I guess all school leaders have become cynical over the past ten years. The shenanigans of the various Teachers Federations during the period have been more than unedifying, and the unwillingness of the elite schools to acknowledge inequities in schools is just plain greedy.

Most disappointing has been the focus on school funding to the exclusion of questions of quality. Spending $5 billion will achieve nothing if development and accountability is not built into the funding arrangements for every school and every system. Getting rid of layers of bureaucracy – death to the DET – would also be helpful. Why not federalise all funding? Fund and staff every school independently, and let schools accept tenders from service and admin providers.

This clipping is from the February 21 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition. To subscribe for $4.50 a week, visit http://smh.com.au/digitaledition.

Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald
Gonski was hamstrung from the start.

LABOR does not talk about its program much any more. Since Gough Whitlam the word is out of favour. But Labor does have a program and, bit by bit it is getting through it, though from the noise and smoke surrounding the leadership an observer might wonder.

The review of school funding chaired by David Gonski can be seen as central to the program of both the Rudd and Gillard governments. School funding lies at the intersection of two policy currents fundamental to modern Labor: the economy and the efficient management of public finance, and universal education as a vehicle to deliver social progress. Though one may legitimately debate how well the Rudd and Gillard governments have managed public finances in other areas, the school funding problems Gonski tackles are largely not of their making. His review was asked to find a way to fix school funding, state and federal, which has grown piecemeal over decades into a Heath Robinson-like contraption – a fundamentally unfair one, a product of temporary fixes and vote-buying . It is therefore deeply unfortunate that, because it has been delivered at a time of Labor’s parliamentary and organisational weakness, this thorough, praiseworthy attempt to bring fairness to a complex and sensitive field is likely to fall by the wayside.

Gonski was hamstrung from the start by the requirement that any change produce no losers. Inevitably, it had to recommend that the government spend a lot more on schools to bring the disadvantaged up to the level the privileged attained long ago. Given the tight federal budget and the promise of an early return to surplus, the government cannot contemplate Gonski’s recommended $5 billion-a-year funding boost – never mind that Australia’s school performance is slipping, according to international comparisons. It is not surprising the government has responded to the report by saying it will now consult widely before doing anything. Labor lacks the budgetary means and the political strength to address this issue. So like a child asking for the impossible, Gonski has been told: “We’ll see.”

Given the circumstances, probably the best way forward from here is to build a national consensus that school funding remains a problem to be solved – and an urgent one. If Canberra’s consultations with the states and others can elicit consensus about measures of funding and disadvantage and ways to reduce the latter, then something positive – not a lot, but something – can be salvaged from this well-intended , thoughtfully produced, much-anticipated lost opportunity.

Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald