Guest Column with Professor Jack Keating

April 12 / 84

The Gonski Report - A need for the long view

The Gonksi review has attempted to address two long-standing and intensifying sets of
issues in the funding and governance of Australian schooling. Its innovative and well-
researched report includes numerous recommendations to address these issues and
confronts another set of issues.

To a large extent, the Gonski panel appears to have pulled it off. Its report has gained some
cautious support from most of the school sector stakeholder groups. Its core
recommendations for a common resources standard and for a major investment to meet
educational need are well supported. 

The focus upon educational need reflects the key theme of the 1973 Karmel report that
precipitated large-scale Commonwealth funding of schooling. However, the proposals for a
common student resource standard and the use of common metrics for its application and
the allocation of needs-based funds across all schools, government and non-government, are
new.

The report's recommendations inevitably confront a restructuring of the federal-state
relations and systems that fund and govern schooling in Australia. This is reflected in the
subsequent recommendations of the report that propose a set of structures and procedures
to achieve this restructuring. 

The complex, inconsistent, and unfair arrangements for public funding of schooling in
Australia are largely the result of federalism. This has been through a combination of vertical
fiscal imbalance between the two levels of government, the historical exclusion of religious
schools from the state school systems, and the particular nature of the politics of school
funding at the national level that has guaranteed a permanent 'no school loses' policy culture. 

The main criticism of the outcomes of the Gonski review has been its lukewarm reception
from the national government. This timidity in a Labor government will have been nurtured
through Labor's previous experiences in dealing with the school sectors over school funding. 

Here the Labor Party needs to take the long view. The budgetary and inter-governmental
barriers to the implementation of the recommendations of the review are enormous. But for
the first time in four decades there is an approach to school funding that seems to achieve a
degree of stakeholder consensus. The Government should accept the main principles,
strategies and key recommendations of the report. Together with its other initiatives,
national curriculum and school accountability, they should provide the foundations of its
policies on school funding and governance in Australia. This could serve it well into the
future when budgetary and political opportunities for their implementation are better. 

Jack Keating
Melbourne Graduate School of Education
jkeating@unimelb.edu.au

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