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Funding Certainty - Top of the wish list for Minister Tehan

Posted on 12 September 2018
Funding Certainty - Top of the wish list for Minister Tehan

A quick scan of the profiles of CaSPA Principals would quickly confirm that their key area of concern is adequate funding - and certainty that funding is delivered consistently and not caught up in a never ending cycle of political grandstanding. In view of this the following article would echo the hopes of the great majority of CaSPA Principals:

School educators are begging for certainty on funding. This is not just about the Catholic system.

Independent schools and even the public sector want clarity. What they're getting at the moment is policy fatigue, they've just been handed their 11th minister for education since 2001.

That's one every 18 months.

The new minister, Dan Tehan, the member for Wannon in south-west Victoria, is probably reeling too, which is bad news for anyone seeking policy certitude. This is his seventh new cabinet position since February 2016.

He held his last job as minister for social services for just eight months.

The shadow education minister, Tanya Plibersek, stole an early advantage from the new minister by appearing at The Australian Higher Education Summit last week, outlining to more than 300 education experts how a Labor government would spend an additional $27 billion on school and tertiary education. Mr Tehan declined an invitation to attend.

The portfolio change could not have come at a worse time as far as independent and government schools are concerned. The review of socioeconomic status scores for schools, a key issue in the Gonski 2.0 funding model has been accepted in principle but not implemented. The same applies to the teaching recommendations of the second Gonski review. Those issues will be on hold while higher educational priorities get dealt with.

Coalition and Labor state governments have been pushing the federal government for a review of the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), which up until a week ago former education minister Simon Birmingham had been resisting.

There are questions about the way the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank is working (ATAR). Fewer than 50 per cent of universities take it into account for enrolment Funding for preschool and early learning education for more than quarter of a million children is under threat as the National Partnership for Universal Access to Early Childhood Education is due to expire in 2020. The outgoing minister had a plan in mind for early childhood, a subject he was committed to personally, but which is likely to slip down on the crowded, new ministerial to-do list Also in the background is the fact Australia's position has been falling on international measures of basic skills, as assessed by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Programme for International Student Assessment While state governments are responsible for many aspects of schools the federal government has been increasingly important on the funding side.

The Centre for Independent Studies says the No. 1 priority for principals, primary, secondary, public or private, is clarity over federal funding.

Education policy analyst at the CIS (and a former school teacher), Blaise Joseph, says federal funding had been moving to a more consistent basis under the Coalition government But he says the new minister, Tehan, must resist the pressure to move to a more inconsistent model.

Tehan, who is Catholic and whose seat is regional Victoria, was slotted into the job to quell the anger of the Catholic school system in Victoria that aggressively pursued Senator Birmingham over what it called an inequitable funding deal for Catholic schools. Joseph says if the new minister makes a deal with Catholic schools, it is stepping away from a consistent approach to funding. And he predicts more than likely Tehan will then come under pressure to make a catch-up deal with the independent schools sector.

Joseph said under the proposed Gonski 2.0 model there is increased funding for students at government Catholic and independent schools.

This is well above inflation and enrolments, so the government shouldn't be spending even more money on schools, especially when there is no evidence of improved performance."

On teaching Joseph said the new minister needed to work on literacy and numeracy. The former minister was a supporter of NAPLAN, which was important to monitoring progress in both reading and maths.

"NAPLAN provides data to find if students are falling behind so we can intervene to support them and bring accountability and transparency for the school system." He urged Tehan to be a proponent of Year 1 literacy and numeracy checks and of phonics as a part of good reading instruction.

Private schools went into talks with the new minister immediately after he started in the job.

The Independent Schools Council of Australia (ISCA) said in its talks last week Mr Tehan appeared determined to work through main the issue: the dispute over Gonski 2.0 funding.

"Mr Tehan appears to recognise that the independent schools sector is diverse and shares the aim to ensure that every child has an appropriate education," said Barry Wallett, deputy executive director of ISCA.

As with the CIS, independent schools said their No.1 priority was stability and certainty in future school funding arrangements. Among other priorities Wallet urged the minister to support choice and diversity in school education; support disadvantaged students, improve educational outcomes for students and consult with schools.

The Council of Catholic School Parents (CCSP) said it hoped Tehan would work collaboratively with them to "satisfactorily" resolve funding issues. And it took a different line on NAPLAN to that of the outgoing minister, Senator Birmingham.

"We want to ensure that testing like NAPLAN does not dominate the educational agenda at the expense of broad and deep learning for students," CCSP executive director Linda McNeil said.

She said the My School website, which gives parents and schools a chance to compare school performance as shown by NAPLAN, should be reviewed so that schools are not directly comparable to each other.

The Mitchell Institute, an education think-tank at Victoria University in Melbourne, said My School had become a marketing tool for schools as opposed to a measure ofqualityinthe system.

Director of the Institute, Megan O'Connell said: "My School should be more like its original purpose, as a diagnostic tool for schools, but not for giving them public profile. That would actually take the pressure off schools."

She said there was a lack of clarity surrounding the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR), which is used by about 50 per cent of universities to grade would-be students for possible admission.

As more universities moved away from ATAR there are questions about its usefulness. The Australian National University has announced it will grade potential students by measures that include qualities such as community engagement and leadership.

O'Connell said it was important for the sector to be clear about measuring experience such as teamwork and working with business.

She said progress was important on a national curriculum review to create a teaching outline post-2020 when the current one expires.

National curriculum is a sensitive issue for state governments, which have their own curriculums and resist pressure from the federal government to adopt theirs.

NSW launched its own curriculum review this year, saying it wanted to get ahead of any national moves for a review, indicating it will not fall in with Tehan if he pushes for a national approach.

Above funding there is a further issue troubling the school sector: already the talk among education experts is how long Tehan will stay in his new job. The Australian Financial Review Higher Education Summit last week, several guests referred to Tanya Plibersek as the "education minister".

From: Australian Financial Review, Australia  by Robert Bolton

03 Sep 2018

Robert Bolton is the AFR's education editor.

Tags: Government Funding

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