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The real reason Malcolm Turnbull won't support Gonski

The Prime Minister believes that “access to a good education is critical” to having a strong economy. Or, as the Liberal Party’s 2016 election mantra goes, creating “Jobs and Growth”.

If he is right, and he probably is, then why won’t his government fully fund the recommendations that would go a long way to making it possible for every child in Australia to have access to that good education?

Across the political divide it is universally accepted that the only way we can create a level playing field in terms of educational opportunity is by funding the Gonski Report.

The Prime Minister’s rhetoric is impressive but when it comes to acting on the rhetoric he is strangely frozen. Rhetorical flourishes will not provide a good education for our children any more than they will solve climate change or lead to marriage equality or establish a republic. Without action they are empty vessels. Our education system demands action if it is to meet the demands of the C21st. There will be no agile economy without a well supported education system.

Education funding seems to have been pushed down the back of the bus in this election campaign. It doesn’t seem to be a top priority for the government.

Otherwise it might remove tax loopholes for wealthy individuals and companies or tighten laws on negative gearing that only favour property investors. Both of these measures would go a long way to funding Gonski.

Does this suggest that when Mr Turnbull is talking about “access to good education” he is only talking in it being accessible for those who can afford to pay for it or those who live in urban regions with well resourced public schools and relatively wealthy parent bodies? Are these the only schools he knows about?

What about the schools in rural Australia who don’t have access to the most fundamental of educational tools, the internet? What about the schools that are attempting to offer a good education to children with special needs but are hamstrung by a lack of funds? What about the schools who are doing their level best to offer support to students for whom English is a second language but are unable to do so adequately because they don’t have the financial resources?

The Gonksi Report made it clear that the only way to lift educational standards for all Australians was to adequately fund disadvantaged schools or schools in areas of disadvantage. That is the only way they will be able to employ the specialist teachers needed to provide our children with the appropriate level of support they clearly need. And, in some cases, that may mean one on one tutelage. The idea that one size fits all and that class sizes don’t matter is clearly absurd when it comes to children in need. The government seems reluctant to recognize the fact that one in five of our children is in need of specialised care and we need to do something about it. Where the Gonksi Reforms have been implemented schools have been able to help children with disability and to employ counsellors to help students with behavioural and personal issues.

The government needs to continue to fully fund Gonski to ensure these programs are universally available.

Mr Turnbull is on the money when he says “you can’t prescribe equality of outcomes” but he seems reluctant to take the measures that Gonski clearly outlines and that will go a long way to achieving good ones. One of them is to provide adequate professional development opportunities for teachers. This will enable them to keep up to date with the latest in pedagogical practice and thus be able to offer all our children the best education available.

The Prime Minister says, “You can do everything possible to guarantee equality of opportunity”. He’s right. You can. If you act. If you have the will.

It is all a matter of prioritiy and if Mr Turnbull is true to his word about guaranteeing equal opportunity to all Australians he will re-prioritise his government’s election agenda and fully fund the Gonski Report.

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