Moving with the tide of history ... the report from businessman and economist David Gonski.
There is a sentiment pinched by Manning Clark from Dostoevsky: "I want to be there when everyone suddenly understands what it has all been for." That is much how I feel about the Gonski report. The report is an achievable solution to the decline in Australia's education performance and to the unrealised potential of our education system.
It seeks to raise the performance of all children, in all schools. It sets out to achieve real equality of education opportunity for all young people, regardless of parental income, family circumstances, location, ethnicity or any other form of disadvantage.
It moves with the tide of history: it accepts that public, Catholic and independent schools each have a role to play in Australian education.
The essence of the Gonski report is that all children in every school should receive a base level of funding equivalent to schools in which at least 80 per cent of students achieved above minimum national standard in reading and numeracy across the three years 2008-2010. This is highly aspirational: these are the best-performing schools in Australia.
It is then proposed that there be additional loadings to take account of disadvantage factors such as school size and location, low socio-economic status, indigeneity and limited English language proficiency.
On the basis of extensive modelling, the review specified some indicative ranges within which these loadings should be determined by negotiation between the states and the Commonwealth.
The review proposes arrangements to ensure students with disabilities are supported financially in accessing public, Catholic or independent schools according to choice; arrangements to ensure effective and efficient use of the taxpayer dollar in the provision of new schools; and arrangements for continuing review of the level of school funding and funding indexation.
The Gonski glass is half-full, not half-empty. Most public, Catholic and independent school interests have welcomed the report, as have people on either side of politics.
There might well be devil in the detail of the loadings and the additional arrangements: let's find it, and deal with it.
The fine-grained data needed for testing the indicative ranges proposed are the property of the states, the Catholic systems and independent schools and were available to us only in broad scope rather than detail.
It is time to put these data on the table on the basis of consensus and to centre the debate on matters of implementation rather than principle.
The recent Council of Australian Governments' commitment and the commitment by education ministers to advance this work is welcome. It needs to be undertaken in full view of the public, Catholic and independent school interests and with their participation.
The review estimated that public funding needs to be raised from $39 billion to $44 billion to achieve an acceptable level of quality in Australian education.
The need is urgent. Significant elements of decline in our national performance are absolute rather than relative, and the increasing performance gap between the top and bottom 20 per cent of students (currently equivalent to 5.5 years of schooling by year 9) represents an extraordinary waste of potential human capital.
But, even if the $5 billion might be found in this year's budget, it could not be spent before the detailed work had been done.
What is needed from both state and Commonwealth governments at this stage is a public commitment to phased implementation - beginning with hard work on the detail, the introduction of legislation this year for 2014, and a phased program for providing the necessary funds as the detailed work proceeds.
In the national interest, and in the interests of a fair go for all young Australians, let's roll up our sleeves and get on with it.
Ken Boston is a former NSW director-general of education and training, a former chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority for England and a member of the Gonski Review panel.
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