Danielle Lowe

‘Give a Gonski’ is the new catchcry

DO YOU give a Gonski? Well, according to the Prime Minister, New South Wales does as well as South Australia and the ACT. Victoria and Tasmania are close to caring but not so Western Australia, the Northern Territory and definitely not Queensland.

Do you give a Gonski? The phrase has been bandied about for the past 12 months, gathering momentum since March as the Federal Government intensified its courting of the states in the hope they would sign on the dotted line.

Do you give a Gonski? Such is the popularity of those five words that in typical Australian fashion it is only a matter of time before it becomes entrenched in our everyday language.

For now though, "Do you give a Gonski?" is undeniably tied to our school education system and the efforts under way to supposedly improve the efficiency of function and the resources needed to get the job done.

In April 2010 the Federal Government initiated a review of school funding arrangements to develop a system, they said, that was transparent, fair and financially sustainable. David Gonski, an extremely successful lawyer and businessman was chosen to chair the panel which visited 39 schools, received some 7000 submissions and consulted with 71 education groups across Australia.

In November 2011, Gonski delivered their findings to the Government and when the report was released three months later it was plain to see that Australia's school system was in trouble. The 317-page document was gravely concerning but the news was hardly surprising.

While Australia's school system fared fairly well when it came to quality indicators like the Program for International Student Assessment, our results in the last decade had suffered a definite slide, especially in the top ranges.

In 2000 only one country outperformed Australia in reading and scientific literacy and only two outperformed Australia in mathematical literacy.

By 2009 six countries outperformed Australia in reading and scientific literacy and 12 outperformed Australia in mathematical literacy.

Perhaps most concerning though was the fact that the gap between our highest and lowest performing students had grown alarmingly with a noticeable link between low levels of achievement and discrepancies in the quality of education available, especially among students with low socio-economic and indigenous backgrounds.

In his report Gonski said the panel had concluded that if Australia aspired to have one of the best schooling systems in the world then it had to prioritise support for its lowest performing students.

To this end the report made 41 recommendations, the most salient of which were:

Recurrent and indexed additional funding of $5 billion per year with at least 75% going to government schools.

A new schooling resource standard to determine funding for all school sectors with cognisance to be given to disadvantages like disability, low socio-economic and indigenous backgrounds as well as the size and location of schools.

Funding arrangements to be better balanced to reflect the joint contribution of both levels of government across all schooling sectors and better co-ordinated to maximise the funding effort.

Gonski implored the Gillard Government to take action urging them to commit to new funding arrangements complemented by continued and renewed efforts to strengthen and reform our school system.

Australia and its children, he said, deserved nothing less.