The Gonski review of school funding, released today by federal Education Minister Peter Garrett, represents an important step towards lifting the quality of Australia’s education outcomes, Business Council of Australia Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott says.
“The Gonski recommendations make a positive contribution to refocusing school funding on lifting student outcomes and ensuring all children have access to a quality education regardless of their cultural or socio-economic background or where they live,” Ms Westacott said.
“The key reform – that all Australian schoolchildren will have an entitlement to a basic level of funding regardless of the school they attend – is one that the Business Council has been calling for over a number of years.
“Funding that follows the student, based on a determined level of funding per student, offers the best prospect of improving both the equity and the transparency of the system while maintaining choice.
“Supplementing this base funding entitlement with additional resources for Indigenous Australians, students with disabilities and children from less advantaged economic backgrounds should begin to address the unacceptable gap between the educational outcomes of the least and the most well-off,” she said.
The last OECD international PISA survey of student achievement showed Australia’s performance had actually declined since the survey first commenced, and there had been no progress in reducing the gap between the lowest and highest performing students.
“Unless we can do more to reduce the equity gap in student achievement, Australia’s productive capacity can only continue to slide relative to the rest of the world,” Ms Westacott said.
“But more money is not a solution to these problems in and of itself. No amount of additional resources will make the difference if it does not address the key drivers of educational performance.
“As the Grattan Institute recently reported, Australia has already increased education expenditure by a significant amount over recent years, yet student performance has fallen.’
As the Business Council of Australia submission to the review panel stressed, research has consistently shown that improving the quality of teaching is the most effective way to achieve better education outcomes for individual students.
The submission said that additional resources are not in of themselves the answer.
“Resource allocation has to be coupled with greater autonomy for principals and schools, greater flexibility in funding and a greater focus on teacher quality and performance including a capacity to reward the best teachers.
Most importantly, the proposed Schooling Resource Standard funding formula, if adopted, must not lock in staff student ratios which have been shown to bear little if any relation to student performance.
“What is important following this review is for the government to outline a clear, long-term plan for how they will move towards the education system of the future,” Ms Westacott said.
“A high-performing education system is fundamental to Australia’s competitiveness and supporting long-term productivity growth.
“It is critical we take the opportunity presented by this important review to ensure we do not fall behind in our national education performance.”