By Amanda Bell, Principal
The following article was published on The Australian Online on Thursday 23 February, 2012.
Quality teaching is the most effective way to improve the educational outcomes for young people. The recent research and the reports on this claim are united in this regard. The 2010 Grattan Institute’s Investing in Our Teachers, Investing in Our Economy, stated that a ten per cent rise in teacher effectiveness would lift our students to among the world’s best and add $90 billion to the economy by 2050 (Walker, 2012). All Australians would support a view that every child in this country should have access to an education which takes account of their capabilities, background, strengths, weaknesses, interests and potential. Schools which place academic care at the centre of every child’s experience will set them up to succeed—schools which are led by teachers who are genuinely dedicated to their profession and to the young people they seek to inspire, and supported by parents who value education.
This may sound idealistic and perhaps it is, but is the focus on funding schools and which schools deserve more or less funding, actually where the political and economic gaze should be directed? Ensuring we attract the best and brightest to the profession, keeping those teachers engaged and committed, and providing them with the necessary support through mentoring and professional development is surely crucial to delivering a quality education for every child. Schools in disadvantaged and/or remote regions and schools with disabled and/or disadvantaged students certainly need additional support in every way—the best teachers possible, student counsellors, aides, additional specialised resources, and often extended care and meals for students. Perhaps the best way to manage the individual requirements of these schools and students is the recent move to more autonomous school management of funds, staffing and resources. But this is frequently not the natural expertise or skill-set of principals whose careers have evolved from the classroom and their love of teaching. Principals taking on autonomous leadership in schools previously managed by government departments need professional development and support to ensure the transition is successful.
While the federal and state governments both fund schools currently—federal primarily for the non-government sector and states primarily for their own schools—the existing model is complex, uneven and ripe for renovation. But any review should not result in penalising any schools which over time have prudently managed their funds to enhance their campuses or resources; which have attracted, developed and retained quality teachers; and where the school communities of parents and past students have supported their schools directly and in-kind with their fund-raising, time and expertise. Funding for the future should not seek to penalise for the past, but it could certainly address shortfalls in schools which have very particular needs because their students have very specific requirements. The Sydney Morning Herald summarised these salient points from Gonski’s review: “Australia lacks a logical, consistent and publicly transparent approach to funding schooling,” the report says. “Every child should have access to the best possible education, regardless of where they live, the income of their family or the school they attend.” (Topsfield & Hall, 2012)
What is perhaps concerning however, is a claim that an outcome of the review will provide a funding benchmark to educate a child to a national standard (Topsfield & Hall, 2012). If a national standard refers to results in national standardised tests, then the goal for a better system is already out of range. Funding schools more logically or more equitably will not, as a natural consequence, improve teacher quality and it is the professional expertise of teachers in classrooms delivering challenging and relevant curricula to their individual students that will raise the collective educational outcomes of young people in this country.
The Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia, while welcoming the review, looks forward to the financial detail and implications so member schools, such as Brisbane Girls Grammar, can assess any potential impact on families. There is also some concern than the philanthropic endeavours of schools and their communities could influence future funding levels. It would be a great pity to further penalise schools and parents for their philanthropic goodwill in support of not only their own child’s educational benefit, but for the benefit of future generations. It is well documented that positive and strong community engagement with schools benefits students in myriad ways. Parents’ positive and supportive attitudes to the value of education generally and their child’s school specifically complete the partnership between home and school to advantage the student.
Exceptional education relies on the optimistic, high challenge engagement and endeavour of teachers, parents, students and schools. The government states its commitment to prioritising and funding educational improvement in schools and students. We need to ensure teachers are part of the equation. To quote David Gonski from his article in the Sydney Morning Herald: “It will take time. It will take an understanding of the challenges for governments across Australia implementing the report’s recommendations. It will take an understanding that resources alone do not bring about real change and that extensive reform is also required to [enable] the delivery of schooling that addresses teacher practice and quality, school autonomy and leadership, among other areas.”
AHISA (20 February 2012) ‘Government’s plan for further consultation on funding reforms is welcome’ Media Release
Caldwell, B & Sutton, D (29 October 2010) Second Report of the Review of Teacher Education and School Induction for the Queensland Government Department of Education and Training, Queensland Government.
Collins, Robyn. (April 2008). Top schools: Why teachers make a difference. Teacher, 11 – 15.
Gonski, D et al. (December 2011) Review of Funding for Schooling: Final Report Australian Government
Gonski, D (21 February 2012) ‘We need to stop both nation and needy from falling behind’ Sydney Morning Herald Retrieved 21 February: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/we-need-to-stop-both-nation-and-needy-from-falling-behind-20120220-1tjka.html#ixzz1myr7z524
Hattie, John. (October 2003). Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? Paper presented at the Australian Council for Educational Research Annual Conference on: Building Teacher Quality, 1 – 17.
Topsfield, J & Hall, B (20 February 2012) ‘Gonski wants every school’s funding to be needs-based’, Sydney Morning Herald Retrieved 20 February: http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/gonski-wants-every-schools-funding-to-be-needsbased-20120219-1th9z.html#ixzz1msoXu6au
Walker, T (18 February, 2012) ‘Asian education goes to top of the class’, Australian Financial Review Retrieved 21 February: http://afr.com/p/opinion/asian_education_goes_to_top_of_the_5YUcLcOjtz3WUEDwYuoynI
Zammit, Katina et al. (February 2007). Teaching and Leading for quality Australian Schools. A review and synthesis of research-based knowledge. University of Western Sydney, College of Arts.