SUBJECTS: Gonski Review; Coalition approach to Education
Hon Christopher Pyne MP: Good morning Fran.
Fran Kelly: When this Gonski plan was first released you said the reforms were quote ‘unworkable and grotesquely expensive’ and you were pretty emphatic that a Coalition government would repeal the changes. Since then you’ve indicated you like parts of the plan and you’ve said if it works for us we’ll keep it. So which is it – does the Coalition support the Gonski plans or not?
Pyne: Well it’s the latter Fran because in fact what you’ve said is not exactly what I indicated. I did say it was grotesquely expensive because it is.
Kelly: You said it was unworkable and grotesquely expensive.
Pyne: I think it is unworkable and that’s becoming quite clear given the view of the Independent Schools Council Australia, the National Catholic Education Commission, the Tasmanian State Government, which is Labor, the Western Australian, Queensland and Victorian Liberal Governments.
Kelly: All voicing concerns, we don’t know if it’s unworkable yet do we? Why is it unworkable, that’s what I’m trying to get at?
Pyne: In fact, what I did say was that we would repeal anything that increased school fees for government and non-government parents. I didn’t say we would repeal any reforms or any new funding model, I said we would repeal anything that increased the cost of living pressures on families which at the moment, they couldn’t possibly take any more hits from a Labor Government searching for more money.
Kelly: Well the Federal Government has guaranteed that no school, public or private will lose funding, but Gonski reform says the traditional funding role is divisive and that’s the funding role where the States fund the public schools and the Commonwealth fund the independent private schools. It says that funding role is divisive and needs to be fixed. Do you agree with that?
Pyne: Well the Labor Government has said that they won’t, that no school will lose one dollar. They haven’t committed to real increases in spending along the lines of the current indexation model. If they don’t do that Fran that’s a $6 billion cut to schools around Australia so they are being very tricky.
Kelly: What about the bigger question though?
Pyne: They are being very tricky with their language.
Kelly: What about the bigger question with Gonski?
Pyne: Well there isn’t a bigger question. The bigger question is if there is no money, there is no model. So the Government can spin around with confusion as it is at the moment with Peter Garrett being unable to land a trout in a trout fishing farm or it can actually admit that they promised too much to too many people, they can’t deliver. The current funding model does work, it’s not a broken model with the current indexation in place, that would be a $6 billion increase to schools over the next funding quadrennium, that’s what we’ll do. But, whereas Labor is leaving all this too late Fran, there is too much uncertainty in the system, the sectors couldn’t possibly implement a new funding model between July and December this year even if everyone agrees and legislation passes the Parliament.
Kelly: So you don’t agree with the Gonski Review when it says the traditional funding role is divisive and needs to be fixed, you don’t agree with that?
Pyne: No I don’t. No I don’t agree with that.
Kelly: Do you believe with the basic principle of Gonski which is that Australia needs a world best school system regardless of where you live, your income or the school you go to? Do you agree with that?
Pyne: Yes. Well of course I agree with that, I mean who wouldn’t agree with that?
Kelly: Well because we don’t have that at the moment according to the report.
Pyne: Yes we do Fran. Unfortunately the rhetoric that surrounds the Gonski Report doesn’t match the reality. The truth is the current funding model is a needs based model, money goes to where it’s needed. Based on objective data.
Kelly: But doesn’t world statistics show that we’re going backwards in mathematics.
Kelly: We’re going backwards in literacy.
Kelly: That there are great gaps in the education standards being delivered at many of our State schools compared to the private schools. Have you seen those statistics?
Pyne: There is no doubt. Fran, I’ve been the Shadow Minister for Education for four years, but if your contention is that will all be solved by spending $32 billion more on education over the next four years, I’d remind you of a very important fact. We’ve spent 40 per cent more on education in the last ten years and that’s when our outcomes have gone backwards. So education is not just about money, it’s about values, it’s about teacher quality, curriculum, pedagogy and principal autonomy and that’s where the debate needs to be, not this facile argument about who’s offering more money, money that in fact, they don’t have. The debate should be about how to bring the best out in our students and in that part, I am very much enthusiastic.
Kelly: You’re listening to RM breakfast. Its twelve minutes to eight. Our guest this morning is the Shadow Education Minister Christopher Pyne. You’ve gone straight to basically the heart of the Gonski Reforms which is the call for a new uniform schooling resource standard across the country. A base rate for every student no matter which school they go to and then a loading for disadvantage, for schools that have more students who come from disadvantaged areas – socio-economic areas, who have disabilities, who might be indigenous that sort of thing. Where do you sit then on that idea, as a goal?
Pyne: Well we currently have a base rate for students, it’s called the SES funding model. It delivers funds to where it’s most needed so for example …
Kelly: It’s a bit hit and miss though because it’s the postcode model, isn’t it?
Pyne: No, it’s not based on a postcode, it’s based on Australian Bureau of Statistics census collector districts which are minute in comparison to a postcode, but there are a lot of myths that surround the model, perpetuated by a lot of people. We have a needs based model. It’s based on objective data now. Now in terms of what we could do with the Gonski report, we are attracted to the recommendations that we keep the needs based model, based on objective data and I’m attracted to the loadings in the Gonski Review to improve the situation of disadvantaged students whether they’re indigenous, low SES, disabled and non English speaking background students, because those loadings would deliver the model in a way that would be sector blind. In other words, the funding would follow the students to either government or non-government schools rather than the current national partnerships. So there are some good things we can do with the Gonski model, which I like and we would implement and I’m sure the Government would probably implement them too but my sense is that the Government is incapable and incompetent, otherwise it wouldn’t be here in almost March still with the States and the sector not having been offered a new model.
Kelly: Let’s just finally for everyone listening who’s contemplating throughout this year as we head toward an election on September 14th whether we may have a change of Government, you may be in Government after September 14, what is, you’ve been, as you say, Shadow Education Minister for a long time now. What’s the first thing, the first priority for the Coalition in terms of lifting performances in our schools? The first thing you would do?
Pyne: Well, apart from the funding model, and settling that down, the first thing we would do is address issues of teacher quality in our universities. The first thing we could do is to make sure that the training of our teachers at university is of world standard. I don’t believe it is…
Kelly: How would you do that? What’s your plan for that?
Pyne: We would immediately instigate a very short term Ministerial advisory group to advise me on the best model for teaching in the world. How to bring out more practical teaching methods, based on more didactic teaching methods or more traditional methods rather than the child centred learning that has dominated the system for the last 20, 30 or 40 years, so teaching quality would be at my highest priority, followed by a robust curriculum, principal autonomy and more traditional pedagogy. So I want to make the education debate, move it on from this almost asinine debate about more money and make it about values because while money is important Fran, what we are teaching our children and how we are teaching them and who is teaching them is all much more important.
Kelly: Christopher Pyne, thank you very much for joining us.
Pyne: That’s a pleasure.
Kelly: Christopher Pyne is the Shadow Education Minister.