The long awaited Review of Funding for Schooling has been completed and the Report by the panel of eminent Australians chaired by David Gonski AC has been released.
In this Submission I have only focused on Chapter 3 in relation to equity and disadvantage but also have comments in relation to disabled children.
I have also concentrated on western suburbs schools in Sydney as I live in that area and my wlasna firma children attended a western suburbs catholic school before moving to an independent school.
The panel must be congratulated as the Report is both comprehensive and well researched and makes a number of recommendations that, if implemented may, to some degree, improve the educational outcomes of some Australian children.
The ‘Pink Elephant’ In the Gonski Report
I believe, however, that the Report, (for whatever reason) fails to acknowledge ‘the pink elephant’ in the classroom and that is that parents are the first educators of their children. This is the foundation premise of many independent schools in Australia, including the PARED (Parents For Education) schools, which excel academically year in and year out, although they are not selective and offer no scholarships to secure bright children who will boost the overall marks of the school.
Schools that acknowledge parents as the first educators of the child work in partnership with the parents so that the child receives the same message and expectations at home and at school. This applies not only to academic expectations but also to behaviour. When the parents bring the child up with the end in sight (ie. adulthood) not just the present moment, they focus on developing a strong character in the child by modelling this themselves and expecting the child to display human virtues such as sincerity, cheerfulness, generosity, perserverence, gratitude, respect, honesty and service to others. This means that it is normal for the child to do his or her best at school and in other endeavours, to respect school property, to care about the feelings of others and to help those less fortunate. This is simply the taught character of the child and it is unrelated to socio-economic status. These types of schools run in countries where the majority live well below the poverty line as we know it, such as the Philippines and these children still emerge as strong, independent young adults, full of gratitude and determination to make the most of life, despite the fact that they are among the poorest of the poor. One such school, Southridge (in Manila – Phillipines), runs a program whereby the fees of the day students are used to fund an afternoon school for students who would otherwise have to attend a poorly resourced public school and the university entrance marks of the afternoon students are actually outstripping those of the more financially privileged day students.
Socio-Economic Status and Academic Performance
The Southridge experience shows us that socio-economic status does not have to adversely affect academic performance. In fact central to the Gonski panel’s definition of equity ‘is the belief that the underlying talents and abilities of students that enable them to succeed in schooling are not distributed differently among children from different socioeconomic status, ethnic or language backgrounds, or according to where they live or go to school’. The Report cites the findings of Caldwell and Spinks (2008) that all children are capable of learning and achieving at school in the right circumstances and with the right support.
I believe that the key to success is whether the children have the right circumstances and support and this is not necessarily linked to socio-economic status, although, because of a lack of social welfare programs in Australia, it often is. For decades the children of migrants to Australia have been well represented in the lists of high achievers and their parents have generally had little or no formal schooling (which contradicts the findings of the Gonski Report p 114) and both worked long hours in manual or menial jobs for low pay. These families have always been in the low socio-economic segment but the children were, however, raised with the belief that education is the key to success and with the parental expectation that they would study hard and go to university. This was a non-negotiable given. They were also raised to respect their parents and other elders and to have an attitude of gratitude and service to others, with many migrants supporting family members back in their home countries although they had little themselves.
These migrant parents had a mindset that saw the value of education. It is the same in third world countries such as the Phillipines. Parents support education as the key to a better life. Hence the success of initiatives such as the Southridge afternoon school. How many parents of children from a western suburbs high school would accept a scholarship for their children to undertake high school at say the Kings School (for boys) or Tara School for Girls (Parramatta) if it was a condition of the scholarship that they meet the requirements of these schools including:
1. Having the children up by 6.30am every day to eat breakfast and travel to school to arrive by
2. Encouraging the children to do the minimum 90 minutes homework each evening (Year 7) after
arriving home around 5.00pm (This time increases each year);
3. Allowing the child to devote at least half a day per weekend to homework and assignments;
4. Ensuring that the child represents the school in a sporting activity which will involve driving the child
to and from the venue on a Saturday; and
5. Attending the school as required for meetings on the child’s progress.
I believe that very few parents would accept the scholarship, as the commitment would disrupt their lives and the disruption would not be seen as worthwhile as education is not high on their list of values. As Dr John DeMartini teaches these families do not perceive education as a void, even though they did not get it themselves and therefore do not value it. As a result even if the child took the scholarship he or she would not understand why they were required to put in so much additional effort to their friends at local high schools and would resent the obligation.
The Real Problem Of Disadvantage Is The Inconsistency Between Home and School
The Gonski Report cites the findings of researchers Perry and McConney (2010) who found there are multiple ways in which schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged students differ from schools with high concentrations of students from more advantaged backgrounds. These include less material and social resources, more behavioural problems, less experienced teachers, lower student and family aspirations, less positive relationships between teachers and students, less homework and a less rigorous curriculum
The Report warns that new arrangements are needed to:
• Make sure that Australian kids do not fall behind the rest of the world, and keep Australia
competitive, after a decline in education standards in the past decade.
• Stop the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students growing wider.
To deal with these challenges, the Report recommends introducing a Schooling Resource Standard, which would have two elements: a set investment per student, plus additional top-up funding to target disadvantage.
I support the set investment per student and believe that this should be the same no-matter where the child goes to school as each child deserves equal government investment in their education. This is the key to ensuring that the educational standard of our top students does not decline.
I do not agree that there should be additional top-up funding in schools to target disadvantage. Such funding perpetuates the idea that there are advantaged and disadvantaged schools and locks in the idea that children from certain schools are different and less likely to succeed than children from other schools. It also confuses education with social services. The real issue is the academic standard and mindset that each child beings to the school year they are entering, not what is on offer from the school, as most Australian schools offer enough.
All Australian children should have access to the same curriculum (and they do), to passionate and experienced educators (this is sometimes achieved) and to schools that are adequately resourced (generally achieved).
It is irrelevant how much money a school throws at literacy and numeracy programs as although they may improve standards from what they initially were, they will not being the participants up to the same level as children in schools where the children, themselves value education, as the child must be willing to put in the effort necessary to succeed. You get nothing if you give nothing. The child must have the virtues of perseverance and hard work and these must be taught. An education must do more than give a minimum academic standard, it must also build character. As parents are the first educators of a child and have the most influence on them, a school by itself will never over-rule the mindset taught at home and is opening itself up to student resentment and belligerence when it sends a different message to what is taught at home, as it threatens the very foundations of the child’s world.
In relation to the resourcing of the schools I believe that far too much weight is placed on this. The evidence is the fact that students of correspondence and on-line courses achieve high results with no physical resources. In addition many western suburbs high schools are far better resourced than independent high schools where the parents have to contribute funds to buy equipment and build buildings and are already stretched to the limit paying fees. However the results of these well resourced high schools do not reflect the amount spent on resources. Take Glenwood high school for example. The Mindquest program is run there one weekend a term for gifted and talented children (but really any child can go and does) and I was stunned when I saw what was on offer to local children such as technology labs, sports fields, cooking kitchens, art rooms etc.