Make the Gonski money matter

Ben Jensen

Gonski 2.0 promises a significant amount of money to schools but will it make a difference? The Government has asked David Gonski to deliver a report before the end of the year on how the money should be spent. The goal is to end more than a decade of stagnating or declining results for Australian schools.

Most reports on school funding say money should be directed to specific activities. This hasn’t worked in the past. So instead of specifying where money should be directed, the report should establish a national framework that assesses the effectiveness of money we spend and then states how we can spend it more effectively for the cost. To achieve this, the report should:

  • acknowledge the fact that because the states and Catholic and independent sectors run schools, the federal government’s power to direct money to where it is most effective is very limited. Most efforts to direct funding to specific activities just lead to increased compliance: school systems ticking boxes to show they have met funding conditions rather than introducing real change.
  • focus on student outcomes rather than funding inputs, realising that too much rhetoric around evidence-based policy merely reinforces the longstanding emphasis on inputs in education policy. 

The report should propose a National Report Card that compares the performance of each system across the country against the money they spend. So instead of the federal government ordering states to spend money on A,B or C, it can let states decide – since they run most schools – but then publish evidence to show whether the money had any impact on kids learning.

We already have much of this information but it is scattered. Putting it in a single report card would increase accountability where it is sorely lacking and change the political debate. It would be a huge step in the right direction if state politicians were forced to show how much they have improved schools rather than just promising to spend more money on them.

Ben Jensen is CEO of Learning First. This article was published in The Australian Financial Review on 10 May 2017.