Education Social Justice

Gonski isn’t about getting *more* money…

In today’s Sun Herald,  you may have come across a piece headlined, NSW public schools increasingly turning to cashed-up P&Cs for funding.

In brief the article points out that:

P&Cs are asking parents for annual voluntary contributions of $200 per child or more to help pay for education programs as well as iPads, upgrades to toilets and additional support teachers or in some cases to buy language textbooks, workbooks and to pay for student welfare support.

And to be clear, these are public schools we’re talking about. Not private.

The article goes on to suggest that it is not uncommon for public schools and P&Cs to have fundraising goals of in excess of $200,000.

Whilst some of the funds that schools raise may be spent on what you might perhaps call discretionary items – a minibus for example (although many schools rely on theirs for a whole host of reasons) – money spent on things like toilet blocks, student welfare, books and technology are not. They are necessities.

Schools don’t have enough money for the necessities.

So they reach out to their community. But clearly, this has repercussions.

Even schools in high socioeconomic surrounds will have families who do not fall into that category, and a lazy $100 isn’t that easy to come by. But it’s compounded in whole communities that simply don’t have that kind of money in their collective back pocket.

Much of the talk around funding in education is about Private v Public, but there is more to it than that. In the public system alone there are the haves & the have-nots.

This is where the needs-based funding model of David Gonski serves to address the issue. But as you’d no doubt be aware, the Australian Federal Government has said it won’t fund the final two years of that.

Since taking office as the Federal Education Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham’s mantra has been:

“In the end, what we know is just spending more money on schools doesn’t necessarily lift outcomes.”

I’m yet to meet a single person who believes that it would. Just spending more money.

In doing this, Senator Birmingham is creating a straw man argument – making a case against an opinion no one actually holds. To further advance his position, he then comes up with claims like this one during an interview with the SMH:

“Some officials have said, ‘We’re not quite sure what we’re going to do with the extra money, we’re just going to employ more teachers'”

I call ‘Bullshit’ sorry, ‘Rubbish.’

Who are these ‘officials?’ And if by some small chance they actually do exist, and are officials of some description then they need to be relieved of their position immediately. (Just my 2 cents)

But the bottom line is this. By continually framing Gonski as an argument that schools want more money without having any idea what they are going to do with it, is misinformed at best, and disrespectful and manipulative at worst.

In many cases, Gonski isn’t about getting more money. It’s about getting enough.


Chris Pyne wants to be your BFF!

blah blahIn his first few weeks as Federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne has continued the Coalition’s penchant for pithy – if a little superficial – slogans, saying that the government’s policy on schools is “achievable, affordable and believable.”

It even rhymes.

But what does that actually – y’know – mean?

Speaking last week at the Independent Education Union’s National Conference, Pyne offered us a glimpse into his thinking. The government’s education reform policy is built around three pillars:

·      The Australian Curriculum

·      School Autonomy

·      Raising Teaching Standards

It will be what Pyne describes as an “unapologetically students-first policy.”

In order to develop the “highest possible standard curriculum” Pyne, will “refocus” the work of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) – the group of education experts who have worked over the past five years to deliver Australia its first national curriculum.

By “refocus” he means cutting funds and “transferring to the Department of Education all data, reporting and compliance functions.”

But even with the agency focused solely only on curriculum development, Pyne is unlikely to take much notice of it.

”I don’t believe in handing over responsibility for government policy to third parties,” he says, ”The Westminster system of government requires ministers to take a hands-on approach to matters within their portfolio.”

So it appears ACARA will not only lose $23 million in funding, but also the last three letters of their acronym.

There is history between Pyne and ACARA’s chief Barry McGaw, when Pyne publicly criticized the History Curriculum. Apparently it had too much emphasis on indigenous history and nothing about the Westminster system of government.

It appears Dr McGaw is going to get a personal lesson in the ways of a Westminster system of government and Pyne himself will have a direct say in what is taught in schools.

But that might not be such a bad thing right? Because after all, he says the government’s plan for school education is “unapologetically a students-first policy”.

Great news. Until you realise Christopher Pyne’s idea of students-first might not be the same as a teacher’s idea of students first.

He believes we need more, “didactic teaching methods, more traditional methods rather than the child-centred learning that has dominated the system for the past 20, 30 or 40 years.” He is intent on overturning child-centred learning although he doesacknowledge he will not be able to do this overnight.

And his instincts tell him that, “a back-to-basics approach to education is what the country is looking for.” He says, “We’ll review the Australian Curriculum so that it delivers what parents expect.”

An average mother (with regard to age, not parenting skills) who’s first born is going to high school next year will be forty, meaning that – assuming she finished year 12 – she left school twenty-two years ago.

Personally, I hope school is not what she expects.

I hope it’s changed significantly since she was at school when the hot topic of conversation on the school bus would have been about how to best record a mix-tape off the radio.

As an advocate for school autonomy, Pyne has committed $70 million to an Independent Public Schools Fund “to encourage schools to be more empowered, and to take on more autonomy and responsibility.”

And why wouldn’t he? As Pyne told the IEU Conference, “Such schools have proved a terrific success in Western Australia – allowing locals to set their own priorities and make more day-to-day decisions about important matters.”

Except they haven’t. Not in WA, or pretty much anywhere else in the world for that matter. Pyne Friend Request

In talking about teaching standards in Australia, Mr Pyne recognised that teachers do, “outstanding work in Australia”, and that he and the Government are “here to support them to become the best professionals they can be.”

In fact he went as far as to say that this government wanted to be “The best friend teachers have ever had.”

Although presumably he doesn’t want to be BFF’s with the forty-odd thousand teachers who aren’t “up to scratch.”  I think he wants to kick them out.

And it’s not just those bludgers that need to lift their game. The teachers’ best bud reckons, “Concerted action is required to lift the quality and status of the teaching profession.”

Perhaps teachers aren’t that outstanding after all?

Whilst Mr Pyne’s musings are cause for concern to many in the sector, it’s what he’s not saying that is – frankly – alarming.  He is point blank refusing to talk funding.

Educational inequity – particularly for kids from indigenous and poorer backgrounds – is by far the greatest issue confronting the education sector (and dare I say the country).

56% of Australia’s indigenous population live in QLD, WA and NT.

The significance? These are the three jurisdictions yet to sign up to the new schools funding model.

And the minister’s response?

He says, he’ll have a plan, ‘Hopefully sooner rather than later.”

Far from being best friends forever, I’m tipping that the heady mix of the unwillingness to recognise the funding issues, its meddling in the curriculum and superficial slogans will mean that the relationship between teachers and this government will be far from rosy.

Education Social Justice Tech & Social Media

In the Sydney Morning Herald today…

Imagine for a second you’re booked in for elective surgery, and six months before the operation you’re told it’s your responsibility to provide the hospital with the surgical tools and technology required for your operation.

The Department of Health suggests if you can’t afford to pay for the equipment, perhaps you could organise a cake stall to raise funds.

Of course this is a ludicrous scenario. It could never happen. Or could it? If the health sector follows a trend taking hold in the education world, you never know.

Read my full article at The Sydney Morning Herald