PRESS CONFERENCE - Peter Garrett and David Gonski
- Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth
PRESS CONFERENCE - Peter Garrett and David Gonski
31 AUGUST 2011
ISSUES: School funding review
PETER GARRETT: Good morning.
As the government welcomes four new research reports that have been commissioned by Mr David Gonski's panel as a part of its review of school funding.I'll invite Mr Gonski to make some remarks to you in a moment.
Just first to say that this is an important step in the government's plan to improve the education funding system. Developing a new model that's transparent, fair, effective, and gives excellent education outcomes for kids right around Australia.
We've had a big tick for this government's education reform agenda from the OECD. And, as part of our reforms, we have commissioned the first comprehensive independent review of school funding for more than thirty years. It's no secret that the current system is in need of overhaul. All education stakeholders - schools, parents, teachers, are in agreement on this.
I notice that the review has been welcomed by the Australian Education Union, the National Catholic Education Commission, the Independent Schools Council of Australia, the Australian Primary Principals and others.
We have a complicated system, it's not transparent and it leads to some unfair and inequitable results. Take for example the information that's been brought forward in the ACER report, showing that a lack of consistent definitions about disability means that fewer students receive extra support in one state; their level of support is high at an average of $41,817.00 per student.
In another state, the greater number of students are eligible for support but the average spend per student is only $4808. So there are other examples of these differentials but the fact is that this is a system that is in need of review and overhaul and that's the work that Mr Gonski's panel has been taking on.
Just to reiterate a couple of other points I made previously. We believe that it's well time to end any ideological war between education sectors. To implement a new system which is fair and transparent and one which supports our public education system whilst acknowledging the important role that's played by non-government schools.
Today the review panel releases four important pieces of work, commissioned from independent organisations which together will develop the recommendations that the panel makes the government on how we can achieve a better education system.
So we have reports on the feasibility of a national schooling resource standard, opportunities and challenges for education in Australia, existing government funding models and existing funding concerning disadvantaged students. I do want to stress that these are independent pieces of research. They don't represent the views of the panel or the government and Mr Gonski and his panel will report to Government by the end of the year.
Until then, we won't be making any decisions on future directions but I do encourage the community, which is deeply interested in education, to join in and to have a say during the submission period over the next few months.
This government has provided record levels of investment in education. We are totally committed to making every school a great school and having an education system that is the best and fairest it can be and today, with these pieces of work out there in the public domain, we can have a good and constructive robust conversation about next steps forward and issues for Mr Gonski and his panel to consider.
On that note, I might invite David Gonski to address you briefly and then we're happy to come back and take questions.
Thanks very much.
DAVID GONSKI: Thank you, Minister.
It's a great pleasure for me to be here today on behalf of the panel conducting the Australian Government's review of funding for schooling.
Most of you would know that I'm joined on the review panel by Ken Boston, Kathryn Greiner, Carmen Lawrence, Bill Scales and Peter Tannock.
For those of you who know the background of these people, that panel has basically got experience across early childhood schooling, schooling itself, higher educational sectors and we're proud to say that we have two current Chancellors, a former Vice Chancellor, a former State Education Minister and a former Director of General Education in two states of Australia on the review panel.
Collectively, I believe, we're well placed to make recommendations on future funding arrangements for schooling in this country. Now I'm here today to formally release the four research reports to which the Minister referred.
This will be the opportunity for the public to give submissions in respect of these four reports. I might say it will be the public's final opportunity to provide input to the review process. I strongly urge those with views on the future of school funding in this country, to make submissions through this process.
As the Minister's already noted, this is a full and comprehensive review. For those of you who would be aware, it's the first time that's occurred since 1973, a long time ago. It provides a genuine opportunity to look at funding arrangements for school, that are currently in place and to see how well they support the needs, of all students from all schools and all systems - government, Catholic and independent.
Now the panel has been asked to consider funding provided by the Australian Government by State and Territory Governments as well as other sources of school income. We'll be providing advice to the Australian Government on a funding system for schools that is transparent, equitable, financially sustainable and effective in providing excellent education for all Australian students.
Integral to this is ensuring the funding that is available is equitably and efficiently distributed amongst schools. That is, that it's directed to where it is needed most, so students are supported to overcome barriers to achievement, regardless of their background and where they go to school.
Now we understand this is an extremely complex task and we don't underestimate its challenges. From the outset, the panel determined that our work must be informed by the most rigorous research and it is for that reason that we commissioned these four pieces of key research.
Today, these reports will be accompanied by a paper on them we have titled Paper on the Commission of Research which just gives a brief description of the reports and also outlines the research questions in order to allow the reader to contextualise the work.
As the Minister's mentioned, there are four areas that these reports look at, one for each. Funding for disadvantaged students is one. The effectiveness of existing funding models for schooling is another. The feasibility of developing a national school resource standard is a third and finally, Australia's future schooling challenges and opportunities.
Now I want to emphasise, as the Minister did, that these reports are not intended to provide comprehensive answers to all the issues that we as a panel, are considering. They're part of a much broader body of evidence that is being used to inform us as a panel in terms of our deliberations.
We're also considering a vast amount of existing research, input we've received through the over seven thousand submissions we've already received, addressed to ourselves and have also met, as we have with so many individuals and organisations, visiting a range of schools in government, Catholic and the independent sectors.
The reports have to be considered in addition to all the other sources that we have. I want to make it clear that the findings that you see in these reports are those of the authors and should not be read as supported or endorsed by the panel. Nor should they be seen to suggest directions the panel might be taking at this point.
Our minds are still open, we're forming our own assessment on the research and this is why we're inviting the public to make submissions to us on this research. We acknowledge that the research includes contestable issues. It's our intention that there be open and consultative rapport with the panel.
One of our views is that robust public debate should be encouraged so that we can assist in arriving at an outcome as good as we can for all.
Now what do these reports actually do? Well, the first report, the Deloitte Report, gives us a comprehensive list of principles against which funding models should be assessed and highlights the need to have a clear articulation of roles and responsibilities of valued partners.
The Nous Report gives us a snapshot of how Australia's schooling system is faring and presents a strong case for us to pursue high performance and high equity outcomes. It also, importantly, identifies six policy indicators that have been demonstrated to lift performance and improve equity of outcomes.
The ACER Report provides a good synthesis of some of the current issues facing funding for educationally disadvantaged students and confirms that funding for educational disadvantage is complex and multi-faceted, particularly at the State and Territory Government level.
Now what we also have to look at is the Allen's Consulting Group report, which is the fourth one. It is useful because it tells us that they believe it's feasible to develop a new national resourcing standard for schools that would estimate the total recurrent resources required to achieve an agreed set of educational outcomes. It also provides some options on how you might calculate such a standard which the panel will investigate going forward.
Now we will build on these findings and to develop as we can something that we can present to government as a funding mechanism. We will want that funding mechanism to be coherent and to be harmonising across the sectors and one that will build on the national education reforms being implemented by all governments.
We know that any model must be responsive to the challenging and challenges facing Australian schooling today. It has to look into the future and address flaws and inconsistencies in the current model. The panel acknowledges that some may be concerned when they read these reports that certain aspects of school funding have not been dealt with and may not have been dealt with adequately in their view.
I can assure you that the panel is considering all aspects of school funding and that the panel is undertaking other work in addition to these research reports and that these areas and others will be covered. Of particular concern to the panel, is that it must overcome the equity and performance challenges facing this country and fully support the opportunity for all students to achieve their potential regardless of their background or the school which they attend.
Looking at students with disadvantage is a clear focus of the review and the panel is continuing to examine all the ways a funding model can address disadvantage.
Over the next few months, the panel will continue to consolidate its investigations and research and we're on track to deliver the final report to the Australian Government by the end of the year. Submissions on the four research papers are invited but must be in by thirtieth of September. This would then ensure that the panel has time to consider each of them in its deliberations in producing its final report.
Once again, I strongly urge those who have views on the future school funding arrangements to make a submission to us. The paper entitled,Paper on the Commission Research, which includes the four research reports will be and is on our review website and we invite all who are interested to look at it.
While I acknowledge the difficulties of the challenge we've taken on, I assure you that the panel is very excited about the possibilities and we look forward to reading the submissions when they come in.
JOURNALIST: Minister, what do you think should replace the Howard Government's SES funding scheme?
PETER GARRETT: Look, I think the important thing to say here is to reiterate what I said in my introductory remarks on what Mr Gonski has just said to you. That is, that we now have, for the panel, four pieces of work in front of them for their consideration.
I don't intend to pre-empt their findings in any way. What I will do is look forward, with great interest, to the recommendations they bring forward to us by the end of the year.
I think that we are at a period of incredible excitement in education reform and this is a government that's doing the heavy lifting on education.
I reckon we will see a thousand yarns around the barbecue and around the kitchen table about some of the issues that have been identified in this work that the panel has commissioned, and that's a good thing for us as a country. That's a healthy thing.
But I'm not going to be pre-empting what the panel may recommend. I'll await that with great interest.
JOURNALIST: Minister, a follow-up question then: what is wrong with the existing Howard Government's SES funding model?
PETER GARRETT: Well, as I said in my introductory remarks, again, there is significant consensus in the education community, that we need to have a funding model that is clearly understandable; i.e. transparent; that's effective in delivering the best education for all students that it can; that it's fair and that provides levels of consistency and a framework that everybody understands. We don’t have that at the moment and you can see that very clearly from the submissions that have been made to Mr Gonski's panel.
Given that this Government has provided record levels of investment in education, given that we are now focusing specifically on some of the matters that are identified in the work that's done here, teacher quality, low SES schools, making sure that our indigenous students are getting the attention and the focus that they need. The next natural step for us is to look closely at the funding model itself. And that's what this panel's work will help.
JOURNALIST: With the reports, what were the key things that stood out for you that, perhaps, you didn't already know or that you became concerned by in reading some of the research that's been done?
PETER GARRETT: Look, I think I took away a couple of clear things from the reports. One is about the complexity of the existing funding arrangements. The other is that we do have, still, in Australia what we describe as a persistent long tail. In other words, we do have a group of students who are coming from disadvantaged backgrounds and who aren't achieving the kind of education results that we would like to see them achieve.
One of the other things I've taken from it is that a number of the things that we've identified as important - which have never been done before - things like My School, things like the national partnerships - are recognised as being of benefit and of addressing issues about educational outcomes.
But there's a lot in these reports. There's a lot for you, as education writers, and the media to digest. There's a lot that the education community itself will want to talk about. I've no doubt that there will be a great degree of contention around some of those issues there, but that's a healthy thing. I very much look forward to the panel seeing what the submissions are and then coming back to the Government with recommendations.
JOURNALIST: How do you ensure there won't be class warfare if you attack the funding of independent schools?
PETER GARRETT: Well, we've made it very clear that no school will lose a single dollar per student as a consequence of the funding review. We've provided funding certainty for the non-Government school sector, and Mr Gonski's panel will provide us with recommendations about any transitional arrangements that are necessary.
Remember the context here; we've nearly doubled the investment from the Commonwealth in schools, putting schools right at the heart of our national endeavour. You haven’t seen as much reform happening across the education landscape in this country as you have since Labor came to power. We will continue on that reform journey.
We are not interested at all in going into old tired debates pitting one system against another. We are interested in making sure that every kid, regardless of the school they go to, where they live, or how much money their parents earn, has an excellent education.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] in terms of how much funding is needed per child to achieve a good education?
PETER GARRETT: Well, I'm not focusing on any figures that have emerged or will emerge out of this report until we get recommendations from Mr Gonski. The panel's terms of reference don’t go to issues of dollars or otherwise. They go to providing recommendations to us as to what the most effective options for a funding mechanism might be.
So I'm naturally aware that we operate with expectations of budget surpluses. We've got questions of fiscal discipline which go along with any exercise of this kind. But at this point in time this work that the Gonski panel will do, is all about absorbing the responses from you and from the public and from the school sector about what this work has identified and the issues that are important.
JOURNALIST: Minister, how do you change the funding arrangement if you have a new funding arrangement but then you guarantee no school will lose money? How does that work? Presumably, you've got to define several - you've got to a defined amount of money you can give schools. But how do you do that if no school's going to lose money?
PETER GARRETT: Well, the commitment for no school to lose a single dollar per student is an absolute guarantee. And it will be up to Mr Gonski and the panel to bring forward recommendations for us by way of a funding model that both ensures that we maintain that as a rule and provide some suggestions to us about what measures we might want to put in place in a funding model to deliver the kind of goals that we're looking for.
Remember that amongst other things in the work that's in front of us now, and in front of Mr Gonski, the questions about the most important things we need to do to make sure that kids get the best education they can. So it's not only about whether there ought to be a funding model that's recommended by Mr Gonski. We've asked for him to do that, and he'll do that in time.
It's also about the current investments that we're making; things like teacher quality, the investments that we're making in the Smarter Schools partnerships - in other words getting a sense of the level of investment that the Commonwealth is already placing specifically into education and seeing the kind of results that we'll get from that.
Now, we won't see that straight away. We'll start to see that emerge over the next year or two. These national partnerships have got some time to run. So I'm very confident that the panel will bring forward a recommendation that enables us to consider a more effective funding mechanism from the Commonwealth's point of view. But that will be up to Mr Gonski, and I don’t think I should say much more on that.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the absolute guarantee doesn’t extend beyond day one of a new system, does it? You specifically haven’t mentioned indexation of funding arrangements, so that schools could actually lose money in real terms…
PETER GARRETT: No, we've been very...
JOURNALIST: … within the system.
PETER GARRETT: … we've been very clear about this. That no school will lose a single dollar per student. And that is the absolute and very clear statement...
JOURNALIST: In real terms?
PETER GARRETT: ... that this Government has made.
JOURNALIST: In real terms?
PETER GARRETT: And what we will now do is we'll wait for Mr Gonski's panel to come to us on recommendations about a funding model. Those recommendations we will consider very carefully, and we'll also consult with the schooling sector as we do it. Because we want to deliver a system which is fair and effective, a system which provides the best opportunities for kids to do the best that they can. The commitments that we've made, specifically, are embedded in that commitment.
JOURNALIST: Can you talk about the role that education will play in productivity? There's a lot of talk about lifting productivity and do Australians understand that?
PETER GARRETT: I don’t think there's any doubt that education plays as central role in productivity. That's, I think, well understood. And for us, as a country, to continue to be able to compete effectively through our industries, to be able to meet many of the big challenges that are up ahead, we need a population that is numerate and literate, that has good opportunities for skills and for skills education.
Skills were at the heart of the last Budget. We invested some three million dollars in our last Budget around skills and training. My expectation is that one of the things that's driving our reforms now is to make sure that we have the opportunity for better skilling of kids as they come through the school system.
Remember that we are investing some 2.5 billion dollars in trades training centres. We now have Professor Denise Bradley and a panel coming back to us with recommendations about a national trade cadetship. And we see this as being quite central to us equipping young Australians with the opportunity to make the kind of contribution they want to make in the future.
I can say that I think that there has been too great an emphasis, on kids coming out of the school system into higher education and not enough emphasis, on us making sure that those kids who may not want to take a jump into higher education, have the opportunity to follow a vocational pathway, a skills pathway; get into apprentices and the like.
And if you look at the kind of skill shortages that we can see emerging ahead - particularly as mining boom continues to unfold - that will be a really important part of the work that we do in the future.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the Nous report talks about - or raises the idea of schools having to do more to earn their Government funding. I just guess they're looking here, sort of, non-Government sector. Do you think there's merit in the idea that there should be sharing around underperforming disadvantaged students between sectors? If you've got public funding you should have some sort of public good at the end of it.
PETER GARRETT: Well, look, I think the key thing about that piece of work that Justine refers to is that it does tell us that we are seeing very high proportions of kids from low SES backgrounds, kids - indigenous kidsin remote areas in Government schools and kids with disabilities as well.
I mean I think it's about eighty per cent, in the reports, of kids with disabilities are actually in the Government school sector. So it is an issue that we can identify in terms of what's happening on the landscape now. It'll be a matter for David Gonski and his panel to process this work and to come back to us with recommendations on it. But I think it's an important piece of work for them to do.
I'll just make one other point quickly to you on disabilities. We did invest an extra two hundred million dollars in disabilities in that last Budget. That was new funding from this Government. Look, it's driven by two things. We know that this is an area that is crying out for attention. And I know it, as a minister, because of the representations that we do get from parents of kids with disabilities. We're already now trialling a national definition of disability which, once that trial's concluded, will inform Mr Gonski's work.
There's been a couple of goes at this, that the Governments previously have undertaken, and they've failed in doing it. I am reasonably confident that we will be able to arrive at a national definition. I really await with interest the work that's being done there.
JOURNALIST: You talk about transparency. Once you get the recommendations and any reforms happen, will non-Government sector schools be obliged to put their financial details on the My School site? Is that one of your plans once all these changes take place?
PETER GARRETT: Look, I've always said that I'm in favour of more transparency, including the provision of additional financial data on the My School website. And we will continue that work through ACARA.
JOURNALIST: Mr Gonski, do you think there's merit in the idea of non-Government schools having to earn that public money more, as suggested in the Nous report?
DAVID GONSKI: Look, I think at this stage - first, you were correct in your earlier question, that the Nous report does raise the issue. We're now looking for submissions, obviously on this issue and not just that but widely in those reports. And our committee will look at that as part of our terms of reference. We'll put it to the Government and at the time when we've done our report we'll tell you how we feel.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there's merit in it?
DAVID GONSKI: I'm not saying one way or the other.
JOURNALIST: Minister, do you think there's - are you sympathetic to the idea that students with disabilities - that there should be funding sort of attached to them that applies regardless of what sector they attend?
PETER GARRETT: Look I think, again, to just go back to the stage in the process that we're at, I absolutely recognise that students with disabilities is a really important issue, both for the Government and for the review and it's within the terms of reference, and you've heard what David's just said. I think it's an important piece of work and we'll look closely at the recommendations that they bring.
What I can say is that if we do emerge with a national definition from the trials that have been taking place that brings us into a better place to inform the work that Mr Gonski's doing. We know that the need is great.
Look, any more questions folks? That's just about it for us.
JOURNALIST: I just wanted to ask ERO which we had in place before the SES system was introduced, it appears that we're going back to the future in terms of looking at restoring that model, but we're also adding a performance outcome in the form of NAPLAN test results, is how I read one of those reports. Is that what we're doing? Are we going back to what we used to have in place, to an extent?
PETER GARRETT: Well look, the answer to that is that the panel will now take on board everything that's in those reports and will listen to the submissions that come. I'm not sure that that's the case. But that will be a matter for the panel to come to a view on when it brings its recommendations forward to us.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the Health Services Union- every day we have a new revelation about them. The latest one is they haven’t declared to the Electoral Commission the amount they gave the Labor Party. How concerned are you with these latest revelations about the HSU?
PETER GARRETT: I don’t propose to add any commentary on this particular at the time. I think it's been well canvassed.
I'm pleased that we've been able to receive this report from Mr Gonski and I'm looking forward to the work that they do between now and the end of the year.
Thanks very much, everybody