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  • Funding Uncertainty Continues 

    Prime Minister Gillard’s long awaited response to the Gonski Review of school funding has been a great disappointment to Catholic schools. It leaves us knowing very little more than we knew months ago.

    This is of particular concern when it is realised that the current funding arrangement expires at the end of 2013. We are left with no certainty at all about what the funding structure will look like in 2014 and beyond. This is of major concern to Catholic schools whose planning both for recurrent costs and for capital costs is now quite up in the air.

    In her response speech, delivered in the first days of this month, the Prime Minister promised to legislate high aspirations for education in Australia, aspirations we can only applaud. However, she said very little about how we are going to get there!

    I know that our Catholic schools in the Diocese of Sale will support her aspirations. Indeed, we are well on the path to achieving the national best practice standards that she said were crucial. We already have in place, for example, very significant principal autonomy over matters such as budget, staffing and curriculum delivery. We already have sound methods of planning and reporting on school performance. Our student learning outcomes are available for community analysis; we have regular school performance reviews; we have ongoing teacher appraisal (though of course this could be strengthened). We also have a strong platform of professional learning available to staff. In particular, I mention the fact that the Victorian Institute of Teaching has, year after year, found that the level of support Catholic schools in Victoria provide to graduate teachers to be exemplary. We also have strong parental engagement. It is very clear that our schools are deeply rooted in their communities.

    All these things the Prime Minister has said, quite rightly, are essential if our education standards are to improve. We are already well on that path.

    Catholic schools, however, are deeply concerned that the Prime Minister’s speech lacked detail, both in relation to school funding and to school reform. They are particularly concerned that there is still no actual detail about the government’s position on many of the settings of the funding model.

    According to the modelling carried out by the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria, Catholic schools throughout this State cannot possibly meet the government’s proposed Schooling Resource Standard without a significant increase in government grants or a very large increase in school fees.

    This projected increase in school fees is simply out of the question. Parents cannot be expected to pay the level of fees required to meet the Schooling Resource Standard.

    It is clear, however, that the Prime Minister has indicated that this new funding will take some years to deliver. However, it is also clear that, as yet, no state or territory government has signed up to meet its share of the Prime Minister’s proposed school funding scheme. This is of major concern.

    On the other hand, it is very reassuring to see that the Prime Minister has said that funding to all non-government schools will be increased. While we do not know what that level of increase might be, at least the value of non-government schools is recognised.

    We remain deeply concerned that there is no detail of any conditions attached to Catholic schools accepting the additional funding over the next six years. It is a very confused and confusing scenario for all.

    We have been led to believe that the National Catholic Education Commission will be invited by the Prime Minister to participate in the negotiation process she announced on Monday. This, again, is a very positive move and one which we all welcome. It is to be sincerely hoped that the voice of Catholic Education will be well and truly heard at the negotiating table. It is very clear that Catholic schools are highly valued in our community, not only by parents and students but more widely as well.

    The National Catholic Education Commission has already been involved in detailed discussions with the government since the Gonski Report was released last February. The Commission as well as the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria has kept schools fully informed about these negotiations.

    We had feared that it would be necessary to be involved in strong political action even at this stage if the Gonski recommendations had been implemented in their “pure” form. That, as yet, has not happened so it remains a case of “watch this space”.

    We certainly hope that the funding arrangements that are finally negotiated can move Australia towards the aspirations outlined by the Prime Minister. At this stage, though, it is difficult to see how that can happen.