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    The More Things Change the More they Stay the Same

    Last month I wrote on the funding debate, or Gonski, as it has been known affectionately in recent times, giving rise to the tag line of “Give a Gonski”  to show support for the particular funding and education reform model put forward by the federal government.  Since writing that article some significant changes have occurred. These have included the passing of the Australian Education Act and a subsequent change of Prime Minister and Minister for Education. We now no longer have Gonski but the Better Schools Plan. Political positions can change, nomenclature can change but it doesn’t mean that anything fundamental shifts in the process. We continue to watch and wait as State governments consider their situation and negotiate with the federal government, having been given extra time to do so following the change of leadership. Meanwhile, the non-government education sector, which includes but is not limited to Catholic schools Australia wide, continue to consider the implications of the significant changes involved in this reform package. 

    There are a few things we need to be reminded of during this time. First and foremost is that we are not just talking about a funding model here, although this is a large element of the debate. We are looking at education reform generally. The funding elements are tied to expectations of lifting the bar on educational outcomes across the board. The aspirations put forward by the previous Prime Minister, for where Australia should sit in terms of international educational standards, was commendable.  Whether or not this particular reform package in its entirety is the correct vehicle to achieve this, is part of the debate at the current time. 

    At a recent meeting of Catholic education directors it was interesting to note that a survey that had been conducted to ascertain perceptions of Catholic education, funding issues and the like, found that many respondents, both Catholic and non-Catholic alike, believed that Catholic schools received more funding than government schools. The fact that Catholic schools receive 80% of the costs of educating a child in a government school, and therefore raise the extra 20% by a number of means including school fees, was not uniformly understood. Students enrolled in Catholic schools and who have special education needs requiring extra assistance with their learning are also currently funded less by government.  One of the issues that need to be reflected on here is that to date, the Catholic system has enjoyed a degree of autonomy and the capacity to direct and manage its schools and the education process whilst still responding appropriately to a range of necessary compliance regulations. In Victoria that autonomy includes a high degree of local decision making, including local employment decisions which ultimately rest with parish priests and canonical administrators with the assistance of local Catholic Education Offices. It is this autonomy that forms a significant part of the debate we are engaging in with the federal government at the moment.  

    On a positive note, enrolments in Catholic schools continue to increase. In the Sale diocese there has been a 2.8% increase in enrolment from 2012-2013. This is encouraging and points not just to the population growth in areas to the west but also to the quality of the education being offered in our Catholic schools. It is worth keeping a close eye on and engaging where possible in the debate around what is in the best interests of Catholic schools and Catholic students in Australia.