are exacerbating conditions that will exacerbate inequality in outcomes. These two positions could be described as the  empirical and historical respectively. To repeat the point, over the long term, the historical will win out, partially because it is self-sustaining.


So, instead of cutting to the chase and recommending a public education system with sole public funding, the NAUS group whimper out because of ‘the commitment to market principle  etc.’

And this, in spite of the fact the admission that, if Australia stands still, it will continue to fall behind Shanghai, the Republic of Korea, Hong Kong and Japan, not to mention the Scandinavian countries and Canada.

And what is their recommendation?

On p. 10 of the Summary, they merely fall back on a whimpish reiteration of the failed Karmel ‘Needs Policy’:

We do need to question the extent to which public funds should continue to subsidise those already well-resourced selective schools that are not providing ‘value-add’ in terms of students performance. …there ought to be some pressure on schools to take on more under-performing students…This may mean restructuring some or all of the public subsidies so that they are retrospective and ‘reward-based’.

In this manner, The Nous group suggest  reconsideration of funding for elite private schools that are proven to not be value-adding to student performance, and pressure on wealthy sectarian schools to take disadvantaged students. Although they refer to  three distinct ‘sectors’, they fail to distinguish between the objectives of  public and sectarian systems.

The NOUS group report is perhaps the most interesting from the point of view of public education.

Yet, their watered-down version of the ‘Needs’ policy, hidden as it is amongst a plethora of statistics,  lays itself open to the assumption that education for any Australian child, disadvantaged or not,  is not a right, but a charity. The only system which is based on this assumption is the public one.


It is unlikely that the Gonski Committee will confront the obvious as they manufacture statistical and sectarian obscurities according to their terms of reference.