We are all now awaiting the Gillard Government’s response to the Gonski Review of School Funding that was commissioned by Gillard herself in 2010 when Education Minister and which was released some six months ago.

David Gonski waves his fingerski at his critics. Pic: The Australian

For the Gillard Government, responding to Gonski is important for its survival. It is another policy box to be ticked that shows the government is delivering on policy in contrast to the Opposition’s negative approach.

Also, spending more money on education aligns with Labor’s caring brand, even if some of this goes to the non-government sector. And how the Government responds will also affect its relations with Labor-aligned trade unions like the Australian Education Union (AEU) which represents public school teachers.

The challenge for the Gillard Government and the Opposition is that responses to Gonski will be increasingly driven by political exigencies rather than what may be best for education in Australia in the long term.

Sadly, the whole focus of debate about Gonski has been whether its recommendation for an annual injection of $5 billion of extra funding will be accepted or not.

More spending is seen by some, like the AEU, and others, as the only criterion by which to judge education policy. And politically more spending is also a way to keep everyone happy in both the public and non-government sectors, even if it is not the answer to many of Australia’s education challenges.

But the real sadness concerning the Gonski Review and current debate has been the lack of critical analysis of all of its recommendations and the over emphasis on its recommendations concerning increased funding.

The issue is that Gonski Report’s proposal for increased spending is not adequately supported by the evidence it provides.

More money alone is not the answer to education quality or even tackling inequality. It would have been good if the Gillard Government and others had shown just a little awareness of the limitations of this approach. After all, Australian education spending has increased in real terms by 44 per cent during the last decade.

And there other flaws in the Gonski Report that are also ignored by its supporters.

For instance, Gonski’s proposed schooling resource standard is not new and presents many challenges in its detailed design if it is to be implemented. It is hardly worth the effort given the funding outcomes.

Then there is Gonski’s proposal to pass the burden of further investigation to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), that cumbersome machinery of Commonwealth-state bureaucracy hardly renowned for its capacity for effective policy-making in the public interest, is a further step in the wrong direction. Why would the States sign up to this?

Gonski missed or glossed over many areas of education policy that do make a difference – competition, the role of parental contributions, teacher quality, school governance, targeted special assistance and the decline at the top in the school performance, hardly rate a mention. Gonski failed to focus on quality which is the best way to improve education for all.

But in the end even Gonski’s funding proposals, the prime and almost only focus in current debate, are fundamentally flawed. If implemented, Gonski’s funding model would leave a number of public and non-government schools worse off, with some disproportionate results across the states.

This and the fact that some iconic independent schools like Geelong Grammar would get more funds highlights what a political grenade has been handed to the Gillard Government.

Public inquiries are supposed to clarify the facts, provide the basis for rational argument, identify the core problems and develop practical solutions based on evidence. Gonski has failed as a public inquiry. Some of its commissioned research was poor, its consultation processes flawed, its recommendations lacked a sound basis in evidence and some are too complex to be implemented.

Moreover, instead of reducing prejudice in the debate about the sensitive issue of funding schools, as a good public inquiry should, the Gonski Review managed to reignite these old concerns. A once settled area of public policy in Australia, school funding, has once again become highly unsettled.

The Gillard Government has to ‘fix’ Gonski before it enters the forthcoming election year. This means it has to develop a new coherent funding model. Resources are limited and time is running out.

Of the 70 or so education public inquiries we have had since federation, Gonski is one of the worst. An opportunity to address some of the real problems of the previous funding model and to develop an better set of long term policy objectives that focus on quality have been lost.

Scott Prasser is Professor of Public Policy at the Australian Catholic University and is author of Royal Commissions an Public Inquiries in Australia.

Comments on this post will close at 8PM AEST

Most commented


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    • GonskiGuarantee says:

      05:49am | 27/08/12

      If the extra money suggested by Gonski doesn’t solve all of the Education’s Systems problems once and for all, can we have our $5 Billion back?

    • Fiddler says:

      07:50am | 27/08/12

      I want to spend it all on lap dances

    • Economist says:

      09:37am | 27/08/12

      Fiddler, Kids today are familiar with anatomy.

      I see your suggestion as more of a program to address adult literacy and numeracy. You could have long division rules, bracket rules and i before e unless after c tattooed in the right places.  You could have pop quizzes for answers to be revealed *wink* .

      To satisfy Inky obviously the program could be called Bonski.

    • Fiddler says:

      09:56am | 27/08/12

      you could make it educational by having to pick the spelling and grammatical errors on their tramp stamps wink

    • the cynic says:

      07:38pm | 27/08/12

      If they do go for it and fund the changes, let’s ensure that the journalists at the Punch and a few other prominent papers and at least 90% of the bloggers here are included for remedial English classes.

    • acotrel says:

      06:48am | 27/08/12

      Whatever we do in education, we should not fund a schism in society.  The wealth gap is big enough already.

    • Wayne says:

      07:50am | 27/08/12

      The nano-second that Gillard said the states would pay half the extra billions Gonski suggested, killed the whole idea. The states are bust and they know it.
      That alone proves that Labor is not serious about Gonski. Well ok, they’re serious about spending money they haven’t got, plus taking half the funding from states they know haven’t got it either - and frankly have bigger fish to fry than throwing yet more billions at teh education sector, when it’s revenue has already grown considerably. It puzzles me why anyone else takes them seriously on this topic either. As the report itself pointed out, many other countries get better results with less money than we spend today. It’s about how it is run, not just chucking yet more money at it. The “Edjucashon Revolution” we have been spruiked for years now, was meant to be about addressing chronic skills shortages. It devolved into overpriced and under sized school buildings, and this totally unfunded plan for more money.

    • Inky says:

      08:08am | 27/08/12

      Personally, I’m inclined towards scrapping the Gonski Review just to stop all the bad puns it causes.

    • FINK says:

      09:16am | 27/08/12

      I heard that Gillard has already renamed it to the “Fukofski” review.

    • thatmosis says:

      08:30am | 27/08/12

      I have a simpler idea to help Australian Education, how about teaching our children to read, write and do arithmetic, sounds radical I know but it might just help. How about teaching our children to speak correctly without adding in “like”, “you know” and all the other little grammar mistakes that have crept into our language. Simple things like not adding “more”, example,“its now more safe” or ” its more dry” when it should be “its now safer” and “its dryer”.
        Add to this being able to differentiate between 6 and half a dozen and do simple arithmetic in their heads. I realise that this might seem like a radical approach but it works overseas and worked here for decades before the political correct police got their hands on education .

    • Tubesteak says:

      09:42am | 27/08/12

      How about correct usage of apostrophes and commas?

    • Bomb78 says:

      09:54am | 27/08/12

      thatmosis: funny, the Conservatives in the UK are doing just that, right now, with the support of the Liberal Democrats. Maybe there is hope yet?

    • colin says:

      09:57am | 27/08/12

      @Tubesteak 09:42am | 27/08/12

      Not to mention Thatmosis’ lack of hyphens in “half-a-dozen”, using the number “6” instead of the word, “six” as is appropriate in a non-arithmetic sentence; a comma instead of a semi-colon after, “I have a simpler idea to help Australian Education…” et cetera, et cetera…

      See, it isn’t that easy to be so pedantic and critical is it, Thatmosis, when the very form of your own argument negates your premise?

    • thatmosis says:

      12:19pm | 27/08/12

      Colin, you have proved my point haven’t you, great work.
        I suppose that comment of Colin’s was supposed to be a downer but it shows that even those older people still need schooling so what hope has the future generation got.
      Actually it is easy to be pedantic and critical because I never set my self up as the be all and end all, unlike you. I was stating my opinion and if my grammar was incorrect then so be it but then again I suppose you are so wonderful you never make mistakes. People in glass houses…....

    • Lolza says:

      06:20pm | 27/08/12

      How about teaching Australian adults on proper usage of “its” and “it’s”?

      Only a Punch regular can make a post like that without recognizing the obvious (and hilarious) irony.

      I know it’s (note proper usage) radical ...

    • Diogenes says:

      09:13am | 27/08/12

      The cart is being placed before the horse when we talk about funding. Let us go back to first principles .
      1. What is the"mission statement” for education? It has to be clear, concise and MEASURABLE - best example of a mission statement I have ever seen is “By the end of the decde(when) we will put a man on the moon(what) and return him safely(special conditions). Forget the waffely “maximise the potential of every student ” stuff that infests school websites - can’t be measured
      .2. Then examine what sub-objectives will help us meet this goal (eg by the end of year 6 every student will score 50% or better on the international PISA test - or whatever)
      3. When we have decided that we look what structures are most appropriate(is preschool,primary,high really the best or is over 100 years of history too hard to change?) up to and including university level.And here alternate modes of service delivery are examined (pvt vs public, Steiner, Montessori, charter type schools.Also does the curriculum support these objectives ? Should states be involved at all ? (to stop blame shifting - referendum required)
      4. Also after 2 - we can start actually start thinking about measuring teacher’s performance and training
      5. Now we look at funding and schools are funded according to a formula - a base for each teacher and student, + a loading for recognised learning disabilities (per student!) and another per student loading to help students who could not meet the objectives for their cohort/year/level . Students do not progress to next stage (whether year, school type etc) unless they can demonstrate they have met the objectives for that stage

    • NikRaf of Victoria says:

      01:21pm | 27/08/12

      yes i did not read this because of “The Gonski Review hasn’t gone-ski far enough-ski” 
      which i take as the reporter poking fun at a job they do not want to do

      so i think they should get a job for the LNP they should go over gang busters there

    • OchreBunyip says:

      05:01pm | 27/08/12

      Every student should have an allotted amount of money from taxes for education per year, where their parents choose to send their child is where the money goes. If it works for universities why not schools?


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