The review of schools funding headed by Steve Bracks has delivered its recommendations to the Victorian state government. And they make for interesting reading. If implemented in full they would represent a fundamental change in education in this state.
What most people saw as an investigation of the funding model for state schools has delivered recommendations on a much broader set of issues. It goes beyond the mechanisms of the funding model and builds a case for reform built around the value achieved for government expenditure across all schools. It confirms the commitment of Victoria to needs based funding of schools across all sectors and suggests a range of measures to ensure accountability for public funding and to encourage collaboration between schools.
The foreword provided by Minister Merlino highlights the importance of the needs based school funding model proposed by the Gonski report. Further, he states that if the Gonski funding is not delivered this will ‘disproportionately impact on government schools and leave the Andrews government no alternative but to rethink school funding’. That’s about as unequivocal as you can get. If the federal government doesn’t deliver additional funding the state government will revisit its funding of non government schools, which was legislated at 25% of government schools funding early in the life of the Andrews government.
In fact the Bracks report suggests Canberra should pool its funding of schools and allow Victoria to distribute them on a needs basis. Don’t hold your breath given the Prime Minister’s recent statement that state governments couldn’t be trusted with funding for private schools. So Victoria, as a significant funder of non government schools, would act of its own accord.
The report goes on to suggest a wide ranging set of changes to encourage collaboration between schools and get maximum value for public investment. At the risk of leaving out something significant the list includes:
- Victoria request the commonwealth to legislate to allow government schools to have DGR status i.e. be able to receive tax deductible gifts/donations
- Promotion of school federations to improve curriculum access and opportunities for students. The implication of this is that we may be encouraged to look at federated models of school governance. This suggestion taps into one of the most signifiant assets government schools should have – the ability to leverage the capacity of the extensive community of government schools – which lies largely untapped. The report implies that one barrier to this is that accountability for performance currently rests with individual schools.
- Broadening of expertise on school councils.
- A Learning Partnership Challenge Fund to provide funding on a competitive funding to cross sectoral partnerships of schools to improve performance, particularly in struggling schools.
- A Partnership Fund to which all government and non government schools would contribute funding unless they can otherwise demonstrate they are partnering.
- Increase principal remuneration and allow principals to focus on core task of school leadership and improvement.
- A Teacher Premium Pilot which seems designed to encourage movement of highly skilled teachers between schools. Targets would be disadvantaged schools.
- Annual strategic audits to assess effective use of resources, with results to be published online in a new portal.
- A new Education Performance Monitor which would be cross sectoral and appraise the use of funds and whether all schools were contributing to the effort of supporting disadvantaged students/at risk students, identify best practice and undertake projects of system wide value. This is a very interesting and potentially difficult suggestion to implement.
- Simplification of funding lines for government schools..
- Revised funding formulas for small and rural schools and encouragement to cluster. Small metropolitan schools may be most at risk from this recommendation.
- a series of recommendation regarding clarity of Vocational Education and Training (VET) funding to better target investment and weed out abuse. To have real effect this would need to extend to external providers.
- Changes to funding and accountability for funding of students with disabilities, refugee and indigenous students.
- A biddable fund Student Engagement Fund to improve retention and engagement.
The underlying tenor is that we need to have better accountability for government investment, a needs based funding model is necessary to better target funding and schools in alls sectors need to pull their weight in terms of public accountability.
If the recommendations are accepted and introduced they would have a profound impact on education in this state.