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Gonski Is Not Dead, It's Breathing Life Into Our Schools

The funding is like manna from heaven.

17/10/2016 5:35 AM AEDT | Updated 17/10/2016 5:35 AM AEDT
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Education isn't something you play games with and it's certainly not something you play wedge politics with.

A couple of weeks ago, Simon Birmingham made comments on Q&A that were clearly taken from the Howard education playbook.

Birmingham is trying to make the private and public school sectors fight each other, rather than fighting to make sure that years five and six of Gonski is delivered. Tragically, people that have been warriors for a fair education system in this country have taken the bait.

Make no mistake, this divide-and-conquer strategy is exactly what Howard did to prevent a national action plan for so many years.

The Gonski Funding model was the first Federal education policy to enjoy broad support from all of the education sectors and their relative communities. Unfortunately, however, it seems that Simon Birmingham's comments have many of the old breed of education warrior taking up arms again, in a battle that will hurt those for whom they claim to be fighting.

Gonski was the circuit breaker for the private vs. public education debates of previous generations -- a respected review that finally convinced all of the relevant stakeholders that there was serious systemic inequity and proposed a course of action that they could all support. It called for a substantial investment in our human capital and for us to actively work together to undo entrenched inequality.

The pundits seem to be falling for the Government's gambit. All of a sudden we're trying to determine which student is more deserving of funding rather than talking about what's happening with years five and six of Gonski.

I read Julie Szego's piece on state schools and Birmingham's comments on funding and I couldn't believe that she had conceded, without a fight, that because of 'budgetary constraints' Gonski is dead.

I reject that wholeheartedly. As a former state educator and a member of an opposition that has not conceded this ground, I would suggest a government that wants to spend $50 billion on tax cuts for big business cannot sincerely make this argument.

I ask anyone that is serious about improving outcomes of students to not forget the lessons of past battles. The salient point is, when the different school sectors are fighting, no government has the mandate it needs to make changes that address inequality in the education system.

I know this better than most because I've engaged in my fair share of battles about education funding. I've spoken to countless teachers and principals, from all parts of the education system, about what they think needs to be done and resounding support for the Gonski funding model is what I hear. They know, like I know, that the only time we had a real chance to see an egalitarian Federal education funding system was when we put down our weapons, joined hands and in one voice started supporting Gonski.

They also say that Gonski needs-based funding is already delivering for students in government school classrooms. The funding is like manna from heaven.

Take one of the schools in Wyndham Vale in my electorate. The tangible reality is that students who would have once been left to flounder are now reaching learning targets, some exceeding two year growth targets and catching their peers in reading comprehension and numeracy.

It has 700 students and will see an extra $1 million in its budget next year thanks to Gonski funding. Should we ask the school's principal to fight for another drawn out review and talkfest while her students miss out on vital opportunities? Or should we ask her to fight for years five and six of Gonski funding that would see her school reach the Student Resource Standard (currently even with the extra $1 million the school is still below it)?

Should we ask teachers to go without the coaching and mentoring Gonski is currently facilitating? Should we ask teachers to abandon support for a federal funding model that has made a tangible difference to the learning outcomes of their students?

When politicians say Gonski is dead, when they try to pit educators against each other, they're asking teachers to abandon the best thing to happen to education in this country in decades.

I plead with the people that care about education in this country to not take this Government's bait. They will effectively take funding from every school and every child compared to Labor's Gonski. Don't be sucked in by the people that promised to fully fund our schools and then slashed funding while in government.

I say let's get on with the plan we have and see real improvement in our schools across the nation. Let's stay the course, together, and continue to deliver for our children.

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