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Do you give a Gonski?

Friday, August 31, 2012

Gonski is in the news again with the politicians are fighting it out over who is the most generous party when it comes to school funding. Julia Gillard has said that no school will be disadvantaged by the new system based on the Gonski Report and that in fact all schools will get increased funding. Tony Abbott is trying to match this so his party doesn't lose votes over the issue. An implementation of the Gonski funding reforms would cost around $6.5 billion at current estimates. The way the main parties are talking about it, it could cost a lot more. If no one is going to be disadvantaged, why not leave the system alone?

Education is such an important issue in Australia that it should not be an argument in party political terms. Education should be a bipartisan issue. The parties should stop bickering and put the good of the country ahead of party political advantage. That may be a vain hope but it is what is needed.

Most people agree that all schools should get some base funding and that there should be a supplementation of this on the basis of socio-economic need since that has been established as the main disadvantage in children's education, at least on the academic level. Of course, more money alone won’t improve academic performance.

The main problem with the way the Government plans to implement Gonski seems to be that the they are intent on extracting even more information from schools with such measures as value-adding. These measures will simply distract more attention away from teaching and put it more onto reporting and massaging the figures so schools don’t lose funding. Governments need to get out of the way and let schools do what they do best, which is teach children.

Is Education Reform Just About Money?

Monday, April 16, 2012

“Wealth the key to school success!” the headline shouted in a major education story this week. The story showed that the top performing schools in the national literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN) tests were from the country's wealthiest areas. On the one hand, it is surely no surprise that areas of socioeconomic advantage also have educational advantage. On the other hand, if this evidence is used to make the case to throw more money at low achieving schools in low SES areas it won't necessarily solve the problem.

Even within our own area there are significant differences in NAPLAN performances and in the socioeconomic background of parents in the different schools. I did a quick search of the new ‘Your School’ website on Warwick’s postcode of 4370 and it instantly gave me a list of Warwick schools to compare.

However, even though the concern is apparently about wealth inequalities, the measure used to indicate social inequality, the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) does not include a measure of parent income.

So there are schools with lesser or greater disadvantage in their students’ backgrounds, but what is the best way to address this? Can you really expect schools to reverse all the effects of social disadvantage?

Where governments can make a difference in school performance is to continually work towards enhancing the quality of teachers and placing good teachers in low SES areas. Teachers, at a minimum, need greater emphasis on literacy and numeracy in the pre-service courses. However, teachers also need better training in how to really inspire young people through the impact of their own character and teachers also need input on how to reach out to and engage with parents so they can support their children's learning and growth. Neither of these important aspects are significant parts of current teacher training courses.

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