Aussie Educator

You don’t need a teacher to learn facts, but you do need a teacher to develop the skills to use those facts. David Roy

Schools have now started their second term of the year and other education levels and forms are also well settled into work. The budget has just been delivered. While some areas of education appear to have slipped under the radar, two certainly have risen to the top and garnered significant attention primarily because of finances. See more about this in the main article below.

We continue to work at updating information and adding new material where this is possible. However, there will be some disruption to this over the coming months due to medical factors. We will endeavour to maintain the process as best we can, but as we indicated in our auto-reply to emails received, there will undoubtedly be some delays as the process takes its course. We hope you will bear with us and, at the same time, find only a minimum of disruption and delay. It will certainly be our aim to achieve this.

Finally, ‘MyNap is a world first, aimed at determining whether melatonin can assist individual children with ADHD who are taking stimulants, to get to sleep. We are actively recruiting participants from across Australia for this study’. You can find more about the study, how to be involved, what is actually involved in being part of the study, and more. If you are interested in being part of the study find out all necessary details by visiting the MYNAP Study site.

Money, money, money ...

The Budget has now been handed down with a mix of early announcements and some on the night. Some shocks were provided, both good and bad. The Opposition has also had its chance to respond to the Budget. Unsurprisingly, they have voiced much opposition to many, if not most of the options offered by the government.

Education had several of the major factors known before the actual Budget event. The first was changes in higher education, including fees, fee repayment, cuts to universities and several other components. The second major item of interest to the media, directly affected parties and the Opposition related to school funding, or Gonski 2.0 as it is now being called. A third area, escaping significant notice in comparison the the first two, is the Skilling Australia Fund proposal designed to “work with states and territories to identify jointly funded projects to deliver an extra 300,000 apprentices over the next four years”. This is certainly a change from recent years where a significant decline in apprenticeships has occurred.

The higher education proposal drew a mixed response, though the level of opposition seems to be greater than that in support. Higher education swindle was the reaction of the NTEU. The Opposition has straight away indicated they will oppose it. Universities Australia supports some minor areas but not the cuts and the changes to student fees and fee repayment. High Wired commentary considered some aspects of the university response “as just a bit odd. Three years ago, John Dewar along with 37 other VCs stood united on the side of fee increases - potentially massive ones”. Claire Shaw [The Conversation] interviewed three Vice-Chancellors who commented on aspects of this. Federal Budget 2017 : what’s changing in education ? gave Gwilym Croucher [University fees and cuts], and Bruce Chapman [HELP student loans], the chance to clarify information and thoughts about specific areas. Explainer : how will the changes to HELP student loans affect you ? is self-explanatory.

The greatest likelihood is that opposition within parliament will make these difficult to achieve. The Opposition has already declared it will oppose them and it is likely other parties and members will also join them. As well, scare campaigns have proven effective in the past. Where to then ? Your guess is probably better than mine in this instance, so either make an educated guess, or simply wait and see.

School Funding has been the biggest battlefield so far. The original Gonski funding, as Dean Ashenden said, led to “the campaign in support turn[ing] into a near-crusade. Gonski became in many minds a miracle cure, the answer to all of the many problems in schools and schooling”. What are the changes that have been suggested ? To clearly understand what these imply, you need to consider the original Gonski proposal and what actually evolved as a result of this.

Ken Boston, one of the original Gonski panellists clarifies this here, but a brief summary follows. Gonski was concerned more with redistributing income rather than providing extra funding. This was a point, David Gonski also noted recently. The proposal was premised on the concept of a base figure for all students with additional funds provided in specific areas of need. These funds would be provided to individual schools on the basis of the students who attended. The formula used would be both transparent and consistent across the country. This would also undergo regular reviews. In addition, there would be a National Resourcing Body which would oversee the allocation of funds. This body would also undertake research which would assist in refining the process. Importantly, this would involve all state and federal Ministers with an advisory group covering all three sectors [government, Catholic and Independent].

At one point, the Commonwealth Government proposed “a simpler arrangement [], whereby the States fund all schools, including the non-government sector” with “Commonwealth funding for school education being provided to each State in three pools - one for government schools, one for Catholic systemic schools and one for independent schools” [pp. 125-6, Report]. Kenneth Wiltshire in an opinion piece also indicates this, saying “they rejected the chance to have a much greater say in school education when they refused the Turnbull government’s offer to return their income-taxing powers”. This offer was smartly rejected.

Instead, we ended up with 27 agreements with different groups. A decision prior to funding that “no school would be worse off than before”. Expansion of the suggested cut-off points for those qualifying for additional assistance, leading to one commentator suggesting we now have more than 50% of our students eligible for additional funding. Other cut-off points were also changed, such as indigenous levels in schools. Funding was allocated over a six year period, with the emphasis on the last two years. However, as Glenn Savage, in responding to questions about school funding clearly indicates, “Labor’s claim about ‘a $22 billion cut’ is misleading, because Labor was not re-elected and was never in a position to deliver on its promises”.

So what has been established this time. In brief, the following is clear : ‘reforms will make Commonwealth schools funding fair, transparent, equitable and needs-based ’; ‘It will ensure that students with the same need in the same sector will attract the same level of support from the Commonwealth’ ‘Commonwealth funding will be tied to reforms to support better outcomes for students. It will also require state and territory governments to maintain real per student funding levels’ a ‘Review [chaired by Mr David Gonski AC] will provide advice on how the extra Commonwealth funding provided in the 2017 Budget should be used to improve student achievement’; ‘there will be a 10 year transition to consistent Commonwealth funding’ [Quality Schools Reforms]. Another aspect was an overhaul of the Australian Education Act. A late addition was an extra agreement to “include a three per cent floor to the annual indexation of the base funding amount known as the student resource standard” Govt guarantees minimum school cash growth] thus giving greater certainty about future funding.

In doing this it was anticipated that the vast majority of schools would actually have greater funding over this period. A small number of schools will have reduced funding as they were overfunded in the past. There is a wealth of information on the above page. Though Simon Birmingham has had to step in and indicate, ‘I am committed to stopping the school funding wars and I urge all parties to end their scare tactics and stop their campaigns for special treatment’. Listen to a Simon Birmingham on the government’s education reforms podcast for further information.

Responses to the announcement of the proposal were soon forthcoming. Many were cautiously optimistic, even positive as with those on this Ministerial Media Release. Some still held reservations but were generally positive - Dean Ashenden; Nick Greiner; Chris Bonnor and Bernie Shepherd; The Greens are not ruling out Senate support; Government secures Derryn Hinch’s vote for school funding changes. While not a response per se, you might find Changes to school funding - your questions answered a straight forward, easy to understand presentation. Mixed reactions to Gonski 2.0 are found here. Others, such as Kenneth Wiltshire, Blaise Joseph and Dean Ashenden [article 2], have used the occasion to suggest other options.

Then there are those opposed. AEU says previous Gonski plan better; Labor is totally opposed - Gonski 2.0 a ‘$22 billion cut’ to Labor’s plan : Plibersek; Labor vows to fight school funding changes ‘until next election’ and these are only a few of the reports on this area. Amongst the most vociferous though have been the Catholic sector. Described by one commentator as “easily the best-organised and most relentless of the veto-possessors, [they] have already made unhappy noises about Gonski 2”, and this has been ongoing to the point where the Govt warns Catholic schools over fee scare. Other articles, though may downgrade their cause. These include Catholic schools say we should trust them on funding. This is not good enough; an ABC report titled Catholic Education directing taxpayer funds away from poor schools : draft report. There is also an interesting article by Lyndsay Connors on the background to funding for Catholic schools.

Others have since joined the fray. These include the NSW Minister of Education Rob Stokes, the Teachers Federation [NSW], the NSW Education Department head Mark Scott to name but a few while undoubtedly there will be more.

Is the proposed plan perfect ? Probably not. Does it achieve what Gonski originally sought ? It certainly gets closer than what exists. Are there potential pitfalls before it is achieved ? Certainly. However, if these can be overcome then , if nothing else, it can provide a solid starting point. It does have to ensure that people do not think funding is the only panacea to the educational ills that currently exist. There is sufficient research to clearly indicate multiple factors including inherent capacity, family conditions and support and quality of teaching can cause impediments to achievement, or help overcome them.

There is though, as Glenn Savage indicates, a need for everyone to remember that under our government system, “state governments remain the primary funders of government schools. States do not directly pass on federal funding, but instead pool it together with state money and redistribute it according to state funding formulas. So the final amount a government school gets is ultimately up to the states”.

One thing is certain. This funding package, opposed though it is by numerous groups, certainly has a far greater chance of coming into operation than the Higher Education cuts noted above. While it may not end up as the finished article for a while, it is a positive start to achieving what Gonski actually sought in his original proposal - the provision of an equitable educational opportunity for every student.

There are recently produced items that warrant at least a brief mention. See what you think about each and whether you agree or not. Follow each link that piques your particular interests.

Gonski is dead. Long live Gonski ?
‘A successful Gonski version 2 is essential - but far from sufficient - for genuine school reform’. Dean Ashenden presents, as always, a fascinating insight into a nominated educational topic. In this Inside Story article, he presents a thoughtful and well structured review of what has occurred, likely expectations, pitfalls and more. You might also note the linked 2015 article at the bottom - Could Turnbull give a Gonski ? Can this man read the future as well ?

Engaging the future of STEM
‘This research reports on key findings from an international investigation into what others are doing around the world in OECD countries to engage young people, particularly girls, in STEM. The report outlines 8 key recommendations for directing Australia’s STEM strategy, and ways in which each stakeholder - whether it be business, government, education, families, or community, can play a fundamental role in STEM engagement’.

The Curious Case of School Funding in Australia - The Money
A recent podcast from the ABC. ‘In Australia we spend tens of billions of dollars every year, and that’s just from the public purse. But we don’t just have a public system, we have three systems, all of which get public money. Why is that ? And how much do they get ? Where does the money go ?’. Discussion with a quality cast of people. Listen online or download.

The Changing Nature of Apprenticeships : 1996-2016
One of the almost forgotten areas of education in Australia. ‘This research summary provides evidence of the changing nature of apprenticeships over a twenty year period [1996-2016], with a focus on a comparison of trade and non-trade apprentices and trainees’. A separate infographic is also available from the page.

Focus on Higher level apprenticeships pathways
Looks at a range of different versions being used around the world and suggests circumstances ‘make apprenticeships ideal for the diffusion of higher skills for emerging high tech jobs’. There is a wide range of links to various reports from Australia and other countries, media presentations, resources and news and opinion pieces. Something for everyone interested in this area.

Higher Education Loan Program [HELP] and other student loans : a quick guide - May 2017 update
‘This Quick Guide provides an overview of student loans that are provided through the Higher Education Loan Program [HELP] and the VET Student Loan scheme’. As well as the information there are links to further explanations of each of the components and related bodies. In the light of perceived changes this will provide a sound basis for understanding the existing process.