Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

The ‘marketisation’ of public education

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Labor continues the assault

The Federal Government has again postponed the announcement of its schools funding policy, refusing to commit to which recommendations – if any – will be implemented from the ‘Gonski’ review into education.

The ‘Gonski’ report, chaired by businessman David Gonski, was commissioned by the Federal Labor Government in 2010 when Gillard was the Minister for Education.

The report recognises that “over the last decade the performance of Australian students has declined at all levels of achievement” and that “Australia has a significant gap between its highest and lowest performing students”.

Editorial comment from the September edition of ‘The Socialist’

The performance of Australian students in the key areas of reading, science and maths has slipped dramatically compared to other OECD countries. Over the same period the number of students in public schooling has declined, while the public funding of private schools has increased.

Rather than address the widening gap and overall decline in student performance by pumping money into under-resourced public schools, the ‘Gonski’ review outlined a model for government funding of schools that would see both government and private schools receive a set figure per student enrolled. The report recommends that “a minimum public contribution per student for every non-government school be applied” including super-wealthy elite private schools.

The report suggests the base funding should be $8,000 per primary student, and $10,500 per secondary student, with private schools having to contribute at least 10% of the cost. These figures are apparently based on the per students costs of schools where at least 80% of students are achieving national minimum standards in reading and numeracy.

Already Australia sits well below the OECD average when it comes to public expenditure on schooling, and well above the OECD average for government funding of private schools. This situation would continue under the ‘Gonski’ model.

However, some have welcomed the report’s recommendation that schools (both public and private) be afforded extra funding for disadvantaged students, such as those with a disability, from a low socioeconomic background, or Indigenous students. Considering disadvantaged student are over-represented in public schools, some commentators are suggesting this creates an opportunity to correct the inequality gap between well-resourced private schools and crumbling public schools.

It is estimated that the recommendations would add $5 billion to the annual education funding. However, this figure has not been committed to by the Gillard government. In fact, Gillard and Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan have reiterated their commitment to budget cuts, calling their goal of achieving budget surplus in 2012-13 “non-negotiable”.

Far from committing to an increase in spending on public education, the only promise Gillard has made so far is to the private sector, pledging that “Every independent [non-government] school in Australia will see their funding increase under our plan”.

This represents just one example of the continued undermining of public education and introduction of privative competition across all levels of education.

Teachers and other education staff in Queensland and Victoria continue to battle Liberal/National state governments for decent pay and funding for public schools. It must be remembered that the former Queensland Labor government was booted out earlier this year due to their attacks on teachers and other public sector employees. In Victoria, the former Labor government saw Victorian teachers become the lowest paid in the country.

TAFE students and staff in Victoria have also rallied against the $300 million in budget cuts, a result of years of promoting and subsidizing private, for-profit Registered Training Organisation (RTO’s) in the sector. The cuts have forced a number of public TAFE’s to close entire campuses, and students fees are set to triple or even quadruple.

The previous Brumby Labor state government in Victoria uncapped the number of publicly subsidised courses in order to integrate private education providers into the system. Private intuitions (including corporations such as McDonalds and Crown Casino) now outnumber public TAFE’s 1300 to 18 in providing accredited courses. Numerous accounts attest to the substandard quality of such courses and many sham institutions are in operation.

Both major parties have similarly supported the opening up of the university sector to private, for-profit education providers like Navitas. In 2007 the newly elected ALP federal government uncapped the amount of places universities could offer, but this did not coincide with further funding to adequately support this growth.

Now, university administrations are demanding the ability to charge higher course fees, and calls are being made to increase Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) repayments by up to 25%. The ground has been prepared for future governments to further withdraw university funding and shift the full financial burden of education costs onto students.

Labor have overseen and extended the shift toward education for private profit in all sectors. This is in line with the neo-liberal economic model Labor subscribes to, privitising public services and infrastructure and implementing a user-pays model of service provision. This approach has seen a huge amount of wealth pass from the hands of ordinary people and into the pockets of big business. As a result, wealth inequality is greater today than even before and cost of living pressures are burdening more and more people.

The federal opposition and state coalition governments offer absolutely no alternative to the neo-liberal education policies implemented by Labor. This is why the Socialist Party calls for the setting up of a new workers’ party to offer an alternative to the pro-business, anti-worker policies of the major parties. Such a party could mobilise workers and students to beat back the offensive on public education. It could also point the way forward to a democratic socialist society where education at all levels would be provided as a human right, not a privilege only the wealthy can afford.


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