Extract From Letter to Victorian Principals 31 May 2017
Yesterday, ABC Radio's AM program reported on a letter to parents from Brisbane Catholic Education Executive Director Pam Betts, claiming she 'doesn't believe that the Government's changes disadvantage Catholic schools compared to public and private schools'.
The story could not be more misleading.
Ms Betts wrote the complete opposite, telling parents, 'We believe the Government's current plan does disadvantage Catholic schools in comparison with independent and state schools'.
The same day, Fairfax Media reported: 'Warnings the Turnbull Government's school funding changes will force Catholic schools to hike their fees by $5000 a year have been rubbished by one of the country's largest Catholic archdioceses. In a letter sent last week, the Archdiocese of Brisbane assured parents that next year's fees would be similar to this year's and thanked the Government for its "commitment to fair and equitable funding"'.
The press also failed to accurately report that Ms Betts has said the funding information provided to her schools were 'not an accurate reflection of the money actually received by each school'.
Journalists, pundits and politicians including even the Prime Minister of Australia have eagerly jumped on Ms Betts' letter, but appear to have skipped key paragraphs and failed to consider its context.
It is very clear that, like all of us in Catholic education across the country, Ms Betts is seeking to allay the fears of parents and Catholic school communities concerned about the uncertainty created by the federal Government's funding announcements, and the misinformation coming out of the Minister's office.
It is very important that our system of schools remains united. We cannot afford to be distracted by defending inaccurate commentary when we are working to resolve the funding impasse we currently have with the Government.
Minister's Letter to School Board Chairs
Earlier this week, the Minister wrote to School Board Chairs outlining the same inaccurate funding information that you have already been provided with and that is available on the funding calculator website.
As you are aware, we use federal government funding to support additional programs and to provide professional development to school teachers and leaders which otherwise wouldn't exist.
I have written this letter, which outlines how systemic funding works in Victoria and why we are concerned about the Turnbull Government's funding changes. I have asked School Board Chairs to write to the Minister, and provided a form of words they can use to respond to the Minister, raising our concerns from the local school level.
I ask you to provide both to your School Board Chairs.
On Sunday, the architect of the SES scoring system, Professor Stephen Farish, told Queensland's Sunday Mail that the system he developed 'clearly isn't working' and he supported Catholic education's concerns about the calculations, saying that it was 'time to overhaul it'. Professor Farish proposed using tax file numbers to target funding.
On Tuesday The Australian reported on calls from Autism Spectrum Australia for a review of the linkage of funding for students with a disability and 'unreliable data based on teacher judgement' in the Government's Quality Schools package. The country's largest autism provider restated its commitment to a needs-based funding model but warned against the use of information compiled by schools under the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability.
I was able to explain and restate our concerns over the use of school SES scores to determine funding on the Alan Jones show on Tuesday morning. Catholic education received strong support from Jones in his comments ahead of the interview.
The Canberra Times reported on Wednesday that Education Minister Simon Birmingham has recognised the capital's Catholic schools face particular disadvantage under the Government's plans, and are a 'special case' when it comes to funding. Local Catholic education head Ross Fox was unimpressed, telling the paper, 'The way I'd describe it is the Minister's policy wants to throw Catholic schools in the ACT off a cliff. We don't want to go over the cliff and we don't appreciate a ladder to get down the bottom of the cliff'.
On Tuesday evening the Herald Sun published research by the Education Standards Institute showing the top 37 independent schools in Victoria including high-fee schools such as Wesley College, Caulfield Grammar and Haileybury College will pocket an additional $420 million over the next decade under the Government's funding package. 'If Gonski is needs-based to help disadvantaged schools, then it is ironic that these wealthy and privileged schools are receiving even more funding,' the report's author, Kevin Donnelly said. 'This seems to go against the original intent of Gonski.'
On Wednesday The Australian reported that the peak body for the nation's Jewish schools has some concerns about the Government's funding proposals. The paper quoted the Australian Council of Jewish Schools as warning some of its schools may face a reduction in funding under the plan which 'may even see schools cease operating'.