Posted 2018-08-21

The AHISA-ISCA Education Forum: A National Perspective was held in Canberra on 20 August 2018 while political controversies rumbled in nearby Parliament House. The forum was very well attended and provided a chance to hear first-hand from political heavyweights, with the ever-present question of funding dominating discussions.

Colette Colman, Executive Director ISCA, set the scene with a speech that noted, “The history of school funding is a history of compromise and pragmatism.” These factors were on display as the Federal Minister for Education & Training and his Shadow outlined their policy positions.

Minister Birmingham said, “If funds were limitless, my job would be very easy. If your school had all the money in the world, your jobs would be very easy. But we don’t. We give the greatest funds to those school communities that can least afford to contribute to their fees. It’s an important principle. It’s why SES funding models were developed. The decision we took last year to enact a process to get to a unified formula applied consistently across the country was an historic step.”

The Minister said that making political predictions was a fraught task, but that he anticipates the mandating of 80% of Independent school funding coming from the Commonwealth will remain in place. “Regardless of what happens in politics in coming years, I don’t see anyone unpicking that. It is there as a benchmark to identify that all non-government schools ought to receive the same share of funding under the same methodology and formula.”

The Minister announced that the change of methodology recommended by the NSRB to assess SES will not be implemented in 2019. The existing methodology will be used for next year.

Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Minister for Education and Training, told the Forum, “Labor has committed to restoring every dollar of the $17b the Turnbull government has cut from education over the next decade. We support parental choice in schooling, and believe your school should receive a fair level of government funding. We will invest in a needs-based sector-blind funding model. The greatest funding increases should go to the schools most in need. Funding to Independent schools under Labor will be higher than under the Coalition.”

This message was echoed by Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. “We will invest in schools in a sector-neutral fashion,” he said. “We can afford to do this because we will prioritise schools funding over tax cuts at the top end. An ALP government will fund schools according to need but we will not be ripping money from one system to balance the books with another system. The best economic strategy for this country is to provide the best education possible.”

A highlight of the Forum was a long and thoughtful address by David Gonski AC on governance. There was also a well-received session on leveraging social media, and a look at how education leaders are addressing the needs of struggling students.