In recent weeks, federal education minister Christopher Pyne announced a review of the national curriculum.
The key purpose of Pyne’s review is to divert attention from the much-needed Gonski funding. Pyne believes that the widening gap in the educational performance of students from low socio-economic backgrounds is due to a low-grade politically correct national curriculum foisted upon them by the “cultural left”.
It is “poor quality teaching”, Pyne says, in government schools only, that is causing falling test results for students from low socio-economic backgrounds, and a widening gap between them and students from affluent backgrounds. This gap between rich and poor Australian students has widened over the past 12 years.
The Gonski review correctly identified education-funding inequality as the key reason for this widening gap and recommended a fairer funding model based on student need and disadvantage as a means to close this gap.
The Gonski funding model was far from perfect, as it continued to transfer millions of public dollars to the private education system, but it was a vast improvement on the John Howard era funding model, which is still in place. This is because most of the funding delivered under the Gonski model would benefit the most disadvantaged students, the majority of who attend public schools.
Pyne wants to divert attention from Gonski’s recommendations by focusing on “fixing” the curriculum and the teachers. Rather than addressing inequality of opportunity by targeting funds strategically at areas of need, Pyne wants to continue with the current unjust federal funding model.
The link between poor student performance and social disadvantage is far stronger in Australia compared with other many other OECD countries.
Gonski recommended strategic targeting of resources according to need to reduce the impact of disadvantage.
Ken Boston, former director-general of the NSW Department of Education and member of the Gonski review panel, said in a January 17 Sydney Morning Herald article: “If school performance is neither advantaged nor disadvantaged by parental income, ethnic background, religion, school size and location, or whether a student attends an independent, Catholic or public school, success at school will be determined essentially by the student’s ability, application and hard work. In other words, Gonski will create a genuine meritocracy.
“Over time, a hard-working talented young student will come to have the same real prospect of winning a place in the university and course of their choice regardless of family circumstances and background. And our national performance will improve accordingly, regardless of any tinkering of the curriculum. Is Pyne up for that? A meritocracy? Devalue private schooling? Of course not. Hence his need for a diversion.”
Pyne’s review comes as a new national curriculum is being introduced. After several years of consultation with key education stakeholders, the new English syllabus is being introduced this year, followed by mathematics next year and other subject areas after this.
Commonsense dictates that one does not initiate a review during the implementation stage. Pyne’s stacking of right-wing appointees to his review panel makes it obvious the “culture wars” are very much a part of the Tony Abbott government’s agenda.
The Australia Education Union (AEU) has organised a national campaign to pressure the Abbott government to commit to the full six-year Gonski funding model when it announces its May budget.
The AEU campaign will involve advertisements, local actions and Gonski buses touring through most major cities with a final action outside Federal Parliament. This action needs to be supported by a mass mobilisation of the education community as a show of strength.
[John Gauci is a teacher and member of the AEU.]