Monday, March 18, 2013

I Give A Gonski

The 2011 Commonwealth Government's Review of the Funding of Schools in Australia, chaired by businessman and philanthropist David Gonski, was the most comprehensive study of the way schools are funded in Australia in over 40 years.  (

Two cool at school!

The study found that the educational gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students was increasing, with students from disadvantaged backgrounds an average of three years behind academically. 

Nice - or maybe not so nice - to see in print what I was so shocked to discover for myself the hard way over the last two years.

Ian is 18 months going on 7.

The study found that one in seven fifteen year olds does not have basic reading skills.

The study did not say, but I think we can safely say that if they haven't learned to read by the age of fifteen, they aren't going to be highly motivated to learn after that.

Andrew writing - uh, SOMETHING, in Japanese

The study concludes that despite having one of the most admired education systems in the world, Australia is not investing enough in its educational system, and is falling behind.

Although just about every modern industrialised nation - with the possible exception of those apparently very happy (but very cold) Scandinavian countries - is saying the same thing.  So at least we are all failing to keep up together!

Informal game in formal school uniforms

What's inspiring about the 'Gonski Review' is its recommendation for the federal government to invest more in state schools, in students with special needs, including those with disabilities as well as those from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

The Australian federal government currently only provides 15% of state school funding, with the rest coming from state and territory governments, and a huge chunk - as we discovered when we moved here - being raised by parents and students themselves.  (The US federal government only provides 10%, with 45% being funded by local government.  I don't recall the same level of private fundraising for state schools that I currently see here.  I also don't recall the US school system ever being held up as a gold standard.)


I have finally found a way to channel my concerns into a more productive channel than anger.

Our old school, in a disadvantaged area, had so few students that it didn't merit a full-time deputy/vice principal the second year we were there, when the crisis team left.  It had so few students - and a crisis team in place when we first arrived - because it was a school in crisis.

As the numbers dropped - the economically and educationally advantaged fleeing, as we did, across the bridge - so did funding, since funding is dependent on student numbers.

Matthew, far left, and Adrew somewhere in back row, as student councillors

I am going to argue that any student body, no matter the size, deserves a full-time staff. 

I am going to argue that no school can run effectively without a full-time staff.

Who is going to schedule the extra activities, help those with special needs, get a gifted and talented program going, lead an active sports program and music and the arts?  Who is going to manage the discipline?  Let alone coordinate and support the teaching staff with the fundamentals.

So not impressed with the yeast experiment

Our new school is highly regarded in the community.  It gets grant money thrown at it.  Parents raise enough for a second sports and activity hall.  There is music and drama and tech team and choir and a gifted and talented program and special needs support and sports.  They have more books for the children to read.  They have more children able to read them.

We have one principal and two deputies for 945 students.  Although that's 315 students each, which is more than the entire size of our old school, that's two extra adults running the school, coordinating a larger support staff, managing more programs. 

Uh Lindsey, this is as far as we got with Flat Stanley!  Those are gum trees and uh, yeah, that's what he got to see while he was visiting us!!

Our old school needs a full-time staff.  They need more books and resources.

What we don't need is the American solution of bussing students to assigned schools.  The wealthy will always find a way around sending their children to a school that isn't going to meet their expectations.  Housing prices in certain neighbourhoods around the USA rise and fall each time they rezone the school districts.  They go private.  They sell and go to the proper neighbourhood.

They cross the bridge.
"Nope Aidan, I think you might have left it at school after all!"

It's the smallest distance I've moved to reach another world altogether.

Another solution would be to combine the schools that are failing.  I can think of two in our area.  But it is just those communities that need a small school.  Those small schools just need to be better supported, based on programming needs and not on student numbers.

We aren't going to be able to solve everyone's problems through the education system alone.  I'm realising we might not even be meant to solve them at all. 

Counting cups!

We can't make life fair. 

But maybe we can make a small start by working to make education more equitable.

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