Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne is right to review the so called "Gonski" funding model and implement changes in the interests of all students and schools.
Vocal critics of the Minister's decision have clearly not been speaking to independent schools which are already discovering that the new funding model is complex, less than transparent and does not provide certainty and stability.
The Minister has made a good start to the process with his promise to fund all schools equitably in 2014, so that whether or not a State, Territory or school system had officially signed up to the so-called "Gonski model", all will have funding certainty next year. To achieve this, the Coalition Government will allocate an extra $230million to be shared by Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, the three jurisdictions that had not signed.
This is welcome news, because it is inconceivable that Government funding for schools and students with similar characteristics would differ on the basis of agreements signed or not signed.
The Minister has also announced that it's back to the drawing board as far as a long-term school funding model is concerned, so changes can be expected from 2015. Independent schools welcome this review and potential changes because the Gonski system we have ended up with is 'a bit of a mess'.
Funding arrangements should be fair and streamlined and meet the needs of students who come from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds and who have diverse needs.
The independent school sector appreciates the opportunity to engage constructively as the new Government seeks to develop a long-term funding model that is in the best interests of all schools.
Where to start? The Federal Government should commence work immediately on designing a new funding model that is genuinely less complex and more transparent. It should incorporate the best parts of the Gonski model, including a base level of funding for all, but also sharply target the special needs of students.
Recognition might be given to the fact that the funding needs of public schools and non-government schools are entirely different, and whilst they can be linked through a School Resource Standard, delivery at the school level needs to be tailored to account for different operating models.
Minister Pyne might take another look at the Socio-Economic Status (SES) funding model that has been in use for the past 13 years for non-government schools funding. Despite many critics, the SES model was student-focused and based on need. It was transparent and simple, and relied totally on objective Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data.
There is significant potential to streamline the large number of loadings in the proposed funding model in order to maximise their effectiveness in addressing educational disadvantage.
The loading for students with disabilities could be removed from the new model. These students should be funded on a targeted basis as they deserve a very individual approach, not one driven by high -level and one - size -fits –all formulas. There is a perfectly acceptable mechanism for targeting such funding already and it should be preserved. Catering for students with special needs is often a challenge for independent schools. They don't have access to systemic support in many cases and often may only have a small number of students in a particular target group. Under the current Targeted Programs arrangements, sector authorities play an important role in supporting schools to deliver improved outcomes for students with special needs.
Independent schools would also welcome reconsideration of the prescriptive nature of school improvement measures. All schools should be focused on school improvement and for independent schools, this is driven at the local level rather than by measures determined centrally by Government.
The 'Gonski' funding model can be improved from 2015 and this can be achieved in the context of a predictable and transparent system which meets the needs of students and schools.
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