August 19, 2012
There is a sense of deja vu in Canberra's latest round of education reform promises.
THE federal government, at last, has started to put a little meat on the bones of its plan to overhaul school funding, heralding a move to tie extra cash to performance and citing a range of tenets regarding national teaching standards, which it wants to incorporate in its reforms.
Its clearest response yet to the report of a panel of eminent Australians led by the businessman David Gonski signals a more devolved power structure in which principals have more say - and shoulder greater responsibility - for their school's performance, with teaching targets and other measures dictating how taxpayer funds will be distributed in a bid not only to tackle what Gonski noted was entrenched disadvantage but also to lift student performance across the entire nation.
While both objectives, and today's broad affirmation of the Gonski reforms, are to be welcomed, the government's statements to date have been long on motherhood and short on detail. Its latest pronouncements would appear to be an attempt to warm up the national conversation ahead of the release in the next few weeks of the National Plan for School Improvement, its formal response to the proposals, which will establish some parameters in its negotiations with education authorities.
Educators and parents would be entitled to groan in response to a new round of mealy-mouthed promises to put only the best teachers into classrooms and guarantees that parents get detailed information about a school's performance. The sense of deja vu is real. It goes without saying, naturally, that offering student teachers more time to prepare lessons, as well as proper mentoring, and new training for teachers to better manage disruptive classrooms is a worthy aim. And a caveat on extra funds that is linked to outcomes seems only prudent.
But the major impediment to implementing Gonski's model of funding remains twofold: it will demand great co-operation between federal and state governments at a time of increased tension over shared responsibilities, as well as a huge additional impost, estimated to be $5 billion in 2009 dollars, a 15 per cent increase on all governments' recurrent funding of that same year.
The Sunday Age supports Gonski's objectives and doesn't doubt that the major political parties would agree that ''every school must be appropriately resourced to support every child, and every teacher must expect the most from every child'', as the panel noted. It is shameful that a nation blessed with such wealth and opportunity as ours has been unable to guarantee a fair go for every young Australian, and that more effort has not been made to break the cycle of disadvantage that haunts poor socio-economic communities.
A transparent funding scheme where both public and private schools receive the equivalent base amount per student, with additional money going to those according to need, is a fundamental reform that should start to repair the imbalance. But ensuring higher educational standards overall comes at a cost, and exactly how this admirable plan is to be funded will be debated tensely by the states at a time when financial pressures are pushing several of them into deficit and ill-feelings linger over the scrap between Canberra and the Baillieu government over funding a $42 million trial for the proposed National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Indeed, perceived inequity in federal-state joint projects has become a running sore for Spring Street, with Ted Baillieu lamenting Victoria's rough deal in an interview with The Sunday Age, published today. Several so-called ''national partnerships'' with Canberra are due to expire within months leaving the state government potentially holding the bag on $1 billion worth of programs. That prospect, and a continuing national formula that penalises Victoria, offer a poor foundation for negotiating a bold but costly new vision for education.
SOMETHING must have been slipped into the Australian Censor's tea somewhere between the 1970s and 1980s. In the earlier decades, the professional filth filters cut hard and deep into 12 episodes of The Goodies - such that our kiddies at tea-time missed out on seeing Bill Oddie's naked bottom, Graeme Garden and Oddie ambushing women with a dropped coin for a spot of upskirting and various other wink-wink disrobings.
By the 1990s, and onward, hardly a murmur ensued when Bart Simpson exposed his buttocks. And who makes a fuss about Spongebob Squarepants living in a Bikini Bottom? What howls of protest arose when Spongebob's best friend, Patrick, dressed in fishnets and did a pole dancing routine? Thankfully we've become a more sophisticated society.