Catholic school leaders have been particularly strident in their criticism of the model, with much of the criticism centring on the instrument used to measure need – the Socio Economic Status (SES). For around 20 years, the SES has been the instrument used to determine how much funding each student in a particular nongovernment school should receive.
Unfortunately, the SES is a blunt tool. It assumes that every family in a particular school community has exactly the same capacity to contribute to the education of their child.
When David Gonski presented his first report to the then Labor Federal Government back in 2013, he made clear that we needed to find a better way than the SES to assess need.
That view is widely shared and yet we still don’t have one. To mitigate the unfairness caused by the the use of the SES, Catholic education systems pool money provided to them by governments.
They then assess what the needs of the students in every school are and allocate resources according to those needs.
Even governments acknowledge that education systems are in the best position to determine need in individual schools.
This pooling of funds by Catholic education systems has been criticised by some sections of the media and by some politicians as taking money from poor schools to give to rich ones.
That particular criticism is misinformed and unfair. Catholic systemic schools are deeply committed to supporting the most marginalised and disadvantaged.
No child is denied an opportunity to attend a Catholic school due to an inability to pay fees.
We do what we can to provide a quality education for families regardless of where they live, and we direct resources and support to where they are most needed.
We do not deny support to a student in a particular school, based on the fact that the postcode where the school is located has a higher-than-average SES.
Need is need, wherever it exists. I support other Catholic school leaders who are calling for the serious flaws in the proposed model to be quickly addressed and for an end to the political opportunism and point-scoring that is being played out in the media.
All this will do is continue to create confusion, mistrust and distress for families who just want the best future for their children.
I am disappointed that the hostile funding debates of the past have returned.
Families want reassurance from education experts telling them that their children are in safe hands, that their learning needs are being fully met and that the cost of their education will be affordable now and into the future.
Western Sydney is the home to one of Australia’s most diverse communities, and families work hard for the future of their children.
They are no different to families all over Australia who value education as one of the most lifechanging experiences a young person can have.
We all agree we need a clear and fair funding model that provides certainty for all schools. That’s why the debate needs to be recalibrated.
We must get funding sorted quickly so we can focus on the things in education that actually matter the most:
- transforming our education system so that it better prepares students for their fast-paced, information-rich world
- lifting the learning for all young people
- empowering teachers to make decisions about learning at a local level based on the needs of their students
- using meaningful data, contemporary research and best practice to properly inform what we do
- making learning relevant.
It’s time to have a conversation about something that is more meaningful. We need more light and less heat.
Let’s work together to ensure that we have schools that are fit for purpose, and give all young Australians a chance to do more and be more.
And let’s never lose sight of what might be possible rather than getting bogged down on what we think is not.
Surely, we owe our young people that.