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Pyne abandons Gonski model

The government says it will retain Labor's funding levels for school education, but will introduce a new model for distributing the money from the 2015 school year.

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''What the hell is going on?'' NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell thundered on Tuesday.

It captured what many were thinking, in a week when the Abbott government threw a hand grenade into the centre of education policy and reform.

Premier Barry O'Farrell.

"What the hell is going on?": NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell. Photo: AFR

Contrast O'Farrell's mood on Tuesday with the hope the NSW Premier expressed just six months ago. Back then, the Premier was signing his conservative state government up to the former federal Labor government's so-called Gonski education reforms.

In doing so, he talked about how the newly signed deal could signal the end of the education wars.

''This reform today has the potential to ensure that some of the debates of the past, debates about funding mixes, debates about system versus system, are consigned to history and we continue to focus on what's most important in education - which is giving our young people the best possible start and opportunities in life,'' O'Farrell said in April.

Christopher Pyne.

New funding system: Education Minister Christopher Pyne. Photo: Melissa Adams

But if those hopes have not been permanently dashed, they have at least been delayed.

Christopher Pyne has clearly abandoned his election pledge of providing a ''unity ticket'' on school policy.

The pugnacious Liberal frontbencher has also chosen to pick a fight with the five jurisdictions that have signed up and revived the Coalition's bitter enmity with Labor over school policy, claiming the funding model he supported during the election campaign was now an unworkable ''shambles''.

The full funding envelope of additional dollars for schools that did sign on to the new model seems set to be spread more thinly now. This presumably means there could be less money for individual schools in NSW and Pyne could not promise otherwise on Tuesday.

If the federal government gets its way, the reduced amount of funding will also be distributed according to a different, ''flatter'' model and not the one he went to the election supporting.

Just as it seemed the whistle had finally been blown on the muddy political football match that has characterised Australian education policy debate, it seems Pyne has chosen to call all weary players back onto the field for another brutal round. That will be exhausting for them.

But it will be terrible shame if it means less money delivered to the neediest schools in this state, or across the country.

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