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  • A Challenge Ahead 

    I write this in the midst of turbulent political times. The Prime Minister has just called a spill of leadership in the Labor Party and, thus, in our government. Who knows what the political landscape will look like by the time this article is being read in Catholic Life?

    It is a pity that this turmoil has coincided with the release of the most serious study into school funding that we have had in decades.

    It has been quite apparent that Catholic Education, along with all other sectors, were nervous about possible outcomes this report might bring. As it turns out, Mr Gonski and his panel have produced a report that provides an interesting theoretical model but one that will need very careful scrutiny. Indeed, it may prove difficult for Catholic schools. He has acknowledged the fact that education is about far more than NAPLAN results; he has respected Catholic and other Government schools; he has respected our strong and effective systems; he has addressed disadvantage across many aspects of life and he has offered the promise of putting an end to the “us” versus “them” debate.

    He has, however, left a large number of big questions unanswered. Just how the various elements of his formula will be calculated remains of critical importance. There are still questions, too, about how future funding increases (indexation) will be built in. Most importantly, he has not addressed precisely how national and state governments would come together in new ways to share the cost of improving education throughout the country. Nor did he suggest how governments might find the $60 billion (in 2009 dollars) over 12 years that he believes necessary for our system to be “fixed”.

    He did, however, provide us with a theoretical framework on which to build. That framework is something that we have never had before in Australia. It carries great potential.

    The report would have left significant challenges, even for a strong and stable government. It is a great pity that it now runs the risk of being lost in the smoke of a leadership battle, though, as I said, that smoke may (or may not) have cleared by the time you are reading this.

    But, politics and details aside, the report contains much of which we, as Catholic schools can strongly identify. His acknowledgement of the strength of the Catholic sector and its current structures is welcomed. Our schools, too, are very much in line with his call for a constant improvement of student outcomes. On page 21 of his report he writes “Australian schooling needs to lift the performance of students at all levels of achievement, particularly the lowest performers…for Australian students to take their rightful place in a globalised world, socially, culturally and economically they will need to have levels of education that equip them for that opportunity and challenge.” That aim is high on the agenda of every one of our Catholic schools.

    The report also provides us with a strong emphasis on equity and gives a high emphasis to the need for fair funding for students with disabilities wherever they are at school.

    On another level, the Gonski report reminds us that, although it has been required to concentrate on things that can be easily measured, education is about far more than test results. The report says “the panel recognises that education is about much more than [test results]. In Australia, schools aim to promote the intellectual, physical, social, emotional, moral, spiritual, acetic and wellbeing of young people as well as ensure the nations ongoing economic prosperity and social cohesion. Many parents consider that while providing outstanding education must be the key focus of schools, the ability of the school to foster these broad outcomes is also important. (page 19)

    There are many other such positive and encouraging passages, passages that fit so comfortably with Catholic Education and philosophy that defines “the development of the human person, in the light of Christ, is the goal of the Catholic school.”

    The Gonski report has been a long time coming, it is an important piece of work with many positive elements. It provides a framework on which we might move forward. It provides potential for a much stronger funding structure that will lead to improved outcomes across the board. But, certainly there are elements that need much further study. But, it would be a pity if we were not given the opportunity to see it working because of the amount of political smoke in the air around us.