SUBJECTS: Gonski Review; Labor leadership
Christopher Pyne: Well, thank you very much for coming to this door stop this afternoon. Firstly, on behalf of the Coalition I welcome the release of the Gonski review into school education. I think it’s a very important review and the Coalition will consider its findings very carefully. Obviously I’ve had the report for an hour and three quarters. The Government has had the report for three months so my response is very much an initial response and the Coalition will give a more detailed response when we’ve had the chance to properly consider the ramifications of the Gonski Review.
But my first thought about the recommendations is that essentially now every non-government school is on a private school hit list because of two reasons. Firstly because the Government has not committed to an indexation model in the review which means it’s possible that there will be no indexation for non-government school funding over the next four years. That represents a hit of over $4.2 billion to non-government schools and any indexation that is less than the current model will mean a cut to non-government schools. That means higher school fees for parents in non-government schools at a time when they are already feeling intense cost of living pressures.
And the second way it is a potential increase of school fees for non-government school parents is the review suggests a 10 per cent minimum that every school must charge for the new school resource standard. For many low fee Christian and Catholic schools and independent schools that will mean in effect a compulsory mandated school fee increase. For all those schools who are providing fee help for their families, those families who can’t afford to pay those fees, they’ll be required to pay a mandate of 10 per cent for the school resource standard. That represents an immediate hit to families in low fee Christian, Catholic and independent schools.
In terms of further details of the report, it doesn’t meet the Coalition’s four criteria. The data, which is supposed to be used to develop the school resource standard is based on NAPLAN outcomes and the ICSEA scores given by bureaucrats will be based on the information they have. The current model, the SES funding model, is based on ABS, which is completely objective. As we all know people don’t lie on their census. They don’t think, well I better lie on my census to get more funds for my school. That is the most objective measure and it is not the data that is planned to be used by the Gonski review.
Secondly it doesn’t meet our criteria on the needs basis. There is a myth going around that the Gonski Review has been the first review to recommend a needs based model. In fact it’s quite the opposite. We currently have a needs based model, which is the SES funding model. A school gets its resources based on the income, occupation and the qualification of parents at the school. That is the opposite of this review which is based on NAPLAN outcomes which were never designed to be used for resources and this bureaucratically inspired score given by the Government to individual schools.
It doesn’t meet the objective criteria of encouraging choice because if fees rise that reduces the choice available to parents in non-government schools. And finally it discourages private investment rather than encouraging private investment. So in the past if parents or corporations or others made donations or bequests to either government or non-government schools; that money wasn’t taken into account. Therefore opportunities and gifts were rewarded, under this model all that money will be taken into account which means it discourages private investment in schools and represents Government taking more responsibility for the non-government sector rather than less responsibility.
It’s very much a difference between Labor and Liberal about our society and equality. Where the Coalition supports aspiration, whether it’s the private health insurance rebate, whether it’s private schools, Labor wants to discourage private health insurance and wants to discourage private schools. By taking into account private investment in schools they are deliberately making a policy decisions to reduce the reliance of schools on parents and increase the reliance of schools on the taxpayer, which we don’t support.
Finally, before I take questions, this is all reliant on the state and territories of the Commonwealth agreeing to increase their funding by 15 per cent, which for Victoria alone is $700 million in increased funding and to hand their responsibilities and power to a new centralised bureaucracy to divide up the cake. Now we know the States and Territories have never been keen to do that. You’ve seen with the hospital reforms this year the impossibility of getting the States and territories to hand over responsibility in a key area which they govern which is health and in this case it is education so it is all on a wing and a prayer and all has to be done by the end of the year. So I think once again the government will put off implementing the new model until after the next election. It will be their third election without an education policy in schools. In 2007 they squibbed it, 2010 they squibbed it and when the next election comes around they’ll squib it again.
Journalist: Will the Coalition commit to the Federal funding…federal portion of the increase funding that Gonski re4ccommneded which is about $1.7 billion a year? Will the Coalition commit to increasing funding by that amount?
Pyne: Well the…Coalition is committed to continuing the quantum of resources plus indexation on the current model of increasing resources which is called the AGFRC. That represents a $4.2 billion increase in funds to non-government schools over the next four years which is what the schools have expected and should be able to expect. The Government has not committed to indexation and in fact haven’t got the money to give to schools $1.7 billion they have potentially… if you follow that train of argument they are going to cut the funds to non-government schools by the difference between $1.7 bill and $4.2 bill which represents a direct cut to non-government schools… in other words all non-governments are now on a private schools hit list. They also expect the States and Territories to find 15 percent each in new funds for the purposes that the Gonski Review has outlined.
Pyne: No, they didn’t …they said that indexation would be necessary but they haven’t committed to any model of indexation. So, very important to look at the devil in the detail. The current model of indexation is six percent a year roughly under the AGSRC. The Government has not committed to indexation at six percent, quite the opposite, so the Government has not committed to indexation under the current arrangements which represents $4.2 billion. We have no idea what they are proposing in terms of increasing fees.. increasing government funds to non-government schools over the next four years.
Journalist: You’ve indicated… the 66 percent of students that are going to Government schools what do you say to those parents … (inaudible)
Pyne: Well 66 percent of students go to Government schools and they receive 78 percent of all Government funds. It’s a very good question. There is myth being propagated by the Australian Education Unison that the vast majority of funds go to non-government schools and not government schools – that is a base lie. In fact a student in a government school can expect $14,500 in government funds from the State and the Commonwealth Government this year and a student in a non-government school can expect $7,500 so the vast majority of funds go to students in government schools as they should ,because they are the children most in need and that is why the current funding model is working, 78.7 percent of Government funds go to Government schools which educate 66 percent of the students 22 percent of the funds go to non-government schools which educate 33 percent of the students.
Journalist: So is the Coalition rejecting that public schools do need more funding?
Pyne: The Coalition is not against more funding going to Public schools. State Governments are responsible for public schools and they should put more money into public schools if they think that is the future but as we saw last week in the Grattan Institute report in the Asian countries which the Prime Minister is so fond of saying we are competing against per student, they are actually spending less money per student than our dollars than we are and getting better results. Why is that because they have a concentration on teacher quality, they have a concentration on a robust curriculum and they’ve introduced Principal autonomy across their sectors which is exactly what the Coalition would do.
Pyne: I believe the current SES funding model is the fairest model available. It is based on need, it is based on objective data, it encourages private investment and it represents choice for parents.
Pyne: Our education system is slipping in comparison to our neighbouring countries because we don’t have a robust curriculum. We have a curriculum dominated by the Australian education union rather than by principals and teachers and parents, because we don’t have a concentration on teacher quality, and because our principals have the least autonomy of most of our competitor nations, and that’s why in the UK and the US they are moving towards more principal autonomy and not less and yet the only party that is offering real principal autonomy in this country is the coalition.
Pyne: Well we’ve promised $4.2 billion in extra funding over the next four years.
Journalist: But Mr Gonski says it’s going to require $5 billion a year [inaudible]
Pyne: The government has already rejected Mr Gonski’s request for $5 billion. What is important for funding is to take into account that over the last ten years or so, funding has increased in public schools by about 44%, and in non government schools by about 25%, and standards have slipped, even according to this review. That’s quite apart from any other evidence that we have. So we know that the funding itself is not determinative of the outcomes of our students. What determines the outcomes for our students is teacher quality, is the robustness of the curriculum, and principal autonomy.
Pyne: How you encourage teacher quality can be done by a number of methods. The Coalition is very attracted to the Teach for Australia programme which is working in Britain and in the United States. We believe we should be working more closely with the universities so that the teachers that have been turned out from universities are better trained, can do maths and science, and also the general curriculum we offer at the student level is the determinant of how good our teachers are going to be in the future
Pyne: The government’s rejected finding $5 billion. I think the days of promising national disability insurance for $7 billion and then not putting it in the forward estimates, as this government has done, or promising $5 billion for schools, which the government has rejected, are over. The public want an honest appraisal of the current situation. The coalition can afford $4.2 billion in indexation, that is the core business of non government schools. I’ve never heard the AEU say anything other than that they need more money, but we’ve seen over the last twenty years schools’ class sizes reduced, they’re on average twenty-three, we’ve seen more money for teachers over that time, we’ve seen the ability of principals to hire and fire diminished over that time. The issue about teacher quality is not linked to billions of dollars of more government spending – as I’ve already indicated, government spending and non government spending on education has increased over the last ten years – it is linked to teacher quality, training, a robust national curriculum or a robust curriculum of some kind or other, and principal autonomy.
Pyne: Well I think the government has set this review up to fail. They’ve sat on the report for three months, they’ve given it to the other stakeholders today, and the first COAG meeting to discuss this is not due until at least April, and yet all of this must apparently be put in place by the end of this year to start on the first of January 2014. The government has announced a review of this review, they’ve appointed David Gonski to head an implementation group to consider how this might be done, they have to get the states and territories to agree to increase their funds by 15% each by 1 January 2014, and to relinquish their responsibility over the school sector to unnamed bureaucrats. This is in many respects a return to the hated Education Resource Index of previous Labor governments before the SES funding model. Mark Latham had a sixty seven number on his private school hit list. This, potentially, has the capacity to be a 2700 school private school hit list. At least the funding maintained schools will lose money, both catholic and independent. That’s 1070 schools. All of that money will have to come from parents, or teacher layoffs. The takeout from the government’s response is that if they implement it as has been suggested, the funds going to non government schools will decrease over time, at least in funding maintained schools by a dramatic amount, in all other schools by an amount. That will mean increased fees for parents in non-government schools. There are 1.2 million children in non-government schools already struggling to pay their household bills.
Journalist: Do you think Kevin Rudd would prove to be a tougher opponent for the Coalition if her were to become Prime Minister?
Pyne: I think the pantomime that’s being played out on the Labor side of politics has got to end. It’s high time the Government stopped focussing on their own jobs and started focusing on the jobs of Australians. Kevin Rudd has already been rejected by his party once. It looks set to have Julia Gillard rejected by her party. The only answer to the current turmoil on the other side of politics is to have an election and give the Australian people an opportunity to render a verdict on this bad soap opera that we are seeing on a daily basis. Whether Julia Gillard is the Prime Minister or Kevin Rudd or Bill Shorten or Steve Smith or Wayne Swan or Greg Combet or any of the other players in this bad soap opera is really irrelevant to the Coalition. We want to focus on the things that matter to Australians; job security, border security and the cost of living.
Pyne: We have a long standing commitment to indexation under AGSRC model for the SES funding of schools. And that will be quite apparent as the election approaches as we release all our costings.
Journalist: If the Coalition win the next election, and the COAG work and the legislative work on this reform was almost done, would the Coalition scrap all that work and continue the current system or would you continue the work that’s been done already?
Pyne: Well, the Coalition won’t implement a new policy that hits parents in their hip pocket to the tune of potentially thousands of dollars a year. We know that struggling Australian families cannot afford another hit on their household budget. We will make sure at the next election that parents and principals and teachers know the Coalition will continue the current quantum of funding plus real indexation. We won’t put further pressure on household budgets. The Government has failed to make that commitment today and every parent from a non-government school around Australia – and there are 1.2 million children in those schools – knows that a Coalition Government is for choice and the Labor Party is for reducing children in private schools rather than maintaining the current balance between public and private funding.
Pyne: Well, the funding maintained is a bit like this analogy. For example in 2004 an employer takes over a business and says to employees I’ll pay you $66,000 a year plus indexation and therefore you don’t have to worry about your jobs. Six years later a new employer comes along and says well, that was all a bit of a mistake. We’re going to reduce your income to $45,000 a year. The schools have relied on that funding. They have an entitlement to be able to continue to rely on it. The Coalition is committed to it. Labor is committed instead to reducing that funding, which means that schools will have to find that money elsewhere. There’s only two ways they can do that. They can increase their fees or they can lay off teachers. Neither of those are palatable options.
Journalist: You said that if governments.. if there is to be increased funding governments States should be doing that are your ruling out focussing on governments lifting school performance?
Pyne: Sorry there’s two different questions is it performance or funding?
Journalist: Surely one leads to the other.
Pyne: Well not doesn’t in fact…that’s the point.. the point is that funding of itself does not lead to increased performance. What I have said is that Teacher quality, better training, a robust curriculum and Principal autonomy lead to better performance and that’s what all of the studies show. The truth in this country is that State Governments are responsible for State schools and the Federal Government is the larger funder of non-government schools. That has worked in the past and it will work in the future. This Review relies on the State and Territory Governments each finding 15 percent more to fund public schools and the Commonwealth to find 15 percent more. Quite frankly I think the States will find that very hard to achieve and that’s why I think this review has been set up to fail by the government.
Journalist: What do you say to the proposition that if private schools need funding above the base funding should be based on the parent’s ability to pay as opposed to the area that the school is in?
Pyne: Well the current funding model is based on parent’s ability to pay because the Australian Bureau of Statistics census collector data areas are based on the income qualifications and occupation of the parents of the children at the school. That’s why it is needs based funding system, that’s why for example the wealthiest schools get 13.5 percent of the AGSRC model and the smallest independent and Christian and Catholic schools get the maximum amount. It’s why … for example a school like (inaudible) will get potentially $1,300 per child and smaller Christian schools will get closer to several thousand dollars per child or even $8,000 per child.
Journalist: (inaudible) why do you think maintaining the current system suddenly results will turn around?
Pyne: Well that’s a good question. But changing the model to more funds from parents through increased school fees is not the answer. The answer is returning to traditional methods of training teachers of teachers training students. A more traditional and robust curriculum and that and principal autonomy they are the hallmarks of non-government schools which is why parents in this country are prepared to pay for something in many cases very handsomely for something they would otherwise get for nothing in a public school.
So the Coalition wants to introduce those more robust curriculum’s, better teacher training more autonomy for principals to address the point you make that our standards have been falling in spite of more money being put into Education by Governments.
Reporter: And that won’t cost anymore money?
Pyne: Well I’ve indicated that we will put $4.2 billion into schools through the indexation arrangements as they currently exist under a Coalition Government.