Ken Boston: Our poor international test results are entirely self inflicted

Thank you Ken Boston for speaking out  ( Schools results tell the story too well: the funding model has failed | The Australian ).  After 12 months of negotiations, pleas, campaigns and costings we are now looking at the genuine possibility of the derailment of the once in a lifetime opportunity to fix the school funding train-wreck.        

As most will know Ken Boston was one of the members of the Gonski Review panel on school funding.  He would have sat through hours and hours of deputations, briefings, research reports, political discussions, internal and external meetings, and costings, costings and more costings.

If there is an argument for retaining the key features of the current funding model (AGSRG, SES ratings, UNLIMITED overfunding exemptions for the richest schools) you can be assured that Boston would have heard it many times over, and most eloquently and persuasively from our most powerful Non Government school peak bodies.  And don’t ever forget that there is no equivalent to this lobbying power on the Government school side.  

For example, Bill Daniels, the Executive Director of the Independent Schools Council of Australia, is threatening to derail Gonski negotiations if any of our most wealthy schools stand to lose any funds at all – not next year, but in the out-years – and in real terms.  This is despite the fact that even the key members of the opposition Government have acknowledged that the grandfathering of the over-formula funding allocations, for the wealthiest schools, should not be continued indefinitely.  

This is in stark contrast to the behaviour of the equivalent ‘owners’ of our Government schools, the state Governments.  Both Ted Bailleau and Campbell Newman have stated that they support increased funding to the independent sector and Barry O’Farrell has slashed funding for Government schools.   

 Boston knows what he is talking about and here are some of the most telling extracts:

[T]he decline in the performance of our schools in reading, mathematics and science across the past decade or more, as reported by independent international authorities … [is a problem that is) ….  entirely self-inflicted.

The present approach, … increases the funds available to the independent sector and the Catholic sector, as well as to government schools, in proportion to rises in the costs to the states of government schools. … [but the costs in Government schools are high because they unequally] … serve low socioeconomic communities with many newly arrived migrant children from more than 80 language backgrounds.  

Boston argues that this funding model (known as the AGSRC) assumes that competition between schools will drive up standards but in reality it just gives schools that do not serve less low SES students a windfall gain.

Independent international studies of Australian school performance show that we are in trouble and have been so for at least two generations of schooling. Our business model for school funding – based on the funding of sectors rather than the funding of schools according to the job to be done – has comprehensively failed in the long term.

Boston gives two reasons why this business model has failed:

1.     It has led to Australia having one of the most socially segregated education systems in the OECD


Across the world, there is a positive correlation between socioeconomic advantage and educational performance: in Australia, socioeconomic disadvantage has a greater adverse effect on educational achievement than in any other comparable OECD country.  Our social gradient – the graph line that links the scores of a country’s highest performing schools at the upper end of the socioeconomic scale to the scores of its lowest performing schools at the lower end of the scale – is much steeper than the average for all 34 countries in the OECD. The steep social gradient and the continuing decline in our national educational performance are related, and both are the product of our flawed funding model.


2.            There is no real competition between sectors.

The sector-based business model has failed to create an even playing field on which government, Catholic and independent schools can compete to drive up school performance. The present funding model endorses the view that high-quality education is a positional good conferring advantage on those who can afford it, rather than a public good to which all are entitled. At the same time, it has brought about a change in the role of many schools in the building of social capital: no longer do most schools aim – in Robert Putnam’s terms – to bridge the differences between children in terms of social background, religion and ethnicity, but to bond together children of similar socioeconomic, cultural or religious backgrounds from the early years of schooling. The present funding arrangements have sucked the oxygen from any potential for real competition between government and non-government schools.

So there you have it.  We have created a stupid system where competition is anything but equal and the end result is schooling apartheid that has impacted on our educational performance in profound ways.  Fix equity and we raise quality.

Boston concludes:

As a nation we are in an appalling situation. We will remain so until the failed funding model is replaced by one that reduces our social gradient and raises school performance overall. … It is time for all of us, including those like me who advised governments of both persuasions on these matters, to abandon the present model and move on.

It is time for all of us; no matter where our kids are educated, or which sector we represent, to think of the bigger picture and of Australia’s national interest.  And in doing we should ask ourselves if a school that receives over $20,000 per student in school fees alone can really justify NEEDING additional funds when the average cost for a Government school is around