OPINION PIECE - GRATTAN INSTITUTE REPORT SHOULD BE A WAKEUP CALL FOR THE GOVERNMENT – OUR SCHOOLS NEED HELP, NOT CUTS

Only a day after Malcolm Turnbull lined up his ducks for an early election, his lack of a plan on how to improve Australia’s education system has been exposed by a new report highlighting the inequity in Australia’s schools.

Students at disadvantaged schools are lagging at least two years behind their peers from schools in wealthier areas.

 

Struggling students from disadvantaged backgrounds are slipping further and further behind their peers because they don’t have the resources or support.

 

These aren’t the hallmarks of a world-class education system – yet they are exactly the trends that the Grattan Report found in Australia’s education system.

 

These trends are all too familiar – in fact, the gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students, between schools as we cross state borders – are the exact reason that Labor introduced the Gonski needs-based school funding reforms, reforms that teachers and principals testify are already working in their schools. To close the achievement gap, it’s critical these reforms are implemented – on-time, and in full.

 

In the lead up to an election, both the Government’s track record on education and plans for the future of Australia’s schools will be closely examined. Maybe this is why the Prime Minister didn’t even mention schools or education in his announcement to bring forward the Budget – in the eyes of the Liberals, the less that is said about their policies, the better. Unfortunately for them, there’s no hiding their lack of vision for Australia’s education system.

 

At the last election, voters were relieved to be presented with a “unity ticket” – both parties supposedly on the same page, endorsing the same critical needs-based funding reforms which were essential to fixing the problems in Australian schools.

 

Fast forward, and the Turnbull Government has not only said they will walk away from the last two years of these important funding agreements but they’ve also announced their plan to cut $30 billion from schools over the next 10 years - the biggest school funding cut in this nation’s history.

 

The Grattan Institute’s report is a potent reminder of why these cuts will exacerbate the problems in Australia’s school system.

 

The report made three important recommendations: put learning gaps at the heart of school policy; give schools better support to target teaching at each child’s needs; and work harder to improve the progress of disadvantaged students so that every child in every Australian school can achieve their potential.

 

These recommendations won’t be achieved by cutting classroom resources. They won’t be achieved by kicking the school funding can further and further down the road. They can only be achieved by ensuring every student has the resources they need.

 

In January, Labor announced the Your Child, Our Future plan which will fully fund years five and six of the Gonski school funding agreements, reverse all of the Liberals’ cuts and bring about long-term reform.

 

Our plan will ensure that educators are better trained and given the resources they need to deliver world-class teaching; it will ensure that every school in Australia has early intervention programs, literacy and numeracy programs, and access to specialised support.

 

Only last week, Bill Shorten announced that Labor’s Your Child. Our Future would expect additional investment in education is put towards targeted teaching – one of the key recommendations of the Grattan Institute’s report.

 

This isn’t just a plan for education and schools. It’s a plan to close the inequality gap. It’s an economic plan.

 

Labor knows that Australia’s inequality gap can’t close while there are persistent and growing gaps in student achievement. The costs of these gaps shouldn’t be underestimated – for individual students, inequality hinders social progress and it drags down our economy.

 

If we can equip all Australian high school graduates with the basic skills needed for the global economy by 2030, it would be the equivalent to adding 2.8 per cent to our GDP today. That is the same as a $44 billion expansion in our economy today.

 

Given Federal Government expenditure on schools is around 1 per cent of GDP, or $15 billion, this would be an incredible return on investment.

 

The Grattan Institute report is a stark reminder of what is on the line if we fail to invest in education.  And at the election, the choice will be clearer than ever – Labor’s plans to invest, or the Liberals’ plans to cut.

 

Government and politics are all about priorities. When Malcolm Turnbull stood up yesterday he made it crystal clear that his priority is his own future, and not the future of Australia’s children.

 

This article was originally published in the Guardian on Wednesday, 23 March 2016.