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The federal government’s Review of Funding for Schooling, that is currently taking place is of great interest to a great many people. The topic is certainly one that gets both parents and those who are not parents quite hot under the collar.

The review panel is headed up by David Gonski, the chancellor of the University of NSW. The other panelists are Carmen Lawrence, former Premier of WA; Kathryn Greiner, former deputy chancellor at Bond University; Ken Boston, former director-general of the NSW Department of Education and Training; Peter Tannock, noted international educationalist and former vice-chancellor at University of Notre Dame ; and Bill Scales chancellor of Swinburne University.

This is a review I will watch with great interest and found the below article on the topic written by Ron Dullard, Director of Catholic Education in W.A. particularly well written.

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Kids deserve a fair schools debate. Any claims that non‐government school students get more government funding are wrong, says Ron Dullard.

The Australian Government review of funding for schooling, led by David Gonski, is engaged in a review focused on funding for all schools.

There will be much debate about the role of governments and the priorities for funding over the coming months.

Our children deserve a constructive and honest debate on future funding arrangements and as such fair, reliable and accurate information will be fundamental to the debate.

The article by Robert Fry (Fairer education funding overdue, The West Australian, May 30) raised several concerns about perceived inequitable funding of government schools.

Unfortunately the selective nature of the information in the article did little more than continue the divisive ʺpublic versus privateʺ debate of old.

The following facts in terms of schools funding are sourced from the Deloitteʹs analysis of MySchool data for the Government.

The data shows that nationally the average net recurrent income per student for government schools is $11,100 compared with $10,000 per student in a Catholic school and $13,700 per student in an independent school.

These figures include school fees and other private income. What is indisputable is that when all forms of government funding are considered (that is both Federal and State) non‐government school students receive substantially less government funding per student than government school students.

Any claims that they get more government funding are transparently wrong.

In WA, the student averages demonstrate a similar picture, but with independent averages slightly lower ($12,756) and slightly higher averages for government ($13,585) and Catholic ($10,722) schools.

This reflects the higher cost of providing education across a geographically diverse State and illustrates the significant point that the Catholic system of schools parallels the government system as a provider with similar geographic and socio‐economic diversity.

In the case of eight Catholic schools in the Kimberley there is no other provider. In many respects there is more commonality between the two systems than difference.

But funding is only part of the story.

The standard of resources and buildings in government schools is an important issue that is often cited as part of the funding debate.

The concerns are legitimate, but in making comparisons it needs to be recognised that non‐ government schools fund their facilities predominantly through loans which require significant debt servicing out of the funds available. Government schools are not required to service such debt.

Catholic schools are servicing diverse communities and take their social responsibilities seriously.

While Catholic families are given priority, there are places available for non‐Catholic students. The enrolment of healthcare card holders in WA Catholic schools reflects the proportions in the wider community.

These and many other families have access to significant fee concessions. There are many refugee and indigenous students enrolled in Catholic schools free of charge. According to the Index of Community and Socio Educational Advantage, only 3 of the 10 most educationally disadvantaged schools in WA are government schools. Conversely, eight out of the 10 most educationally advantaged schools are government schools.

Similarly the implication that non‐government schools do not have appropriate accountability arrangements is fallacious.

Catholic and other non‐government schools have the strictest financial accountability requirements through State and Federal government agencies.

All schools are required to submit externally audited financial accounts to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Rela‐ tions. Individual government schools are not required to meet such demands.

Furthermore, the school registration and ongoing audit process through the Department of Education Services ensures that non‐government schools meet all other requirements as stipulated under the Education Act.

Choice in education is important for all parents and is a vital part of Australian democracy.

The Catholic sector in Australia is a big and genuinely national enterprise and has provided an accessible and affordable choice for the past 170 years. There are 1700 Catholic schools in Australia equating to one in five Australian school students being educated in a Catholic school.

The most recent OECD Program for International Student Assessment data indicates that Australian Catholic schools achieve high quality outcomes while maintaining high standards of equity.

Supporting this choice with appropriate funding is vital. Factual information which enables parents to make such choices is also imperative.

Equally important for our nation is identifying the real issues in schools and determining how the Review of Funding for Schooling can ad‐ dress them. So what is the real issue?

The real issue is about improving the educational and life outcomes of students and in so doing, recognising the way that schools can autonomously address the needs of their communities.

Recent moves to create independent public schools, similar to a governance model used by Catholic schools, has the potential to empower local communities and lead to real educational change.

All educators would agree that government schools need more funding but it would be a mistake to just give more funding to keep doing the same thing.

Equally non‐government schools require a proportionate share of increased funding.

The teachers in our schools are the nationʹs greatest asset. Research shows that the single most important factor in schools for improving student outcomes is the quality of the teacher.

Any major increase in funding therefore should be aimed at getting the best possible teachers in front of our students whether they be government or non‐government students.

Raising the status of teaching, establishing salaries that provide appropriate reward for effort, providing opportunities for growth and professional development, will all be significant elements of any reform process.

The National Catholic Education Commission has made a submission to the Review of Funding for Schooling calling for certainty in future funding arrangements.

In so doing there is a call for increased funding to assist indigenous students, students with disability, schools in regional and remote areas and new arrival and refugee students to achieve better educational outcomes.

At the same time the maintenance of existing funding levels in real terms is essential if Catholic Education is to continue to provide a high quality and high equity education.

In a recent statement Federal Minister for School Education Peter Garrett outlines his desire for a ʺmature debate on funding arrangementsʺ and a move away from the ʺunproductive and divisive public versus private debateʺ.

All should be working towards this goal and that of a better future for the students in our schools.

(This article was published in The West Australian on Monday, 6 June 2011 in the Opinion Section on Page 21)

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

xA

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