My Daily Advertiser Op Ed for today, 19 December 2017

by ray goodlass

Private schools the big winners from Gonski 2.0

Private schools are set to get more than they need under Gonski 2.0, newly released Freedom of Information documents reveal.

This led me to question whether private schools should receive public funding. I followed this by asking myself if in fact we need private schools at all. l’ll address these difficult questions later in this column, but first of all let’s look at a little more detail at the windfall private schools are about to receive.

Catholic and independent private schools are set to get more than 100 per cent of their needs from governments under the new “Gonski 2.0” plan, official documents released under Freedom of Information show, reported Peter Martin in the Sydney Morning Herald.

In NSW, 110 private schools are expected to receive more than 100 per cent of the so-called schools resourcing standard from governments, up from 65 schools in 2017. By 2027, when the Gonski arrangements are fully implemented, 212 private schools will receive more than their total needs from governments.

Why this is so demonstratively wrong is that the funding model increases the number of overfunded private schools while failing to adequately support public schools. This can’t be considered fair by anyone’s reckoning.

As Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon said “This is the proof of what so many have suspected- Liberal/National governments are not friends of our public schools. Australia already has a school system that entrenches inequality and this will make that injustice worse.”

Now to address the thorny question of the need to publicly fund private schools, and the even more difficult question about whether we need such schools.

The question about publicly funding private schools is quite easily answered, because it is a resounding ‘No’. It is indeed an oxymoron, for private schools aren’t public, and so shouldn’t be able to benefit from the public purse. They are in effect double-dipping.

The legitimacy of private schools is a more complex issue, but ultimately there is no justification for them. As SMH columnist Elizabeth Farrelly pointed out, the $53 billion we pour into the into a system can only divide us, for it “buys a system that deliberately tribalises children before they can read”. Tribalising children before they outgrow training wheels can only encourage class-based and religious sectarianism.

And all that effort leaves us with a system that year by year makes us less well educated. Across the board, public and private, quality is low and falling, with consistently dropping international test scores in literacy, maths and science.

There is a claim that private schools ease the burden for the public system. This is spurious, for each private school student sucks up almost two-thirds as much as each public one. Before the benefit of their fees, that is.

This is manifestly unfair. Private schools heighten inequality, privileging the privileged, hogging the teaching talent and siphoning off kids already equipped with reading backgrounds, so depriving the public system of beneficial peer-to-peer learning.

Let’s see what happens if private schools are banned. Forty years ago, Finland stunned the world by nationalising schools, revering teachers, ending streaming, entering school late, shrinking the school day, reducing homework and extending holidays – then topped every test. Dr Pasi Sahlberg, who as minister designed the Finnish system, will move to Sydney next year, to teach. Let’s learn from him.