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Feb 27, 2013

Why Christopher Pyne should go back to school

Australia's secondary educational funding model is broken. To claim otherwise, as Christopher Pyne did today, will perpetuate both inequality and poor educational outcomes.


christopher pyne

“The current funding model does work, it’s not a broken model.”

So all is well in Australian secondary education funding, then: this morning, the Coalition’s shadow education minister Christopher Pyne — making a rare foray into his own portfolio — declared there was no problem with the way we currently fund secondary education. When asked by his interviewer whether he was aware of recent evidence of declines in Australian education outcomes, Pyne spluttered with annoyance — he’d been in his portfolio for four years, he said — and argued they wouldn’t be fixed via the Gonski proposal.

Despite what the media and various stakeholders have suggested, Australia for a long time has had a reasonably efficient secondary education system: we spend less than the OECD average on education, but still managed to score in the top 10 in the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment international rankings — we might not have been world’s best, but we got plenty of bang for our buck. However, recent evidence is that we’re slipping in literacy, particularly in comparison with rapidly improving Asian educational systems, and lagging badly in maths and science.

The principal reason for the growing gap in international comparisons is the performance of our disadvantaged students, generating what one education academic called a “substantial tail of underperformance”. “Students attending schools in which principals reported no resource shortages scored significantly higher in reading and mathematics (but not in science) than students attending schools in which principals reported being affected by resource shortages,” the Australian Council for Educational Research said in releasing a report late last year. Improving our educational performance thus requires improvements in equity.

The funding model proposed in the Gonski report specifically addresses this issue. The report concluded that there was no consistent approach to effectively using outcomes data to target educational disadvantage, or even to identifying whether resources were reaching the disadvantaged schools they were targeted at — that is, some states didn’t even know if the money they were spending to address disadvantage was working:

“Existing arrangements are complex, and do not accurately capture student need within student groups. They also fail to take account of the significant impact of concentration of disadvantage at the school level.”

It went on:

“If Australia is to make improvements to the overall performance and equity of the schooling system, it is important that funding arrangements for disadvantaged students are clear, predictable and transparent, and that the additional funding that has been identified to support disadvantaged students is directed to those who need it most. A simple approach to the allocation of funding for disadvantaged students and schools will help facilitate the collection of data on the impact the additional funding is having on improving educational outcomes.”

That is, there is a direct link between the significant flaws in the current funding model and the growing disparity between Australia’s educational outcomes and those of other economies — and also, incidentally, that there’s a direct link between educational equity and national education outcomes. Even The Australian was forced to admit that the Gonski approach to funding “had merit”.

However, if you believe the goal of current funding arrangements should be to perpetuate disadvantage and entrench advantage, that equity should not be a goal of educational funding or that it is not connected to educational outcomes, you might think the current model works perfectly satisfactorily, that it’s “not broken”. Or you might simply be adopting a contrarian position for the sake of political expediency.

But as of now, the Coalition appears committed to defending a funding model that is directly responsible for our declining educational performance.


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29 thoughts on “Why Christopher Pyne should go back to school

  1. Mike Flanagan

    Thanks Bernard for a well researched article.
    Christopher Pyne, while attending to his dear leaders charades and political ambitions has all but ignored his own portfolio development.
    Like Greg Hunt we find yet another proposed minister of an Abbott govenment, either in denial of the facts, or their own earlier observations and writings, on their policy responsibilties, or refuting the experts to their own ideological ends.

  2. Holden Back

    It is a disturbing measure of the power of various media organizations that these people can seriously be considered as the next government.

  3. Gavin Moodie

    Yes, it is becoming clearer that the best hope for implementing Gonski lies with the current Australian Government, which of course Baillieu and Newman are opportunistically doing their best to derail.

  4. Peter

    To paraphrase Holden Back, “It is a disturbing measure of the stupidity of voters that these people can seriously be considered as the next government”.

  5. TheFamousEccles

    Very typical of the poodle, and yet another Coalition furniture piece that doesn’t like being pulled up on his own lack of portfolio knowledge.

  6. The Pav

    Quelle suprise!!

    An opposition front bencher who didn’t know his own portfolio!

    Goes with a leader who can’t read a power bill.

    Gee whizz why would anybody support these morons

  7. CML

    @ Peter – at the very least, you would expect voters to be concerned for their children when they make important decisions about who to vote for in the coming federal election.
    Then again, I guess the Coalition have worked out that few parents who have children in disadvantaged schools would be voting for them anyway.
    What a morally bankrupt mob of +ankers! I’m alright Jack, is alive and well among the “aspirational” voters too, it seems.

  8. mikehilliard

    Thanks Benard.

    So Gonski recommends taking some funding from private schools and distributing it more equitably amongst the public schools.

    I don’t understand this dichotomy. Labor support is stronger in the inner western suburbs of Sydney where children are more likely to be privately educated and weaker in the outer western suburbs where children go to predominantly public schools.

    It would appear that for some reason one group supports equity at the risk of being disadvantaged and another supports inequity with the same risk of being disadvantaged.

    Something doesn’t make sense here.

  9. Andybob

    Working as intended then Chris ?

  10. zut alors

    Please someone correct me but is Oz the only country where government (ie: taxpayers) subsidise private schools?

  11. Venise Alstergren

    “”— making a rare foray into his own portfolio — ””

    What a wonderful serve. Chrissy Wissy wouldn’t even know how to spell Gonski without looking it up. This sorry excuse for a parliamentarian, this overweight and elderly schoolboy with the crimped hair wave, this hollow human being has to epitomise all that will be rancid on the front benches, when Tony Abbott gets into power.

    Chrissy Wissy Pyne is to intellect what vomit is to Verve Cliquot.

  12. Venise Alstergren

    ZUT: No, Australia isn’t the only one. All Catholic countries, perhaps Islamic countries as well, would have state subsidised school systems.

    England too has subsidised schools, even to the extent that the well known repository of under privileged children known as Eton, where each pupil is subsidised to the tune of $6000 per annum. I don’t know how far that money would go, but it does answer your question.

  13. CML

    My family lived in Scotland (Edinburgh) in the 1980’s, and we had two primary aged children at the time. The set-up there was that Catholic and state schools shared the same campus and facilities, and were funded exactly the same. They also had to teach the same curriculum, and religious education was mostly conducted out of school hours. I am not aware that any other religious group was included. I think children of all other religions attended the state schools.
    There were some very expensive “private” schools, but as far as we could determine, they did not receive government funding. Way out of our price range, anyway!
    That was several decades ago, so things might have changed now.

  14. Scott Grant

    For all their faults and backsliding and stuff-ups, the Rudd/Gillard governments have done a few significant things, which are in danger of being undone if the government changes in September. In Technology Spectator, today, there was an opinion piece which suggests “If the Coalition assumes power at the next election, there will never be an affordable universal optical fibre to the premises (FttP) network.”. In today’s SMH business section there is an article in which Chris Rex, CEO of Ramsay Health Care “. . . says he is confident a coalition government would roll back means-testing of private health insurance . . .”. Then there is the news from a week or three ago that the ACT clubs are not going ahead with their pre-commitment trial until after the election, because they might not have to do it at all. And then there is the pricing of carbon.

    All in all, I think a clear choice is emerging for the September election. If Labor could just communicate that choice effectively, they ought to romp home.

  15. Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay

    @Venise – his middle name is actually ‘Maurice’ 😀

  16. David Coles

    Labor has done a lot that I don’t like but I like a lot less what I am starting to see of the policies of the Coalition. Four years in the job and needs to appoint a Ministerial Advisory Group to tell him what needs to be done for crying out loud!

  17. Paddy Forsayeth

    For a foretaste of whats to come federally watch Qld. Springborg is aiming to privatise the hospitals. Newman is winding back the wild rivers act. Newman and his “Country Party” are determined to slash, burn and dig. The pristine Diamantina river is next on the list to have its waters sucked out to irrigate more farms.
    The election of Abbott will be akin to the populace donning a hair shirt for three years.

  18. Pedantic, Balwyn

    @Scott Grant. If only!! However the problem of communication doesn’t lie only with the Government. News Ltd will not expend any time on analysing or comparing the policies of the only parties that will count in this election. They are waiting for the savage cuts to the ABC under a Coalition Government to further their own cause.
    Fairfax makes an occasional and half hearted attempt to offer balanced and insightful commentary, but seem to believe that the readers want rumour and innuendo to sell more copies.
    When we have Abbott and the No-hopers in power and it all goes backwards, as we have found in Victoria, maybe the media may consider whether their dollar driven headlines were in the interests of the country, but I doubt it.

  19. Malcolm Street

    Paddy – don’t forget allowing councils to opt out of flouridation. Yee haw!!!

  20. Gerry Hatrick, OAP

    Surely Barnaby can set the curriculum for English, and Joe Hockey can teach both Mathematics and Accounting, surely?

  21. Gavin Moodie

    @ Gerry Hatrick

    Great idea! My modest suggestion is Cory Bernardi to set the science curriculum since he has the dual qualifications as a global warming denier sympathetic with christian fundis and presumably creationism.

  22. Margaret Ludowyk

    Only Pyne and Costello could attempt to defend the current education funding models which is just a cover for providing more funds to private schools than they deserve.Like all wealthy vested interests the private schools will fight to keep their money and they will fight to maintain the gap between their schools and government schools. After all, if government schools are well- resourced, what would be the attraction of paying private school fees. Their marketing plans rely on keeping the governments schools down!

  23. Ian

    Actually far more symptomatic of the entire malaise associated with supposedly smart (i.e politicians and advisors) people dealing with complex, well thought out and documented research – with definite conclusions.
    If it is a long paper the smarties decide that Jo and Joe will go to the conclusions. hence you can make up the middle.
    Bernard – Fran must have been itching to ask Pyne whether he had actually read the report.

  24. Venise Alstergren


  25. Achmed

    To afraid to be seen agreeing with Labor. Labor say “white” the Liberals have condemned themselves to saying “black” no matter what.

    Pyne has always reminded of the school Prefect/tattle tail. “miss miss he hit me” “misss miss they were talking in class” “miss miss he did it he did it”

  26. Melinda Hughes

    It appears that the Coalition is determined to widen a class gap by denying quality education to all Australian children regardless of parental income or family location. Sad day indeed for Australia when these mean mouthed men take power.

  27. Achmed

    No problem with Govt providing a subsidy to private schools. But it should NEVER be more than what public schools get

  28. The Pav


    I have a certain reservation against people who chose to opt out of the system getting any support. If all the resources are devoted to the govt system then wthe quality should be there so the choice would be on other grounds.

    If it is religious then they already get a free kick with the tax system but I guess a pro rata payment would have a dgree of equity.

    The criminal part of the Howard way was that 70% of the funding went to 30% of the students. If it had been solely to disadvantaged schools then maybe OK but way too much went to genuinely wealthy schools so you had the ridiculous situation of the poor/ middle class subsidising the rich through the tax system.

    For example in WA a local WAFL club couldn’t recruit the coach they want becasue the PSA school he coached paid more. Or Geoff Marsh coaching cricket..His next gig was ciaching Australia. If schools can pay that much for sports then they don’t need subsidies.

    It is this dishonesty and inequity that Pyne wants to perpetuate

  29. Venise Alstergren

    GERRY HATRICK: They’d both be teaching school kids to pronounce the letter ‘H’ as haitch instead of aitch.


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