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August 03rd 2017 print

Kevin Donnelly

The Betrayal of Education and Principle

The original Gonski review, on which Gonski 2.0 is based, embraced a Fabian view of education that opposes parental choice and, indeed, the very existence of non-government schools. It boggles the mind that a government which professes itself conservative is penalising its aspirational base

turnbull teachParental choice in education advocated by Liberal stalwarts like Sir Robert Menzies and ex-Prime Minister John Howard has been an essential part of the Liberal Party’s DNA since the beginning of state aid to non-government schools, introduced when Menzies was prime minister. 

Not so with Education Minister Simon Birmingham and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who are attacking Catholic schools as they re-badge the Liberal government as Labor-lite.  There’s no doubt that the Gonski 2.0 school funding model beginning next year financially penalises Catholic schools across Australia — schools that enrol approximately 20% of students.

When PM Malcolm Turnbull and Education Minister Simon Birmingham launched the Gonski 2.0 school funding model earlier this year, alongside David Gonski, I described it as a prime example of the “political ineptitude” so characteristic of the Turnbull government.

As detailed in two comment pieces for Quadrant (May 26th, 2017 How to Lose the Catholic Vote and June 2nd, 2017 Gonski: Forgotten People Forgotten Again, in addition to alienating a significant number of its conservative base, the methodology underpinning the quantum of funding received by Catholic schools, in particular, is both compromised and flawed.

Even worse is the fact that the original Gonski review and its final report, on which Gonski 2.0 is based, embraces a Fabian inspired view of education that is opposed to parental choice and the existence of non-government schools.

That the Gonski funding model embodies a cultural-left view of education and is inherently biased against non-government schools is best illustrated by the make-up of the original Gonski panel chosen by the then ALP education minister, Julia Gillard, to undertake the review.

Ken Boston, an Australian educrat who had to resign as the head of the British Qualifications and Curriculum Authority before returning to Australia, is a strident critic of non-government schools. Boston attacks funding to Catholic and independent schools for privileging “neo-Darwin free-market forces”.  In addition to condemning non-government schools for providing an “exclusive education” Boston also argues government schools deserve priority and that such schools are “residualised” by the existence of non-government schools.

Ignored is that non-government schools are constrained by having to abide by state and commonwealth restrictions in areas like curriculum, teacher quality and certification and a funding system that restricts enrolments by financially penalising parents.

It is simply wrong to suggest such schools operate in a free-market system best illustrated by school vouchers (where parents receive government funding and then decide what school their child should attend) and charter schools (where schools have the flexibility to hire and fire staff, set work conditions and curriculum focus).

Also ignored by Boston is the reality that it is a myth to describe government schools as open to all – selective schools decide entry based on merit and many government schools are only open to those wealthy parents who can afford nearby prime real estate.

A second Gonski panel member, the ALP’s Carmen Lawrence, is also on the public record attacking funding to non-government schools.  In a 2002 speech delivered at Curtin University Lawrence argues “the Howard government has poured money into the wealthiest schools at the expense of government schools”.

The ex-ALP Federal President goes on to argue the Howard Government’s funding policies “are the major contributors to this reverse discrimination.  Give most to those who have the most; take from those who have little”.

While not as explicit as Boston or Lawrence the chair of the original Gonski review, David Gonski, in a 2011 speech to the Australian Education Union also betrays a cultural-left view of what constitutes the best way to fund schools.

One of the central tenets of the socialist-left Australian Education Union and like-minded academics is that socioeconomic status (SES) is the main cause of educational success or failure.  Low SES government school students, supposedly, are disadvantaged and destined to failure while wealthy, privileged non-government school students are always guaranteed success.

The solution, as argued by Victoria’s one time socialist Premier Joan Kirner, is “to reshape education so that it is a vital weapon in the transition to more equal outcomes for disadvantaged groups and classes rather than a ladder to equal opportunity for individuals”.

David Gonski’s statement in his speech to the Australian Education Union that “one of our main drivers is about equity of educational outcomes” mirrors Kirner’s mantra that education must provide ‘equality of outcomes’ where SES does not determine success or failure.

The argument by Gonski that any funding model must ensure “differences in educational outcomes are not the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions” reflects this cultural-left belief system – one where inequality in education is caused by students’ home background and postcode.

David Gonski also repeats the AEU’s argument that the existence and continued funding of non-government schools is leading to the “residualisation” of government schools when he states “there are concerns about the growing shift of enrolments from government schools to non-government schools”.

Ignored, according to the OECD, is that students’ SES only accounts for 12% of the variation in educational outcomes and that more critical factors include: student ability and past performance, teacher quality and classroom environment, having a rigorous curriculum where teachers can focus on essential knowledge, understanding and skills and parental engagement.

Research also proves autonomy, diversity and choice in education, best illustrated by the success of Catholic and independent schools, are important in ensuring a strong and more equitable system of schooling – something the Turnbull Government appears happy to ignore.

Instead of championing Catholic schools, as did Sir Robert Menzies and John Howard when prime ministers, both Turnbull and Birmingham are happy to embrace a Fabian inspired school funding policy and, as a result, have turned their backs on the Howard battlers and the government’s aspirational base.

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and author of Dumbing Down.

Comments [17]

  1. Keith Kennelly says:

    Really, what did you expect from a left wing PM?

  2. Ian MacDougall says:

    The argument by Gonski that any funding model must ensure “differences in educational outcomes are not the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions” reflects this cultural-left belief system – one where inequality in education is caused by students’ home background and postcode.
    David Gonski also repeats the AEU’s argument that the existence and continued funding of non-government schools is leading to the “residualisation” of government schools when he states “there are concerns about the growing shift of enrolments from government schools to non-government schools”.

    IMHO, the best theory of religion and what it is all fundamentally about was originally advanced by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, who suggested that in any religious ceremony, the group involved is actually worshipping itself: whatever ostensible god or gods are being praised, appeased, or appealed to. In short, it does not matter what we participants believe so much as the fact that we all believe it together.
    Was Mary assumed into Heaven? Protties say no, fine good Catholics say yes. A mighty fine point of divergence there, along with a few others the basis for the Catholic-Protestant divide in Christianity. Should baptism involve total or partial immersion? The plungers say yes, the sprinklers no. Etc; etc; etc.
    The function of religious schools exist in all of this is to establish the ‘party line’ in the minds of the rising generation, so they know what they are supposed to believe, even if they do not know exactly at any given stage precisely what that is.
    But then, enter Mephistopheles upwards through a trapdoor, stage centre. For many adults ‘educated’ in their tender and formative years by randy, celibate and ethically challenged clergy, life is a long battle to come to terms with the sexual and physical abuse they suffered, while their God looked down indifferently from on high.
    But such casualties are apparently the price we have to pay for the group solidarity we get from believing whatever it is that holds our neck of the woods together, even if we are none of us quite sure of the finer details.
    HOWEVER, one most important point: state schools are legally obliged to take all comers. They are not free to show any disruptive or uncooperative student the door. When all else fails, private schools can improve their internal environment by doing just that.

    • ChrisPer says:

      The whole point of the Catholic education system is EDUCATION. The catholic part ensures a bit of religious education and philosophy are taught, but that makes them better able to trap bullshit including religious bullshit.
      The whole point of the State education system is firstly the preservation of the public service and the SYSTEM. Funding, status, employment.

      • ChrisPer says:

        BTW all my kids went State, and were very well taught because their specialist program had really committed teachers.

        • Ian MacDougall says:

          ChrisPer, or whatever your real name is:

          The whole point of the State education system is firstly the preservation of the public service and the SYSTEM. Funding, status, employment.

          My own crap detector registers that, in its own right, as Grade A religious bullshit.
          Go back to the origins of ‘free, compulsory and secular’ state education and Sir Henry Parkes, the ‘Father of Federation’ and also the man who led the push for it in Australia, and against the clerical lobby of the day.

          “Parkes’s educational work resulted in the Public Schools Act of 1866 and the Public Instruction Act of 1880, which introduced compulsory free education and severed connections between the church and the public schools.”

          https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henry-Parkes

          • padraic says:

            The recent shrieking reaction from the Fairfax and ABC and their activist advisers about the poor NAPLAN results is indicative of warped leftist logic. They say that doing the exams over the past few years has not improved standards so let’s scrap the exam!!?? The obvious indication is that teaching standards may need to be improved and that can only happen if you have a proper teaching framework and culture. No doubt there are many capable teachers but they are having to operate in a politically correct whacko system.

          • Jody says:

            Oh, so it’s Parkes who is responsible today for universal ‘free’ education; a complete anachronism which today’s modern, affluent Australian parents can well afford to pay for. Yesterday I drove past a local high school and was astonished at the huge numbers of cars sporting “P” plates. Most of these kids would own these cars and this was a state school. This same demographic will tantrum that they cannot afford to pay for university, and so will their parents. Who’s kidding whom??!! Delay gratification, catch the train and pay the fees!!!

          • Jimbob says:

            As one in involved in the Education system; “Free?” my big brown eye!! Teachers don’t work for “free”; school administrators don’t work for “free” and school buildings aren’t built by builders for “free”.

            Someone always has to pay.

            The real question is who can deliver the best educational outcomes for the money that tax payers stump up? It’s very debatable whether it is the “compulsory and ‘free’” (ha ha) state system.

        • Jody says:

          Bright kids will always do well in the State system. Medium to low achievers not so much.

    • [email protected] says:

      Plungers? Sprinklers? Trapdoors? Maybe Ian MacDougall or whatever your real name is you’re in the wrong blog?

      Proportionally more child abuse was carried out in a shorter period by non-celibate clergymen as detailed in the Royal Commission papers.

      In NSW, government schools can expel pupils; the policy on this that you seem unaware of is on their website. Such actions are not the common occurrence you would like to portray in the non-Government system.

      Most non-Government schools are small and serve a range of communities.

      The Increased funding and reduced class sizes favoured by the left wing unions has had nil or little effect on improving outcomes. Maybe have a serious debate about what might work instead of point scoring.

    • Jody says:

      You last line expresses the dominant reason why many parents send their kids to private (mostly Catholic) schools. I would say that at least half the kids in Catholic schools these days have no religion at all and use their religion lessons to learn about Judeo-Christian culture. They come to understand as I do; that one cannot possibly understand western culture without a reasonable understanding of the Christian story. All the great authors who wrote in English before Dickens have, to some degree, reflected western Christian values (not ecumenical ones) in their texts. Then there’s the music….

      There would be few people today who go to church/mass and who believe in virgin births and other superstitions. And they are part of a demographic cohort which has built schools, hospitals and done incredible works of charity – and continue to do so – that government avoids or is happy to leave to the churches. Pedophiles are a problem with the Catholic Church, the Protestants (where randy priests are actually married men), the Scout movement, music schools….shall I go on?

  3. Ian MacDougall says:

    [email protected] or whatever your real name is:
    “Point scoring” occurs when people make points in debates, online or otherwise, on statements which they find unsustainable, and make a case thereby and thereof.
    Expulsion of problem students is not, repeat not, and never has been, common practice in the state systems vis a vis the private systems, wherein a principal only has to expel one student for the effect to be noted and felt by the whole school population. There, it is the equivalent of the ceremonial drumming out of the regiment of a disgraced soldier.
    Sorry to disillusion you, but talking about “what might work” is a poor substitute for talking about the real world as it is..
    The wrong blog? Well, I PAID MY SUBSCRIPTION for a right to both read and comment here on this mixed bag and curate’s egg of a site, because that right IMHO is worth having. Though some of its articles (eg on Islam and Islamism) are first rate, I find others (eg on climatology and AGW) ranging from ordinary to abysmal. But I always set out my reasons, and thereby open myself to dissenting views.
    That business is called free exchange of ideas, and takes place in the wider context of the politics of liberalism. If you can’t handle that, I suggest you decamp to some authoritarian South American regime, or learn Korean and move to Pyongyang. Or start your own fundamentalist and authoritarian blog; though it appears you might have already done so.
    If you, [email protected] or whatever your real name is, want to participate in some echo chamber where everyone has a whole lot of fun agreeing with everyone else, in a routine however predictable and ultimately dreary, then I suggest it is you, [email protected], who needs to find an alternative site at which you can nod your head in enthusiastic agreement with every threadstarter and commenting participant. Because you won’t find that here, where there are more independent thinkers on board than you might first assume.
    PS: I blog here under my own name, and not under some email address.

  4. Jody says:

    Jordan Peterson has, as usual, nailed many of the issues. Universities here in Australia seem to be copying the American model with regard to infantilizing their students. Anyway, I’ll let the delectable Peterson speak for himself:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-PRDqdFBGQ

  5. Jody says:

    @Jimbob: You constantly hear about “free education”. I’ve long advocated a user-pays system for education the same as for water, roads, public transport. But, no, the entitlement shills are having none of it – instead advocating for more and more and more from the public purse. Meanwhile many parents with kids have overseas holidays, their kids all have phones, many live in smart homes and drive flash cars (I’ve seen these when doing bus duty) and their kids get expensive ‘schoolies’ – some even cruises after the HSC. Meanwhile, back at the not-enough-textbooks-to-go-round classroom (where many are damaged already) the parents and teachers endlessly complain. They need to put up or shut up.

  6. Jody says:

    This guy is across all the issues of education and jobs!!!!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjs2gPa5sD0