Bracks Take #2

Following my previous post on the Bracks report in Victorian government school funding, it’s been pointed out to me that my key observation of the report could be wrong.

I made the point that the report identified at its outset the importance of needs based funding and that the Victorian government needed Canberra to deliver on the Gonski promise. Minister Merlino in his foreword to the report summary said that if this did not occur it would “disproportionately impact on government schools and leave the Andrews government no alternative but to rethink school funding”. My point was that this could only mean Victoria would revisit its automatic allocation to non government schools of 25% of the student resource package (SRP) for government schools. I thought this was straightforward, albeit controversial.

Someone has suggested this may not be the case. On a  further reading I accept that this matter is indeed very much open to interpretation. It seems that the Bracks report is recommending a number of measures to promote greater cross sectoral collaboration and accountability for the outcomes for all students, including some financial incentives for non government schools to participate. However on the question of what this means for broad funding of the different sectors, the report leaves open two possibilities.

  1. Revisit Victoria’s funding allocation to all sectors and schools to ensure that it is distributed on the basis of need. This would most closely align with the report’s emphasis on needs-based funding and with the report’s suggestion that the commonwealth allocation to Victorian schools be pooled and distributed by the state government (see p 12 reference below). In other words, the 25% is up for grabs.
  2. Leaving the allocation of funding between sectors untouched and simply changing the allocation of funding among government schools to better address need and promote innovation and collaboration. In other words, take money off some government schools and give it to others on a needs basis.

The report provides detail on a new SRP model which would be used for government school irrespective of which approach is adopted.

Either course is difficult for the minister. The first approach would require some nimble footwork in terms of relationships with Catholic and independent schools, not to mention a legislative change.

The second approach is also challenging and poses significant political risk, particularly in those communities which would stand to lose funding or forego future increases. The only way to get this across the line would be to maintain existing funding and direct any additional funding to those with highest levels of need. The schools most likely to be affected would stretch across Melbourne’s east and south east; they wouldn’t go down quietly. As Sir Humphrey would say, a ‘courageous decision’.

Indeed schools from all sectors will be a little nervous about the new accountability and public reporting regime recommended by the report. Surely this can’t sit on top of the existing processes. Are we looking at a state based version of My School? Schools wouldn’t see much purpose in that unless there were new measures of school performance and funding included. For starters government schools would want some ‘value added’ measures included along with details of the real amount of recurrent funding arriving in schools.

I would just note one further challenge related to the recommendations that suggest cross sectoral and cross school collaboration. This is highly desirable, with the greatest benefits likely to be gained from schools of different socio economic composition and levels of performance working together. But geography will make this difficult.

Back on the funding question, as the excerpts from the Bracks report below show, in the end perhaps we come down to a definition of what is meant by Victoria’s ‘funding allocation’. Does it mean the commonwealth allocation to state schools only? Or the total funding allocation Victoria makes to all schools and sectors? What is it exactly that the minister says the government would ‘rethink’? If it’s just a redistribution of funds among government schools while maintaining the automatic, non needs-based 25% of SRP to non government schools then I think the government could stand accused of hypocrisy. The government will have turned the spotlight back on its decision to allocate non government school funding without regard to need, which is contradictory to the whole tenor of the Gonski and Bracks reports. The government might point out in its defence the Bracks recommendations regarding cross sectoral collaboration, but this would ignore the  substantial imbalance of funding between sectors (see p7 reference below). If on the other hand the ‘rethink’ includes a totally fresh look at how the state spends all its education funding then we have substantial change in the offing.

For reference, here is some detail from the Bracks report:

Steve Bracks ‘Message from the Chair” p (i) : “ instructions were to consider Commonwealth contributions to school funding in Victoria” (one of four areas the review was asked to consider).

Key Findings (P4-5)

“…resources are not always allocated to their most efficient and effective uses. Inconsistent allocation first by government and then by schools…”

“It is not possible to understand outcomes for students in government schools without also considering the non-government sector and Commonwealth policies”

“More effective and efficient allocation of resources….[could] confront the imbalance between government and non government schools which is feeding the concentrations of disadvantage in the government school sector”

“Funding allocated by the Commonwealth and the State, across three sectors and with three funding models, is neither transparent nor coherent”. (my emphasis)

The Proposed Way Forward (p6)

“The three school sectors come together in the interest of all students”

Recommendation summary

#2 (p7): Confirms that under the Gonski deal, in 2017 Catholic and independent schools would be at 95% of the Commonwealth’s own School Resourcing Standard (SRS) while government schools would be at 80%. A decision not to proceed with Gonski would impact disproportionately on government schools.

“This means funding is not directed to where it will achieve the biggest impact in Victoria”

A new government school funding allocation is proposed, more focused on student need.

A series of recommendations list measures to be taken to increase accountability and promote collaboration between schools and between sectors (see my previous post).

#5 (p10): “…[ensure] all system participants are accountable…for lifting outcomes for all students, including across sectors”.

“A dedicated independent body – the Education Performance Monitor – should be established to drive student improvement and inclusion through transparency, across all school sectors”.

#6 (p11) “…reorienting school funding incentives towards a common goal….can lift the returns on the government’s education investment significantly”

Specific recommendations

#2 (p12): “The Commonwealth should provide its annual funding allocation to Victoria, which would then allocate funding across all school  in all sectors in Victoria”. The chances of this are very slim indeed.

“In the absence of aligned funding architecture, Victoria should endeavour to transform its funding allocation to align with desired funding principles…”. Suggests redistribution between sectors.

#4 (p12) spells this out further: In the event that the commonwealth government does not recommit to the Gonski deal, “Victoria should focus its funding allocation on where it will have the greatest impact, prioritising the needs of the most disadvantaged students”. 



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