Conference has been addressed this afternoon by panel member of the Commonwealth Review of the Funding for Schooling ('Gonski review'), Dr Ken Boston AO.
Dr Boston talked about the continuing need to campaign for Gonski funding.
He started by addressing why the neo-conservatives in the federal cabinet are so opposed to Gonski. He outlined the two key objectives of the Gonski reform which are anathema to the neoconservative agenda.
1. ensuring education as a public good, genuinely available to every child according to need, and
2. ensuring educational success is available to all on the basis of work and ability alone.
A public good is something available to all, of benefit to each person without reducing the availability to others. For example, increasing the ability of some to read does not reduce the ability of others.
Education is a positional good; success confers preferment. High achievement is relative to others' low achievement.
Gonski seeks to ensure that every child receives the support needed to achieve education as a public good. Every child gets to achieve success through talent and hard work, not because of wealth and privilege.
Dr Boston described Gonski as a "radical rethinking, not an exercise in accountancy."
He stated that federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne understood that earlier than most, and is utterly opposed to it.
Education in Australia is not everywhere of the same quality. It varies because of the factors Gonski seeks to redress, not because of distractors which Pyne raises: among them teacher quality and assertions about curriculum.
Schools at the lowest level of social advantage have the lowest levels of achievement. If a child is not reading at the national minimum level by age eight, they will not be likely to in later years.
Dr Boston made the analogy that for years we have accepted needs-based differentials in costs of the road system as a public good. .
The Gonski funding system turns everything on its head; rather than being needs-blind and sector-based, it is sector-blind and needs-based. Gonski says Dr Boston brings equity funding into the mainstream. It is not a political settlement done behind closed doors and pushed down from the top.
It is redistributive. Dr Boston said that, again, Mr Pyne understands this, and is utterly opposed. Pyne is "anchored in the era of Dr Kemp" [Education Minister in the Howard government] where the aim was to underwrite individual parental 'choice". As predicted, this did not lead to reduced fees and access, but rather to reduced options.
Equality of opportunity is a direct challenge to the neoconservative heartland, said Dr Boston.
Dr Boston ended his address by making five suggestions for action:
1. Making the case to the Australian electorate for Gonski reform, with the aim of electing a pro-government at the next election;
2. Being very careful not to be distracted by diversionary and flanking tactics of Pyne - assertions of poor teacher quality, school autonomy, parental engagement and curriculum matters;
3. Having facts at hand for discussions in the face of opposition, be it media commentary, or amongst community groups and family gatherings;
4. Keeping pressure on the Australian Labor Party (ALP), which wasted twenty months and failed in its implementation. The ALP needs to have a road map;
5. Following up what David Gonski said in his recent Blackburn Oration - that whatever funding is available, should be spent on the schools that need it, for the things that matter, rather than schools that don't need it on things that are 'nice to have.'
Dr Boston's full address from today can be downloaded below.
Recently, Dr Boston addressed the Federation Principals' Conference. You can hear his full address here: