Its time to call it: a public school spade is an elite school shovel.

I was outraged when I first heard that PM Julia Gillard required the Gonski Review of School Funding to ensure that, in developing their options, ‘no school should lose a dollar’. I was not the only one.

It was a disgraceful requirement to impose on the first comprehensive review of school funding arrangements in 40 years.

Some observers might have wondered why there wasn’t more outrage. The reason is really very simple. Most of us who care passionately about a better deal for needy public schools didn’t like this imposed requirement but felt that getting more money flowing into public education, and establishing a more transparent and fair set of principles for needs based funding into the future, was so important that it was better to accept the terms of the Review and work for the fairest outcome possible under these terms.

The no loser stipulation was also seen by many as a possible circuit breaker to the highly polarized debate that pitted private school against public school funding. It was viewed as a win-win opportunity that would increase the probability of support for the model across from private sector school lobbyists, and consequently enhance the chance of success.

Immediately after the release of the Gonski report, there was a sense of optimism because the private sector did not publicly oppose the Gonski package.

But even then the undermining had begun. The private sector, almost immediately, initiated backdoor, undocumented meetings. This resulted in the Government response to the Gonski Report revising the modeling to ensure the Catholic sector share was maintained in proportional terms. For example, the needs based Gonski weightings were for students in the bottom 25% of the SES scale but the reworked model applied needs based funding for students in the bottom 50% of the SES scale. This shifted the proportion of the needs based funds from the poorest schools to the less poor schools and ensured that the Catholic Systemic schools retained their proportional share of increased pool of Commonwealth funding.

The Gillard Government also put the implementation of Gonski at risk by delays, by attempts to tie the funds to other Commonwealth initiatives, by making it an election issue and through delaying the bulk of the funding to the post budget period out-years.

Then when it looked like there would be a change of Government several outspoken private sector advocates started to spruik alleged negatives of Gonski.[1] Ironically the high price ticket for the full Gonski, necessitated in large part by the no losers stipulation, made the package an easy target to shoot down by the very sector that benefited from this stipulation.

So we are back to fighting for a fair deal for the Public Schools. We need now to talk about why the ‘no losers ‘ framework was a bad bad policy idea. It’s time to speak out about the rank injustice and the waste of funds in a policy that gives tax payers education funds to schools that have resources other schools can only dream about and that simply do not need them. This is the focus of this article.

Why was Gillard’s no school will lose a dollar imposition bad policy?

This paper identifies five very important reasons why we should work towards a school funding policy that continues to support sector blind needs based funding fully without wasting much needed funds on schools whose level of resourcing means that they can manage perfectly well with no additional taxpayer funds.

The initial decision to fund elite private schools, 40 years ago, was not the result of considered policy

Government funding for a very significant number of elite schools had never actually been the policy intention of the initial review of school funding undertaken by the Schools Commission over 40 years ago.

The Karmel Review of school funding originally recommended giving priority in the use of public funds to schools whose standards were below certain agreed desirable levels, and deferring the eligibility for extensive support of schools with resources above this standard until others had been raised to a standard nearer to them. The report stressed that they accepted the right of parents to school choice but not their right to public assistance to facilitate this choice.

The Whitlam Government failed to get this through the Senate and was forced to amend the legislation to extend funding to all schools.

They won this ‘concession’ – now a sacred right – not through any merit of their case for funding, but in spite of it. They won it on the backs of the urgent and pressing needs of the Catholic parish schools, that with the demise of strong sacred orders to fill their classroom ranks, were unable to fund their local parish schools on their own.

Poor policy decisions and blatantly pro-elite schools decisions have progressively increased funding to elite schools

To explain how, and why, I need to give a potted history of Commonwealth Government funding to the private schools sector since the 1970s. In significant ways, this 40 year period can be divided into two distinct parts: the Pre Howard years and the Howard years.

1973-1996 The Pre Howard years

Before the 1970s, the common sense logic was no different from that which operated in most other countries: Governments fund schools out of taxes. These schools are designed to cater for all comers. Not everyone uses these services but they are part of the Common estate just like hospitals, unemployment services, parks, police, footpaths, roads, public transport, sporting facilities. Some people access and/or need, these services more than others. Some can effectively opt out but the services are available for all. Governments don’t fund private roads or private security services for those who don’t find the public system meets their needs. I don’t get a rebate if I don’t use public transport or footy ovals. This is still how most countries think about their schools.

According to Jean Blackburn, one of the key authors of the Karmel Review, the decision to push the school funding bill through the Senate, by accepting the inclusion of elite schools, led to school funding arrangements that can only be seen as unique and extraordinary in a number of respects, and not in a good way. By funding schools that did not need the funds, it established a logic, almost unique to Australia, that because the wealthy pay taxes for services like education they are entitled to have a ‘market share’ of those taxes applied to schools of their choice.

One of the other unintended consequences of this significant amendment to the legislation, pushed through for political reasons, is that the usual considerations essential to good policy development were skipped. The school funding arrangements put in place by the Karmel Review established accountability free funding, where monies were provided with no strings attached, unlike any other Government grant based program.

This mattered less when the funding recipients were struggling Catholic and other schools that needed the money for teacher salaries[2]. They had no room for discretionary spending even with new funding. But as Jean Blackburn observed years later[3]:

There were no rules about student selection and exclusion, no fee limitations, no shared governance, no public education accountability, no common curriculum requirements below the upper secondary level.. We have now become a kind of wonder at which people [in other countries] gape. The reaction is always, ‘What an extraordinary situation’.      

The funding system established differential funding based on a measure of need. However, in the accountability free environment of the time, that had the perverse effect of rewarding schools that directed a greater proportion of the private income towards capital expenditure – towards buildings and facilities. This increased the inequality in building standards and services between school systems.

When one takes a longer term view of school funding in Australia, it is notable that for the first 60 odd years of the 20th century, school funding was entirely a responsibility for the states. The Commonwealth entered the picture in a minor way only through the specific funding of libraries and science centres.

But over the period 1973- 1996, it came to be understood that the Commonwealth had an ongoing role in core funding for the private school sector but only for specific purpose lines of funding for the public sector. This left all core funding for public education in the hands of the more financially impoverished states. As Connor and McMorrow note this had serious consequences over time:

This is a serious issue in a federal system in which the Commonwealth government raises the lion’s share of all revenues. The Commonwealth was readily able to increase grants to schools in the non-government sector, especially as this sector is only half the size of the public sector, at a rate that was far harder for States and Territories to match for the much larger public sector, given competing claims on their tighter budgets.

By the beginning of the Howard years in 1996, the operation of the private school funding policies had become normalized. The historical newness and the global uniqueness of these arrangements had been forgotten by all but a few, and the sacredness of parent choice had been enshrined in our commonsense thinking as a fundamental right (only for those that can afford it, of course).

Public education activists of the period feared that this approach would lead to the residualisation of the public school system, school segregation on the basis of race and class and greater educational inequality. In 1983, well before the Howard education reforms, Blackburn noted that:

In an ironic twist the achievement of long denied public support for non-Government schools has played its part in producing a situation where it is public schooling and public purposes in education that are now on the defensive.[4]

1996 – 2007: The Howard Years

That was where things stood up until the early 90s. Then came the Howard years, where things went from bad to worse. Here is what Connors and McMorrow have to say about this period:

The next watershed in schools funding policies in Australia followed the election of the Howard government in 1996. The Howard government’s arrangements for Commonwealth recurrent funding of schools were grounded in the belief that the way to drive the quality of schooling was to use public money to promote parental choice of non-government schooling and by this means to stimulate provider competition.

I have emphasized the word promote because the first time I read this extract I missed the importance of this shift from supporting parent choice to actively promoting, not just choice, but private schools as the desirable choice.

This was a blatant attempt to privatize education provision for all but the most needy. Public education went from being the default option at the heart of our democratic vision for Australia to a necessary, but residual, second tier service. This quote in the Connors and McMorrow papers reveals the extent of this new vision:

In this policy scenario, the fundamental value and strength of government schooling was described by Prime Minister Howard as the ‘safety net and guarantor of a reasonable quality education in this country’ for the children of those with parents unable or unwilling to pay for private schooling.

This was a significant ideological shift. Prior to this the idea of residualisation was talked about as a potential unplanned outcome of school choice. But here we have Howard stating that this is now a Government policy goal – to residualise Government schools. This is quite extraordinary.

To support this policy goal, funding to the private school sector, over the Howard years, grew by leaps and bounds.

In 2001 a new funding formula was introduced that was described as needs based. The actual effect was the exact opposite due to a number of significant reasons.

Firstly, a new SES[5] funding model was introduced which tied school funding levels to the average SES of the family’s residential postcodes. This was a windfall for schools that had sucked out wealthier families from socially mixed communities. For example, the inner North of Melbourne has a number of suburbs that have a bifurcated population where public housing high-rise estates abut the trendy new developments of the upper middle class. The SES classification for these suburbs will be an average of the 2 groups, but the families who opt out of public education will come almost entirely from only one of these two groups. They take with them to their private schools the funding levels of their postcode.

But it was an even bigger windfall for the large number of high SES schools whose historical level of funding was higher than the funding they would receive under the new classification. The Government agreed to maintain them at their current levels of over funding (another no schools will lose a dollar moment).

Thirdly, this new scheme tied the private school per-student metric to the average cost of educating a student at a public school (The AGSRC). This might sound sensible and fair. But as low needs students exited the public system in ever increasing numbers, and the concentration of high needs students grew, the average costs of educating this higher needs cohort also grew. This created an unearned windfall to the non-Government system (and by the way pushed up the costs of education with no returns on investment).

This new funding scheme increased funding overall to the private school sector above and beyond the pro-rata student increases. This was justified by claims that schools could use the increased funds to reduce fees and thus broaden the base of parents able to choose private schools. This did not happen due to other perverse incentives built into the new scheme. As Connor and McMorrow note:

At the same time .. the government removed all downward pressure on fees, arguing the non-government schools should be free to raise their private income without affecting their level of Commonwealth general recurrent grant; and that any restraint on fees constituted a disincentive to private effort. This was an example of either policy confusion or obfuscation. If the government’s intention was to broaden the socio-economic composition of those families with access to non-government schools, its policy embodied a powerful nudge in the opposite direction.

So the overall effect of these changes has been:

  • An increasing private sector and a contracting public sector, especially at secondary level;
  • Increasing numbers of the higher SES families across all suburbs opting out of public schools and into private schools;
  • An increasing concentration of high SES students in private schools and an increasing concentration of low SES students in public schools;
  • Increasing costs in the public school sector as the proportion of high needs students increased;
  • A consequent unjustified increased transfer of funds to the private schools; and
  • Increasing inequality of student outcomes tied directly to student background.

In funding relativity terms the funding story is very clear. As noted by McMorrow and Connors:

From 1976, a steady shift started to take place in the Commonwealth’s distribution of its schools funding between government and non-government schools. From a 70 per cent share of the Commonwealth’s total funding in 1974, the government schools’ share had dropped to less than one-third by 2007. The changing policies and priorities of successive governments had contributed to this reversal of the Commonwealth’s funding shares for government and non-government schools, until by the end of the Howard government’s term of office, there had been a complete reversal.

In summary then, by the time the Gonski Review of School Funding was announced, the initial 1970s Senate political compromise to include elite schools in Commonwealth funding arrangements had blown out through a succession of both poorly developed policy arrangements and deliberately constructed policies that pushed parents to the private sector. Public schools had become significantly residualised and poorly resourced, and funding for elite schools overblown and unfettered.

The no-losers stipulation meant that the Gonski review could never address the harm done through the creation of a highly segregated school system.

Putting more funds into public schools could assist schools to address the additional challenges of teaching the more needy disadvantaged students and could potentially stop further residualisation. However it would not help to break down the segregation that had already been established.

A socially mixed school helps students with the highest needs without any detriment to the lower need students. A highly segregated system imposes another disadvantage on high need schools that Chris Bonnor refers to as ‘ the school effect’:

…the ever-increasing social and academic divide between schools represents a looming disaster for the students being left behind and for a nation that is already feeling the effects.

…..This social pooling of enrolments is making the SES impact of the school itself, as distinct from the direct impact of family SES, far more significant. The impact of family SES on student achievement in Australia is close to the OECD average, but impact of school SES is among the highest in the OECD. ..

[This is because] … students themselves constitute a very significant intellectual and cultural resource for schools – they bring prior learning, family education, networks and know-how. Depending on which students they enrol, schools gradually look and feel different in things such as resources, student discipline and time on task, number and type of welfare issues, teacher qualifications and expectations, curriculum, achievement culture and more.

The only way to address this un-equalising ‘school effect’ is to desegregate our schools, by ensuring that our public schooling system comes to be seen as a high quality system that caters for all through the ability to provide targeted support for diverse needs.

The large funding quantum of Gonski made it a big target

David Gonski in delivering the Inaugural Jean Blackburn Oration reminded the audience that the reason for the $5 billion price tag is because the stipulation that ‘no school should lose a dollar’ required a lot more funding to be put into the system. The flexibility to redistribute would have delivered a lower cost package. For example the overfunding of the some schools could have been redirected. Alternatively, Gonski could have reverted to the funding principles of the original Karmel recommendations and cut funding to elite private schools.

The Gonski funding quantum is not high in GDP terms but the Abbott Government has used it as a reason to walk away from the Gonski model. Cries of, ‘we can’t afford Gonski,’ have reverberated around our newscorp media with a sense of glee. Almost no-one has responded by stating the obvious, that if you want to reduce the price tag, the solution is simple – lose the ‘no losers’ stipulation. That the Commission of Audit did not identify this option speaks volumes about their interests and ineptitude.

The no–losers stipulation was based on a myth

It’s a myth that has now hardened into a self-confirming truth – that the elite schooling sector is so powerful that no Government can ever roll back the unfair funding regime. Belief in this myth explains the backdoor, undocumented meetings that were not offered to the public school counterparts. Belief in this myth explains why the needs based formula was watered down to such an extent that the funding share to the Catholic system was sustained in spite of their higher SES intake. Belief in this myth explains why Julia Gillard, after a visit to an elite private school with world-class facilities, exclaimed, “Isn’t this great!”

This myth grew to ultimate truth status due to an event that came to be known as the “Latham school hit list incident”. Just weeks before the 2004 election Mark Latham, then leader of the opposition, declared that funding for the very elite private schools should be cut and the funds distributed.

The media exploded. It went nuts. Peter Browne on Inside Story in 2012 noted that the media touted it as act of provocative class warfare and electoral suicide:

The plan provoked a furore, particularly on talkback radio. The Prime Minister, John Howard, characterised it as “old-fashioned class warfare,” a phrase that appeared repeatedly – along with “hit list” – in media coverage over subsequent days and weeks. The churches “savaged” Latham (according to a headline in the Australian), and the private schools warned of fee hikes and an exodus back to government schools. Robert Manne described the announcement as “dubious politics.” Andrew Bolt described it as “abhorrent.

The media believed its own story and so the fact that Labor lost the election because of the Latham hit list was accepted a fact. Except that it is not true. Browne’s investigation shows that this is a misunderstanding of why Labor lost the election as the polls of the time tell another story entirely:

Just before Christmas 2003, Newspoll asked 1200 adults to say what they would “like” or “not like” to happen in 2004. Fifty-five per cent of respondents said they would like to see “a reduction in government subsidies for private schools.” Thirty-five per cent opposed such a move and 10 per cent were uncommitted. In other words, only a little over a third of respondents felt strongly enough to oppose what would later become Labor’s education policy for the election.

Latham announced the school funding policy on 15 September, three-and-a-half weeks before election day.

Ten days later, though, an ACNielsen survey of just over 1400 voters found that support for a shift in funding had actually risen since the Newspoll survey ten months earlier. Fully 66 per cent of respondents approved of Labor’s policy, with 27 per cent disapproving and the remainder uncommitted. Even among Coalition voters, the policy attracted support from 47 per cent of respondents, with 44 per cent opposed.

In conclusion

Now that this Government has walked away from both the funding quantum and the key principles underpinning the Gonski recommendations, we may feel demoralised and defeated but we are not right back to ‘before Gonski’. The Review process and the huge effort put in by the Australian Education Union and many others was not a waste of time and effort.

The funding principles of a ‘school resource standard’ and ‘needs based weightings’ have now been firmly established as the way forward on the basis of extensive research and consultation.

The inequality of resourcing and the needs of public education have been clearly demonstrated.

But we also now know that trying to work with the private sector, hoping for a win-win solution will not work, and that this Government’s priorities do not include a fair go for the old, the young, the marginalised, the sick, or even for future generations. This has become crystal clear through the budget., However, civil society is starting to get organised and to build a broad based pro-poor, pro-social justice, pro-environment, and pro-inclusive movement. Manifestos and priorities for this movement are in development through multiple social media based processes.

This is our opportunity to make sure the key school funding principles outlined through the Gonski process can be included in this broad based movement.   Let us take what we need from the Gonski model and build a strong and clear narrative about what high quality equity based schooling system would look like in Australia. Let us place this narrative within the larger school funding historical narrative where the last 40 years can come to be seen, not as the sacred baseline, and not as the default position but as a foolish, unjustifiable, politically motivated aberration that has done immense harm.


[1] I have documented some of this in a previous article.

[2] Although it is worth noting that while the poorer private schools had less freedom to squander their funds there were many questionable practices that were allowed to flourish because of high growth in evangelical Christian schools. Marion Maddox details some of this in her book Taking God to School

[3] Quoted by Dean Ashenden in Mr Gonski and the Social Contract following Gonski’s Jean Blackburn Oration

[4] Jean Blackburn, Changing Approaches to Equity in Education, John Curtin memorial lecture 1991 ANU

[5] Socio-Economic Status


Public School Funding Fight: Time to change strategy and our language

Christopher Pyne has now made it clear that any concept of sector blind needs based school funding has been joyfully and gleefully knifed. His speech to the Christian Schools proclaimed loudly that this Government has sworn to maintain the Government’s emotional commitment to the continued funding of private schools, while ditching public schools.  By any calculation this is the opposite extreme of the Gonski proposal.

It is not sector blind – in fact it is sector funding apartheid

Pyne’s announcements leave private schools in the hands of the Commnwealth Government in a context where the current Government has shown that it is anything but resource constrained where their interests matter.  How else can quarantining top end schools from funding cuts be seen? We can’t have a budget emergency if we can still afford to subsidise schools with olympic heated indoor 8 lane swimming pools, specialised art performance spaces and so on.  If anyone can explain to me why schools with resources like this and per student fees of of over $20,000 pa need government subsidies at all I would like to hear it.

Pyne’s announcements cost shifts all funding responsibility for public schools to cash constrained states.  This means that from 2016, there will be no targeted Commonwealth funds for public schools, with the singular exception of the Chaplins-in-schools program, of course.  This is a dramatic shift.  For over 40 years, the Commonwealth has provided additional support to public schools in recognition of its special responsibilities for addressing disadvantage, supporting Indigenous  populations and maintaining the national education estate.

It is the very opposite of needs based.

The ‘not one dollar lost to private schools’ promise has been kept but the public school sector has been slashed.

There will be no national system of funding transparency and accountability 

There is no longer any agreement nationally by states to apply the principle of needs based funding.  In practical effect this will mean that states like NSW and Tasmania will apply the principles, but states like WA and NT – where our schools most disadvantaged and underfunded schools lie  – will continue shamelessly to neglect their remote schools.

The Gonski funding compromise  (which is what it was) was a chance to put in place a win-win funding system, where funding could be increased on a needs base without undermining power and privilege. It was given the fatal blow by this Government but they weren’t the only ones who undermined this win-win solution.

Private education sector workers, parents and lobbyists of all persuasions, where were you when Gonski needed support? Were you pushing for timely and accurate implementation of this win-win solution?

No, we did not hear your voice in support.  But we did hear: ‘more funding for disadvantaged students won’t improve student outcomes’ and ‘this proposal is too complicated’ and even, ‘this proposal will lead the Government sector to game the system by concentrating disadvantage’. We also saw your frequent and undocumented backdoor visits with the then PM and education Ministers and the subsequent watering down of the needs based weightings to ensure you did not just ‘not lose a dollar’ but could retain your sector ‘share’ of the spoils.

So I and many others will never accept such a compromised solution again.

One of the first things that will go is this ridiculous Government schools and non Government schools language.  Public schools are not just state schools or even just government schools.  They are public institutions and a core part of our national education estate – our ‘common wealth’. And the term non Government is a misleading misnomer as Marian Maddox reminds us:

... one challenge of writing about schools is finding appropriate terms.  One common terminology distinguishes ‘government’ from nongovernment schools. …these terms are of limited use.  .. all Australian schools receive considerable government support, meaning that no school can seriously claim non government’ status … (Taking God to school: the end of Australia’s egalitarian education)

So I will never again use ay other terms but public schools and private schools or the even more accrue ‘government funded private schools’ and I urge all people who care about langauge accuracy to do the same.

Christopher Pyne might be dancing around with glee at the idea of punishing public education – Labor’s base.  But public education advocates will not give up.  The next phase of the stronger than ever struggle for needs based funding and a strong and vibrant high quality public sector will be gloves off. Bring it on.

Keeping the #Gonski promise alive: finding allies in unlikely places

I was one of the 700 odd people who attended the Jean Blackburn Oration last week where David Gonski broke his silence for the very first time post the Gonski Report Publication. To be honest I was not at all sure what to expect Gonski to say. But I hoped that what he said would assist the hard fought campaign to have need based funding implemented in Australia.

My initial reaction was one of mild disappointment. Gonski is not a firebrand. But now I have read the reports of this event in the media re-read his speech I now realize that there were quite a number of very important messages in his address that need to be teased out.

This article focuses on what might be considered a ‘by the way observation’ by Gonski which goes as follows

 The 11 months of work was an eye opener for me. As a businessman working in an ivory tower I was given what may be a once in my life time opportunity to go into schools and associated organisations.

I saw:

The calibre of people who were principals of schools in the school visits I personally made. I don’t believe I found one I didn’t admire and respect. Some I liked more than others. Some handled me better than others but all had a quality of leadership which was both impressive and inspiring.

The difference between well-endowed schools and those in lower socioeconomic areas which is enormous.

I found most of the schools happy places – places of potential but where there was disadvantage the problems were clear and marked. To this day I remember a principal at a primary school in a very low socioeconomic area in the west of Sydney looking at me when I asked had he had any success in getting parents involved with the school. He noted that 40% of his student roll changed each year and that getting the kids to school within an hour of commencement each morning was his personal goal for the year – involvement of parents he had tried but just at the moment felt it was too hard.

He repeated this observation later in his talk

I cannot easily forget the differences I saw in the schools I visited. To say that many of the schools in the state systems need further assistance both in money and tender loving care is to me an understatement.

So here is a highly successful business man admitting he did not realise just how neglected many public schools are in comparison with schools he is more familiar with. And as a man of spare words he made this point not just once but twice.

On rereading these two extracts I was reminded of two submissions to the Gonski Review that are noteworthy because of their differences in content and flavour although both came from the top end of town – in this case Banking.

The one that produced the most media reaction was submitted by the National Australia Bank[1].

While currently unable to quote from the submission this SMH article about it notes that

 The National Australia Bank has entered the highly charged debate about school funding with a submission insisting private school funding be maintained in real terms and claiming that non-government schools save taxpayers money…

The submission argues that parents have a right to choose a non-government school for their child, and says any reduction in funding for private schools would have a ”detrimental” impact and place a greater financial burden on parents.

‘Parents of students in non-government schools already save governments billions of dollars each year in choosing to utilise the non-government system.

What infuriated public educators was not just its blatant promotion of top end schools that must be among its important clients, but its complete lack of comment about the adequacy of public education funding, – and this from an organisation that is promoting its corporate citizenship through its involvement in the Schools First Initiative.

The submission prompted Lyndsay Connors the then president of the Australian College of Educators to remark that:

 The purpose of public funding for schools is not to add to the attractiveness of independent schools as NAB customers or to the profits that NAB makes. In a true democracy, governments fund schools to give every Australian child high-quality schooling that offers each of them an equally good chance of success, whatever their family or community circumstances.

The Australian Education Union demonstrated their concern by publicising their letter to Mr Clyne Group CEO of NAB as follows

We write to express our deep disappointment with your organisation’s submission to the Australian Government’s Review of Funding for Schooling, chaired by David Gonski.

The NAB submission is profoundly ignorant of the complexities of Australia’s schools’ funding system and exhibits a total disregard for the majority of Australian students attending public schools and their families.

The submission expresses a narrow view, concentrating on only two of the review’s terms of reference. It is silent on the broader issues raised by the review and therefore the broader challenges facing Australia’s schooling system, including a commitment to equity and addressing barriers to achievement.

Not only is the NAB submission silent on the range of matters being addressed by the Review, it aligns the bank firmly with one set of vested interests. It falls well short of balance that one would expect of a submission from such a significant organisation.

The NAB has sought to present itself as a responsible corporate citizen through the Schools First program, aimed at recognising and promoting school and community partnerships. This has now been brought in to question.


The Commonwealth Bank Submission could not have been more of a contrast.

Here is the Australian Education Union commentary on this Submission

The submission highlighted Mr. McComas’ significant concerns about the poor condition of the building infrastructure in the government school system across Australia; notably that:

– Government primary school facilities (described as the “National Education Estate”) are generally of a lower standard relative to equivalent facilities in the Catholic and Independent school systems.

– The divide between Government and non‐Government schools could not be greater; e.g. some government schools (large and small) are housed entirely in non‐permanent accommodation; permanent accommodation in many locations is unsuitable to current teaching styles and is poorly maintained; administration and non‐teaching facilities in many facilities are of an unacceptable standard; and sporting and extra‐curricular facilities are poor or non‐existent.

It goes on in quite same detail and in this extract we learn just why these two submissions are so different:

 Having seen first‐hand the current standard of the government schools “National Education Estate” it’s no surprise that retention rates are low, that school teacher morale is low, and that academic and extra‐curricular achievement are failing many students.

In dividing up scarce educational dollars and establishing a framework for the funding and development of associated infrastructure, please don’t ignore the immediate need and ongoing responsibility to rebuild a large proportion of the government schools “National Education Estate”.

There is an immediate and urgent need to introduce minimum standards for educational facilities across states and educational jurisdictions based on best practise, for the benefit of all students.

You see Malcom McComas, who penned this Submission for the Commonwealth Bank, had been on the Audit Review Team for the Review of the Building the Education Revolution Initiative. He saw with his own eyes just how run down public schools were in comparison to schools normally associated with CEOs

So on the basis of this admittedly small sample of three powerful ruling class men I say to you invite your local persons of influence into your schools. If they attended a top end school, and are influential in business, the community, politics, or the media, so much the better.

I am as guilty as the next passionate public education campaigner of assuming that parents, teachers, principals, and administrators of non-Government schools have a vested interest in not supporting a fully funded needs based aspirational system but this is not actually the case. We have a wide base of passive support and we can turn that into active support. We need powerful allies and we can help to deliver that.

The vocal and outraged response to the budget from articulate people who are not personally affected, should remind us that most Australians can see that there is such a thing as “the common interest” and that a high quality education for all is a core and mandatory part of this “Common Wealth”

What they don’t yet share is knowledge and understanding at an intellectual, emotional and visceral level of the stark contrasts between the amenity of most non-Government schools and the amenity of struggling schools. They need to be shown.

So let them come. Make them come. Invite them to spend time in your schools. Do what takes to get them there.

I will finish with a quote from one of our greatest allies: Michael Kirby who wrote that:

Many current leading politicians did not attend public schools. They can hardly be blamed if they are not much aware of the ideals and achievements of public education or if they fall victim to stereotypes. Every effort must be made to invite members of Parliament (federal and state) to visit public schools. There they will witness the often-desperate needs of the teachers and students in that sector.  


[1] It is interesting and disappointing to note that the Gonski Review Submissions have disappeared from the DEEWR Website and I am sure it is not because they are running out of space.

Is opting out of testing just selfish individualism?

In a recent article about American culture and the opt out society Alan Greenblatt described the growing and successful movement to encourage parents to refuse to allow their child to participate in national standardised testing as selfish individualism.  It might be driven by a parents individual interest, he argues, but it is selfish and against collective interests:

 It’s probably true that the time spent on testing isn’t going to be particularly beneficial to the kids, but it’s very beneficial to the system,” says Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Fordham Institute, an education think tank. “If you have enough people opt out of these tests, then you have removed some important information that could make our schools better.

I find this amusing because the whole corporate reform movement, for which testing is the centerpiece, is built on the neoliberal belief that the best solution to everything – prisons, health, education etc – is to turn everything into a market and allow competition and individual choice to drive better value.

In fact this was the prime motivation described by Kevin Rudd when he first announced the ‘school transparency agenda’ on the 21 August 2008 at the National Press Club. The speech has mysteriously disappeared but I am quite clear that Kevin Rudd said something along the following lines

“If parents are unhappy with their local school because of the information in MySchool, and decide to transfer their child to another better performing school, then that is exactly what should happen.  This is how schools will improve, through parents voting with their feet.”

Now nobody who works in a struggling school thinks this is the way schools improve. Australia has run an aggressive market choice model of school funding for nearly 2 decades now and all we have to show for it is a highly class segregated schooling system and high levels of inequality.

So let me reassure parents who are concerned about our high stakes NAPLAN testing regime.  Opting out of having your child participate in these tests is much more of a community act than deciding to send your child to an elite school.

NT’s Adam Giles does a ‘Pyne’ on Gonski

We had fantastic news today.  Gonski is saved.  This is worth celebrating but in doing so, let us also remember that because of the different arrangements for the ‘Hold out’ states (Qld, WA and NT)  – the states where most of our remote Indigenous citizens reside – we do not have a national needs based school funding system in Australia and the losers are our most disadvantaged children.

I don’t know how this will play out in WA and Qld but when I think about what will happen in NT – what this should have meant for remote schools and the lost opportunity –  it makes me want to weep.

In a revealing article[1] in the Australian in July 2013, Adam Giles, Chief Minister for the NT admitted that according to the Gonski Student Resource Standard metrics, many of its Darwin, and some of its Alice Springs, schools are significantly over-funded.

Gonski is a con that says more than 40 per cent of Territory students attend schools that get too much funding and need less,” Mr Giles said.

Under the federal government’s model, Darwin High School and Palmerston Senior College are overfunded by around $2 million, Moil Primary School is overfunded by more than $1.3m, Taminmin College is overfunded by $2.5m, and Bradshaw Primary School is overfunded by more than $900,000.

The NT Government receives additional funds from the Commonwealth Grants Commission for the purpose of delivering services to disadvantaged and remote communities.  In my previous articles, I revealed that a significant proportion of these funds are not spent in remote servicing but on the more white friendly services in Darwin and to some extent Alice Springs. School funding is  one aspect of rort.

You would think that, given that our fellow Indigenous citizens of the Northern Territory, are, as a group, the most disadvantaged people in Australia, this information would have generated some outrage.  But Giles’ admission passed with barely a ripple.

If journalists had bothered to look up the details of the overfunded schools it might have discovered that they all had much lower numbers of Indigenous students than the underfunded schools.  For example, while the proportion of  students  who are Indigenous in the NT is now around 45%.  The percentage for Darwin High School is 6%, Moil Primary is 13%, Palmerston Senior College is 27% and Taminmin High School is 16%.

This same article also made it clear that this was the reason why the NT did not sign up to the Labor Gonski offer. The Commonwealth even offered to modify their deal so they could maintain, but not enhance, the overfunding for the more white schools. The NT still refused.

In addition, Giles made it clear that the NT is not willing to apply the Gonski student resource and needs loading principles to the funding of their schools.

“Mr Giles accused Canberra of trying to hoodwink the Territory into signing up to a bad deal that diverts money away from urban students in Darwin, the rural area, Palmerston, Alice Springs and Katherine and redistributes it to remote schools…..

Mr Chandler said that under the Gonski model, Canberra had to approve how the Territory distributed its funding to schools,

So now they are getting their funding from the Abbott Government with NO STRINGS ATTACHED.

The I Give a Gonski website[2] has very helpfully provided a look-up chart so it is possible to see what NT schools should have received  as a result of new Gonski funding.  And remember that in the case of the NT, the Commonwealth gave a set additional amount to all the overfunded schools. So if you look up a Darwin average to well off primary school, you will find that they can expect a funding increase of 32% and a secondary school around 16-19%.

But here are some examples of the percentage increases NT remote schools would have received had the Gonski principles been applied:

Shepherdson College –  in Galiwin’ku, an Indigenous community, 73%

Yuendumu School – an Indigenous community, 60%

Umbakumbar School – an Indigenous community, 86%

Alekarenge School – an Indigenous community, 68%

Docker River – an Indigenous community, 110%

Borroloola – a mining town with a majority Indigenous population, 92%

Now Tony Abbott has never been a champion of equity – I get that – but he has claimed to being committed to improving outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

But what about all the wonderful Australians who rose up in their thousands to stop Minister Pyne from pulling the Gonski funding principles and inventing his own.  We were outraged and rightly so and our voices made a difference.

But the NT will be ‘doing a Pyne’  – inventing its own funding allocation plan.  And they have bad – very bad  – form on this.  Remote Indigenous Communities – parents, students, and teachers will see none of the benefits flowing from our successful campaigns to reinstitute Gonski, unless our voices are heard on this.

Can you please pressure your local politicians to seek a nationally applied needs based funding model in Australia, one that is transparent and accountable.  This is not ‘command and control from Canberra’. This is responsible Government.  We should expect no less. Especially when the issue is so important.

Unpicking the student attendance/learning relationship in remote Indigenous schools

An ABC News report today sparked my interest with the headline Study finds no relationship between attendance and results at remote Indigenous schools.”

This interim finding comes out of an important five-year study, The Remote Education Systems Project that is looking at how education can best meet the needs of remote communities.

Specifically researchers have concluded that increasing attendance at remote Indigenous schools will not necessarily improve results, because, according to a senior research fellow, Sam Osborne, the analysis of the NAPLAN results from more than 200 remote schools has not identified any established relationship between attendance and outcomes in NAPLAN results.  This puzzling finding is the focus of this post, but first the research project itself is worthy of comment.

The Remote Education Systems Project

I have just come across this study. It looks very exciting and promising for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it is over a number of years – its final report is not expected to be completed until the end of 2016.  This is unusual in the world of Indigenous research.  Most research attempts to measure the impact of a single initiative, sometimes trying to use random trial type approaches, as though the drug trial paradigm can apply to such a complex context.

Secondly, it is focussing on remote Indigenous schooling only.  I have long argued that the tendency to assume all Indigenous education disadvantage challenges are the same, regardless of the context, has been most unhelpful.

Thirdly, the research is not starting out with a standard deprivation model.  It takes as its starting point the importance of community perspectives and understandings, and of building on community strengths.  I am really looking forward to the insights that will emerge from fresh thinking and community engagement.

And finally, the research framework is ‘going outside the box’ and questioning whether the current outcomes/targets/standards based approach is the best way to go.  I have recently made the case for the irrelevance of all the NIRA targets and output measures related to schools in the remote Indigenous context, so I strongly support this.

However, in questioning whether the dominant standards/target based approach as the only way to go, I do hope that the researchers also remember to take a critical look at the data and not pass over what else it might be telling us apart from its lack of fit.

The attendance/student learning puzzle

The issue of school attendance is an excellent case in point.  Systems prioritise attendance because of the assumption that children cannot benefit from school unless they attend on a regular basis. This makes intuitive sense.  So if the connection between attendance and learning progress is not obvious in remote schools, what else might be going on?

Now I don’t know how this project is using the attendance data but most educators who write on this matter argue that children need to attend school for over 80 per cent of the time to benefit.  Others insist that they need to attend for over 90 per cent of the time.  However this is all rather irrelevant to the performance data available to most of us, because attendance data is rarely reported to the individual student level.  It is only reported to the school or classroom level so comparing high attending individual students with low attending individual students is not generally possible.

If this project has managed to analyse results by individual student attendance profiles this would be an important piece of work.

However, whether or not this is what has been achieved by the study,  understanding how it is usually reported and how this is used  in policy terms is important.  Let me explain

The MySchool and the COAG reports both use the concept of average attendance.  This might be ‘good enough’ in the majority of situations where average attendance rarely falls below 90 per cent. But in remote communities, where average attendance rates of 52 per cent are common, it is not very helpful.

Average attendance basically measures the collective gap between the number of students enrolled and the cumulative number of students on a daily basis.  So if there are 200 days in the school year and 30 students enrolled, 100 per cent attendance would mean that over the school year there were 200×30 or 6000 ‘student attendance events’.

However, a 52 per cent attendance rate could mean anything from, 52 per cent of students enrolled attending for 100 per cent of the time, to all students attending for 52 per cent of the time, to anything in between.  In the first extreme, 52 per cent of students should be benefitting but 48per cent of children would get absolutely zero benefit.  However in the second extreme scenario, none of the children would benefit.

Of course, most schools are not at either extreme but we still don’t know what an average attendance figure means in terms of its impact on student learning.  When I last had access to the NT official and very detailed attendance data base (over 3 years ago), I do recall that for the larger remote community schools, the average number of students who attended school over 80 per cent of the time was only 27 per cent.  Yet the average attendance rate was around 60 per cent.

If we delve further into what this might mean at the school and classroom level, some new questions emerge.

So, let us imagine a classroom in a remote Indigenous community school with a 60 per cent attendance rate where 27 per cent of the children attend over 80 per cent of the time.

Firstly, how many children would be on the roll for the average class if the official teacher-student ratio is 1-20?

In the NT, schools are allocated staff based, not on enrolment numbers, but on attendance[1] . This impacts significantly on actual classroom size and the challenges facing remote teachers. For example, a primary school with 300 children enrolled ,but an attendance rate of 60per cent, would be allocated staff for 180 students[2] not 300. Yet the number of students who need to be assigned to teachers and classes is 300 not 180 – they just attend irregularly. This would require making class sizes of about 33 not 20.

So on any one day, a teacher might have only 20 children in their class but about 33 children on the roll.  Based on the expectation that only about 27 per cent would attend over 80 per cent of the time, this class of 33 might have about 9 children who attend on a very regular basis and the remaining 24 children would also attend, albeit on a highly irregular basis.

Can you just imagine the chaos of such a classroom and how hard it would be to focus on the small number of students who are there regularly?  Add to this mix, inexperienced short term principals, a high number of novice teachers, a generally non-English speaking student body and cultural challenges, and you get an even more accurate picture.

It appears that the finding, that the rate of attendance does not necessarily lead to improved learning outcomes, may well be because of discriminatory school funding by the NT government and the impact of the high level of irregular attendance of the majority of students on the classroom learning environment.

Knowing whether this is the case matters because it affects the questions we ask and the solutions that are considered.

I do hope that this issue is investigated further as part of this exciting research project.

[1] This, in my view, is a very serious case of indirect discrimination.  It is also highly unethical because the NT government signed a Memorandum of Understandings with the Commonwealth Government in September 2007 that included a commitment, on their part, to move from “staffing based on attendance” to “staffing based on an Agreed Student Number” (note: this would, be based on estimates of the numbers of age relevant children in the designated area, so it would expected to be, at least at the level of enrolment, but possibly higher). This work has never been done. This has enabled  the NT Government to continue to underfund Australia’s most needy schools for years.  One of the reasons they can get away with this is the COAG approach of only requiring output based accountability.  It is also worth noting that, had the recommendations of the Gonski Report been implemented, there would have been an independent monitoring body to monitor needs based funding.

[2] The savvy reader may have noticed that the MySchool data on FTE student numbers and FTE teacher numbers in NT remote schools does not bear this out. In fact these ratios look very healthy.  I have hesitated writing about this issue because of this problem.  But I now understand how to make sense of it.

In the explanatory notes of the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services  (ROGS) Chapter 4 on Schools, the following note is included under the definition of teacher: For the Northern Territory, Assistant Teachers in Homeland Learning Centres and community school are included as teaching staff. ( 2013 p 4.9.9).  This labeling of unqualified Indigenous Education Workers as teachers is another NT sleight of hand. For instance, it allows them to create an impression that the Homeland Learning Centres have daily access to a teacher, but they do not.

If Independent Government Schools are the answer: what is the question?

Pyne believes that introducing Independent public schools across Australia will bring significant benefits to these schools and their communities.

Yesterday The Conversation published its fact checker that concluded that the claims to increased productivity and efficiency as well as increased student outcomes have no basis in evidence.

While I agree with this, I think this was a cautious assessment that drew its areas for consideration too narrowly. In this post I focus on some of the more concerning aspects about the IPS system that were not considered by the fact checker.

Claims of improved student outcomes – treatment of the research

But first a brief comments on the claims that were considered.  The fact checker, in looking at overseas evidence of schooling set ups that have similarities to IP schools, looked at Charter schools in the US.   It drew from the 2013 CREDO Charter Schools study of the comparative student learning effects of Charter Schools.  This report concluded that there were some comparative learning outcomes improvements but that they were non-significant in nature.  Most media headlines reported in terms of Charters are performing slightly better than public schools

What I find interesting about this is how this non-significant difference is treated.   The Great Lakes Centre for Research recent Review of the CRDEO study makes this point

 The most important results of the study…are differences of 0.01 or 0.02 standard deviation units, and even the largest effect size reported are on the order of 0.07 standard deviations. 

Hanushek has described an effect size of 0.20 standard deviation for Tennessee’s class size reform as ‘relatively small’ considering the nature of the intervention.

So there you have it – an effect size that is tiny- very tiny – is hailed as a small improvement justifying this large scale reform.  However it is much smaller that the effect size attributed to smaller class sizes by Hanushek, who led the campaign to oppose class sizes because, the effect size is too small.

The logic behind autonomous schools

To go beyond the fact checker scope it is necessary to dig behind the claims.  Pyne is arguing that Australia has invested strongly into non-Government education and it is working well for Australia.  He notes that we are unusual in our high levels of investment in non-government schools relative to other OECD countries – so we must see it as a public good.

He is asking the reader to assume that non-Government school enrolments skyrocketed over the years of the Howard regime just because it was a great idea – totally demand driven. But I won’t chase down this particular rabbit hole here.

So, says Pyne, we have these great institutions that work well, so lets get a piece of this into the public education system.  This implies without any evidence that the public system is not working so well.

So what he is borrowing from the non-Government system?  Is it the great facilities, or the ability to enrol students as they see fit, or their ability to charge fees or their superior levels of per pupil funding.  No – because non-Government schools can only selectively enrol students and charge fees because there are government schools that must then pick up all the non selected students, and provide a free education

What he is picking up, is the stand-alone school concept, minus the generous funding – a school with a bucket of money to do its business, responsible to a board and able to make all its own decisions. This will, he argues, be more efficient, will encourage bold new thinking and innovation, and will give the community much more say over spending priorities.

It is interesting to note that in the negotiations over Gonski the non-Government sectors successfully argued for additional systemic funding to better support their stand alone idealised schools. Maybe, just maybe, stand-alone models are not all they claim to be.

The previous WA Education Minister, Barnett justified the WA model of IP schools in terms of increasing competition and variety because maintaining all schools as equal was undesirable as it breeds mediocrity.

So to follow the logic pathway, IP schools will deliver better student outcomes, more productivity and efficiency because ‘stand alone schools’ will make all their own decisions about how they use their bucket of funds.  This will make them more competitive, they will spend the same amount of money more wisely and they will be more innovative.

So lets look at these claims

IP Schools will be more innovative

A WA press article recently profiled an IP school in WA that opted to become a marine biology school.  Fabulous example!  This school has reported that student engagement is high and that they have a big enrollment waiting list.  Students in its enrollment district have an automatic right of entry but students outside this district will have to move house or hope for an enrollment win.

However, NSW, arguably the most centralist state when it comes to its schooling has schools that specialize in agriculture, in performing arts, in technology, in sports, in languages.  There are schools with Opportunity Classes and the Board of Studies has a year 12 syllabus in Marine Studies.  Victoria has Government schools that offer Steiner programs, ACT has the Cooperative school and a bilingual French-Australian K-12 IB school.  There are networks of schools that adopt innovative approaches such as the Big Picture schools, IB schools, UN schools, Stronger Smarter school leaders and Dare to Lead schools. These are just a few examples I know about.  We don’t NEED IP schools to develop innovative schools within the government system.

Lyndsay Connors, argues that when she was involved with the National Schools Network – an initiative of the Hawke-Keating government intended to free schools from bureaucratic and union rules, the new and innovative practices that schools adopted, that she witnessed, were all ones that they could have done without special freedom.

She says this was also true of the self-governing schools created within the Victorian public system under the Kennett government. A few principals took the opportunity to create a governing school or board with some financial freedom, such as increasing salaries, but she says other innovations she knew of depended on extra funding.

Connors argues that with the same increase in funding, other schools could have implemented similar reforms, even while operating under a more centralised system.

And of course not all innovations are good innovations.  A school could decide that they could shift funds directed to ESL learners or special needs students to a program that the more influential members of the board might want – a violin program, or an artist in residence.  Having parents on boards does not always lead to decision that are in the best interests of all parents.  Articulate ‘entitled’ parents will always end up with more say.

And finally, lets remember that some of the innovations in Charter schools are very worrying – “no excuses” schools that feed the school-to-prison pipeline, or, schools with built-in churn as they rely almost solely on TFA teachers passing through education, en-route to a high profile future.

Pyne is allocating $70 million to this initiative.  This will give all participating schools about $47,000 as a one off allocation. So all the innovations will have to come from changing the staff profile in some way because that is where the vast bulk of the funds are spent.

 Competition improves schools

Proponents of this view argue that by giving parents the power to choose between schools and the power to influence schools, schools will work harder to earn more student enrollments.  This competition will improve all schools.

It is very clear that in WA, where only some schools are IP schools, this competition has been hard for non-IP schools.  Trevor Cobbold has posted extracts from principals about the effects of the IP arrangements on their work.  They talk about how the IP schools suck up all the highest rated teachers, while they are forced to staff based on redeployees.  And the more high needs the school, the more intense the problem.

Here are some of their comments:

 Basically, the better ranked teachers chose better schools. That is how it goes and that is how we get residualisation within schools. Low SES schools just cannot compete with the leafy greens, and they don’t even have to be leafy greens but good solid communities that support education and their kids in school. There was always a component of this, but IPS has really amplified it.


[this is not a low SES school]
Public education was once about equity, about being able to say that a child way up in Wyndham and a child at leafy Wembly Downs will get the same quality of teacher. Creating a privileged set of schools badly damages this concept.

Autonomy and Student Equity

The ACER evaluation of the impact of IP schools in Australia did not ask questions that might have exposed the impact of this set up on student equity.  They did not look at any changes in the enrollment share of IP and non-IP schools by student demographic characteristics, nor did they look at the changes to the staffing profiles of the schools.  In my view this is a pretty big omission – not necessarily of  ACER’s choosing.

This is the big issue with Pyne’s proposal in my view.  Trevor Cobbold makes this point

 Greater demand for IP schools amongst higher income families and increased flexibility of IP schools to select student enrolments is likely to lead to more social segregation between government schools in WA. Inevitably, it will mean increased differences in school results and more inequity. This is after all what a market in education is designed to do.

 Chris Bonner reiterates

But the bigger danger is that we risk losing the equity safeguards which our public school system, with all its claimed faults, currently provides. [Where schools can choose their own teachers] … the best will gravitate to the schools with the more valued location, easier to teach students and money.   ….there are no prizes for guessing which schools and communities will miss out.

 There are other hidden stings. Unless closely monitored, increasingly autonomous public schools will seek and gain greater control over student enrolments. I love them dearly but already there are few rules which get between many of our enterprising school principals and a desirable enrolment. The better placed autonomous public schools will join their private counterparts in applying both overt and covert enrolment discriminators, worsening the complex equity problems revealed by the Gonski review.

A blog post by Chris Lubienski about research into schools autonomy and equity in the New Zealand context gives us a glimpse into how enrolment manipulation is likely to happen over time if autonomous schools are introduced across the nation. He found that schools will actively pursuer policies of enrolment segregation if they are given a chance to do so and that autonomy initiatives provide just that sort of opportunity.  His findings are so important I am quoting from him at length:

Previous research has shown that schools in more affluent areas are more likely to be in greater demand, and thus more likely to have enrolment schemes.  The question we asked was whether these self-managing schools were using their autonomy to draw their zones in order to improve or restrict access for disadvantaged students.  To do this, we simply compared the level of affluence in a walkable radius around each school to the level of affluence in the boundaries that the schools themselves had drawn.  Certainly, school zones are not perfects circles, as their creators have to consider traffic patterns, geographic barriers, and the boundaries of competitors.  But, all things being equal, we could expect that deviations in those boundaries from a geometric radius around a school would be more or less equally likely to include or exclude more affluent neighborhoods.  

But that is not what we found.  Instead, there is evidence of rampant gerrymandering to exclude children from more disadvantaged neighborhoods.  In the cases where there is a statistically significant difference in the “deprivation level” of the population in a school’s drawn zone compared to its immediate area, over three-quarters of these self-managing school had drawn a zone that was significantly more affluent than their immediate vicinity. 

Moreover, as if to add insult to injury, more affluent schools are not only drawing boundaries to keep poor kids out, but in their promotional materials are bragging about their success in doing this.  A review of school websites shows that more affluent schools are much more likely to include official information about the number of disadvantaged students they serve. 

While we might find these types of practices to be distasteful for public schools that are funded by taxpayers to serve all students, in some ways, such actions are predictable (if indefensible).  After all, policymakers are creating education markets where schools recognize competitive incentives to shape their enrollments.  It should be no surprise that, given such autonomy and such incentives, they find creative ways to do just that. 

So if on Saturday we have a change of Government, this is what we can look forward to in our schools.  We will have a tiered system of schools, competing on a highly unequal basis and our already highly segregated education system will become even more so.

Ironically one of the best tools for highlighting the issues will be the data from MySchool.  Is this why Pyne thinks the publication of the NAPLAN results is a bad idea?  It sounds crazy but I do wonder.