Updated: May 26, 2020
There is nothing more likely to enrage the teaching profession than a politician who uses Education funding as a means of advancing their political standing. This can be only explanation for Christopher Pyne’s smug declaration that Gonski is dead.
“Gornski”, as he so wittingly puts it.
There is nothing more likely to enrage the general public than a politician who goes back on his word. Which is exactly what Christopher Pyne has done.
The Liberal Party promised to be in “lockstep” with Gonski and now, with the ink barely dry on their signature to government, they are reneging on this promise.
To add salt to the wounds Twitter is alive with clever ripostes from journalists and commentators playing word games with the government’s dropping of the Gonski reforms as if they were playing word games with something trivial.
There is nothing trivial about this.
This is about the future for the hundreds of thousands of Australian kids who don’t go to private schools. Kids for whom English is a second language, kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, kids who are living in remote areas.
This is about the desperate need to improve conditions for the hundreds of thousands of teachers who offer their “blood, toil, tears and sweat” to improve the lot of their students with little reward and no thanks.
It is about the future of public education.
And, to my mind, that shouldn’t be a laughing matter.
Not only is he going back on his word by dismantling Gonski, Christopher Pyne is using it to score political points. The smug, self satisfied references to the “Shorten Shambles” when asked serious questions about funding models on Lateline were a clear indication of where Pyne’s priorities lie.
He just doesn’t get it.
There was nothing radical about Gonski. The panel that spent hours and hours coming up with a plan to try and redress the appalling imbalance in education funding in this country was not made up of left wing radicals. It was made up of people who care deeply about the future of education in Australia. People who were shocked to discover just how imbalanced funding for education had become. People like Katherine Greiner who can see that we need to act quickly before we live in two Australia’s. The ones who have had the advantage of a private school education and the second class citizens who have end up in a massively underfunded public education system.
Conspiracy theorists will suggest that this is indicative of a plot to so devalue public education that it will cease to exist for all but the very needy. This is probably going too far but, make no mistake, public education is under threat. Sir Robert Menzies, the founding father of the Liberal Party and a man who championed public education, must be turning in his grave.
Pyne wants to return to the funding model that led directly the sort of funding inequities that necessitated the Gonski Report in the first place.
What concerns all of us with any interest in education is the Minister’s palpable lack of understanding of what schools and education are about.
When he trots out clichés about “quality teachers”, “Principal autonomy”, “raising standards” he shows a frightening ignorance of the real world of teaching.
“Quality teachers”? What does this mean? Teachers who give their all for their kids? I don’t know where Christopher Pyne has been looking but I’ve spent over thirty years in schools around the country and I can assure him there are lots of “quality teachers” out there. They battle against the odds and they have done so for years. Gonski was the light at the end of the tunnel. Gonski was offering the support they have been craving. Gonski was what has kept many of them going.
At the end of another year of battling against the odds, teachers around the country will be crushed by this decision.
“Principal autonomy”. Right. Giving Principals autonomy will solve all the problems in our education system. We’re not going to give Principals money or resources, we’re going to give them autonomy. Great. What are they going to do with this autonomy?
“Raising standards”. What does Mr Pyne mean by this? Does he mean better Naplan results? Improving our position on league tables so that our results match results in country’s that spend significant amounts of money on education while we refuse to match that spending?
Gonski laid out how to “raise standards”.
For instance, provide adequate funding so that teachers can improve literacy and numeracy for all their students. Not just those who go to private schools or selective public schools.
Make it possible for teachers to assist kids for whom English is a second language by providing adequate support.
Offering the kind of support that students who have a range of behavioural issues need.
That is the kind of reform Gonski proposed.
That is what the Abbott Government promised to implement during the election campaign.
That is what they have reneged on.