Education Minister Christopher Pyne. Photo: Nic Walker and Louie Douvis
Those long-suffering souls in charge of educating children in government schools must be shaking their heads in despair. Despite all the hype, noise and promises generated by last year's Gonski review of school funding, what we're left with is basically chaos.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced last week that the government would back away from its pre-election promise to adopt the Gonski reforms over four years.
Having broken the promise and perhaps rattled by the backlash, Pyne threw a measly $230 million at the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia, the states that did not sign up to the Gonski reforms. But what are we left with?
The Gonski review was the first comprehensive review of school funding since the 1970s. Now that the government has junked it, we're left with yet another promise to reform the system. Pyne will outline his preferred reforms in the new year.
But it's worth reminding ourselves what the Gonski review tried to fix (which Pyne might have been reminded of, had he accepted the invitation made by Gonski panel member Kathryn Greiner to talk him through the review's findings).
Under the existing arrangements, the ''educational outcomes'' of indigenous kids have fallen two years - two years - behind those of non-indigenous kids.
Under the existing funding system, just 45 per cent of 20-year-old to 24-year-old indigenous people had a year 12 or equivalent qualification in 2008, compared with 85 per cent of non-indigenous Australians.
The cost of educating disadvantaged children can be higher, but under the existing arrangements, it's a cost that's disproportionately borne by government schools, which educate the vast majority of disadvantaged children without adequate federal assistance.
Almost 80 per cent of children in the lowest quarter of socio-educational advantage go to public schools - according to the briefing Greiner may have offered Pyne - but they're being left behind.
Sixty per cent of children who are not proficient in English, and about 30 per cent of indigenous children and those living in ''very remote'' areas, are considered ''developmentally vulnerable''.
And that too often means they're dropping out of the system.
In 2009, the report tells us, 56 per cent of children from low socio-economic backgrounds finished year 12, compared with 75 per cent of children from high socio-economic backgrounds.
It's not only kids from poorer, indigenous and migrant backgrounds who are dropping out of the system.
There is no common definition used by all states and territories to identify students with a disability, which makes it impossible to cater for them properly. But we do know that in 2009 just 30 per cent of Australians aged 15-64 with a disability had finished year 12, compared with 55 per cent of the broader population.
A lot of this, according to public-school educators, comes down to a lack of resources. In 2010, according to the best estimates available to the Gonski panel, 85 per cent of indigenous students and 78 per cent of students with a funded disability went to public schools. Public schools, and those who work in them, cater for the vast majority of kids with complex needs, without enough help.
Despite dumping the Gonski reforms, Pyne maintains he supports a needs-based funding model.
''The principle of a needs-based funding system, where disadvantaged students get more money, is a very good principle, and that, of course, was the same principle of the previous socio-economic-status funding model. It was called socio-economic status because funds got to where it was most needed.''
Directing more money to disadvantaged students is exactly what the Gonski panel recommended. But it cautioned that existing arrangements, which it said were ''unnecessarily complex, lack coherence and transparency, and involve a duplication of funding effort in some areas'', were not the way to deliver that to students.
Under the current socio-economic model that Pyne defends, extra money did not go to public schools teaching disadvantaged children because the Commonwealth largely funds private schools, while the states fund public schools.
The system introduced by John Howard in 2001 allocated money to private schools based on the socio-economic status [SES] of the areas in which students lived, with more disadvantaged communities attracting more funding.
In practical terms, it meant federal funding for the wealthiest private schools in NSW rose by between 50 per cent and 90 per cent in the 10 years to 2010.
And it led to more than 1075 private schools having their entitlements preserved at the levels they received under the previous system because Howard promised no school would be worse off.
As NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said this week: ''He [Pyne] must be the only person in Australia who thinks the SES model is a good model.''
Bianca Hall is Sunday Age political correspondent.