Today, the government releases its budget for the coming year. We’re waiting a week for the dust to settle and for the Labor Party to give its official reply on Thursday. In the mean time, it’s worth looking at a big issue in the 2017 budget – and one that’s already started to come up in 2018: education policy.

In May of last year, something called ‘Gonski 2.0’ and announcements from Turnbull to re-structure education funding occupied the headlines. It’s been almost a year exactly since that time, and with a new ‘Gonski’ report, education is gearing up to be May’s hot topic.

It’s easy to get into the weeds here, and if you’re part of the education system – which I know many of you are – you likely already have an opinion on many elements of the debate. As always, SNW is here to provide a bare bones guide to get you primed.

I had a Gonski once. A doctor removed it.

Okay, great. I’m not sure what you had, but I think you’re confused.

In 2010, Julia Gillard initiated a massive review into funding arrangements for schools. The chairman of that review panel is a gent by the name of David Gonski, and in 2011, he presented a report to the government. He’s still chair of the government’s education review panel, and his name has become shorthand for a number of education policies based on his advice. There was Gonski, then Gonski 2.0, then Gonski 3: The Return of the Gonski, and Gonski 4: A Good Day to Gonski Hard. (Two out of those four are real.)

Why is this such a big deal? (Or the first Gonski report)

We’re pretty much in the middle of a long battle to sort out Australian education funding which, to be frank, was and is a friggin’ mess. 

There’s public, catholic and independent schools. And there’s federal and state funding. Education funding is predominantly the responsibility of the state governments. But prior to Gonski’s first report and Gillard’s policy, there was a weird mix of different formulas which determined how schools got funded. This meant that inequality was allowed to flourish. The original Gonski Review (Gonski and the Philospher’s Stone) pointed out that Australia had one of the biggest gaps between high performing and low performing students – and the gap was growing. It also found that educational performance was strongly linked to student’s backgrounds – so the more disadvantaged the child, the worse their educational outcomes.

So, in 2013, Gillard announced the National Plan for School Improvement and everything was solved and everyone was happy.

That’s a lie. What happened next? (Or how we got to Gonski 2.0)

A lot. Gillard got chucked out, Abbott was thrown in, and then Turnbull turned up. Every year, education funding was tossed around as a key political hot point. You’ll be shocked to learn that Abbott’s thoughts on the process weren’t popular.

Cut to this time last year, and Turnbull’s plans to launch Gonski 2.0. Turns out Gonski and Turnbull are mates from way back. Turnbull announced a new funding plan, and commissioned Gonski to generate a new review to advise on how to improve student performance.

The Turnbull announcement was controversial. Importantly, it withdrew some funding to Catholic schools, who were miffed. The plan overall, however, was to spread funding around with greater equality. Catholic schools didn’t miss out entirely.

And now…maths.

The plan, revised and having gone through the churner of national politics for seven years, is to get every Australian student equal funding. That’s a number described as the schooling resource standard or SRS. Last year, the government wanted that to be $10,953 for every primary student, and $13,764 for every secondary student. How? By drip feeding money into the system over ten years. ($81 billion over four years, and $242 billion over ten.)

Labor said that wasn’t enough – the Turnbull funding policy still meant that schools were not on the Gillard numbers. In fact, Turnbull’s numbers are $6 billion less over four years and $22 billion less over ten years when compared to Turnbull’s.

But the Turnbull government says those numbers were flawed – it meant that it would take some schools too long to get to the SRS, and would increase funding to schools that were already at SRS levels. That’s because Labor originally said that every school would receive a funding increase of at least 3% every year.

Overall, however, Labor and Liberals (and even the Greens) agree with each other on the sentiment of all of this – schools need equal funding. And in June of last year, Turnbull’s plan passed Parliament. But it’s about to come up again.

What’s in Gonski 2.0?

So Gonski returned, just last week, and revealed a new set of recommendations to improve student performance. And the government accepted all of them.

At the heart of the report were calls for a complete overhaul on how student progress was measured. The report describes Australia’s current approach as an out-dated industrial model of education. Chief among the recommendations were for the system to move away from an age-based curriculum to one that was expressed as ‘learning progressions’. Elements of the report were welcomed by teachers, who have long complained that the Naplan system has meant students concentrate on achievement rather than growth. In other words, students are learning what’s on a test for the sake of passing a test. They’re not learning because they’re curious or want to be accomplished human beings.

The problem, says the Australian Education Union, is that schools will need a lot more funding to accomplish this task. Asking overburdened teachers to come up with individual lesson plans for students is a matter of wide concern. Especially when they’re already weighed down by paperwork. And it’s brought the issue of school funding back into the spotlight – just in time for Turnbull’s budget.

Opinions are varied on what happens next. Some education researchers have applauded the report, painting utopia visions of schools, (no compulsory subjects past basic numeracy and literacy, students can run their own businesses and choose from over 150 electives).

If you want to be angered/validated: this opinion piece thinks Gonski’s dead right and this opinion piece says he’s dead wrong.

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