Interview with Michael Smyth ABC 891 Adelaide
- Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations
MICHAEL SMYTH: It's been called the biggest review of funding for Australian schools since the Whitlam era, the release today of the Gonski Report. It recommends an extra $5 billion be spent on the sector. At this stage the PM won't say how much she'll commit, saying the detail needs to be worked through. To discuss the Gonski Report further we're joined by Jacinta Collins who's the Federal Parliamentary Secretary for School Education. Jacinta Collins, good afternoon.
JACINTA COLLINS: Good afternoon Michael.
MICHAEL SMYTH: This report highlights some alarming inequities within the education system doesn't it?
JACINTA COLLINS: It certainly does and we've heard in recent times even in public commentary the concern about how Australia's ranking internationally, that we're starting to fall behind Shanghai, some of the other Asian countries, and we really do need to look at change.
MICHAEL SMYTH: So it's particularly against those Asian counterparts where Australian students are doing badly?
JACINTA COLLINS: Well and also as you mentioned earlier, the gap between more advantaged and disadvantaged students is growing as well.
MICHAEL SMYTH: So how do you go about addressing that?
JACINTA COLLINS: Well what the Gonski Review has recommended is that we look at a new school resourcing standard. We establish the standard that helps most students achieve an adequate learning outcome and we use that as the benchmark for all schools.
MICHAEL SMYTH: As I mentioned this has been some 40 years in the making. How much longer will it take to discuss before you're able to adopt some of the recommendations?
JACINTA COLLINS: Well some of that will depend on how various stakeholders assess the particular elements of this model that Gonski has recommended in terms of their own circumstances, which is why we've allowed some time, and also how we progress the negotiations with States and Territories. As most people are aware both levels of Government, the Commonwealth and the State Governments, fund education in different ways. The Gonski Review also has some pretty ambitious recommendations about perhaps it might be time to change that too, but most Australian families know that schools receive funding. They're not really sure exactly where it comes from, but there is a growing concern that we're not delivering it as effectively as we could.
MICHAEL SMYTH: So is the recommendation that the Federal Government takes greater responsibility or more of its sheeted back to the States?
JACINTA COLLINS: I think you'll find it will remain a mixed responsibility, but we need to do it much better. The Federal Government has had as part of our quite a large range of reforms in education, the goal of making these arrangements more transparent and the My Schools website has done that. It's now very easy for any parent to look up any school in their local area and understand precisely what's happening with its funding, where the funding is coming from, but we still need to make those funding arrangements work far more effectively. What Gonski has recommended through this schooling resource standard is that we look at targeting in particular disadvantaged schools and make sure that stronger resources go to those areas.
MICHAEL SMYTH: I understand the recommendation is that the bulk of the extra money be spent on the State school sector. Presumably you don't have a limitless pot of cash. Does that mean that independent and Catholic schools will dip out?
JACINTA COLLINS: Absolutely not. The Government has committed that no school would lose $1 per student in this process and as well as that I think the other ground-breaking element of this review is perhaps for the first time in our history it recognises and the model or the architecture if you can call it that, recognises the value of all school sectors in our system. They become an integral part of it. Every single school would receive a base element of funding and then for some schools, such as some of the independent schools up in the Northern Territory who deliver the only school for some Indigenous communities, in that case they'd get full Government funding.
MICHAEL SMYTH: How do you determine disadvantage? You're talking about this base package per student and then it would be adjusted depending on advantage or disadvantage. How do you determine that?
JACINTA COLLINS: Well there are also a range of, in a sense, different types of disadvantage, so you're looking at loadings on top of the resource standard that would take into account a range of factors; indigeneity is one of them, remoteness is another, low SES or sort of low socio-economic status is another, disability is another. One of the most popular recommendations in this report is that we change the way we fund disabilities so that the funds go to schools regardless of what system they're in and of course a lot of this relates to the way quite a mixture of buckets of funding go towards disability. If we can make one key advance in this process it will be working with the States and Territories to simplify, make transparent and make fair those aspects for disabled kids.
MICHAEL SMYTH: You're listening to 891 Drive with Michael Smyth. It's 16 past five. Our guest this afternoon is Jacinta Collins, the Parliamentary Secretary for School Education. Jacinta Collins, we've had a text here from somebody suggesting that private schools by their name mean there should be no Government money. What are your thoughts on that?
JACINTA COLLINS: Well I think that that's a debate that's well past its time now. In Australia we accept that a fair proportion of our education is provided by non-Government schools. This Government supports parental choice. We certainly support that there should be strong Government schools available for parents to choose as well, but where parents make another choice that shouldn't mean that they don't receive at least some base level of Government funding. Nor should it mean that they're outside a system that ensures a quality curriculum and quality standards for children.
MICHAEL SMYTH: Jacinta Collins, please stay with us. Let's go to Robin of Blakeview. Now hello Robin.
CALLER ROBIN: Hi, how are you? I'd just like to take issue with the statement that we're past the state of disputing whether independent schools or private schools should get funding. You're talking about some very rich schools, but if someone wants to send them to an independent or private school surely they should pay for it. Why should the people of Australia subsidise a private industry...
MICHAEL SMYTH: Robin, thank you.
CALLER ROBIN: ...that isn't really returning anything?
MICHAEL SMYTH: Jacinta Collins, if you'd like to respond to Robin of Blakeview?
JACINTA COLLINS: Yes, because I'd like to highlight that we're also talking about quite a broad range of independent schools and quite a broad range of, for instance, Catholic schools and the review panel's recommendation at the end of the day was we want a holistic education system. We don't want to put outside the system some schools because they've been established for hundreds of years or because parents have over time made a contribution and that the Government should acknowledge that to a particular level - in some cases it won't be a particularly high level - there is a base element that Government should contribute to any child's education.
MICHAEL SMYTH: Jacinta Collins, Parliamentary Secretary for School Education, thank you for talking to us. We appreciate your time.
JACINTA COLLINS: Thanks very much.