Gonski reforms in doubt as Newman pushes Great Teachers policy

As the Federal Government and State Governments continue to negotiate signing onto the Gonski school reforms, the debate both inside and outside the bureaucracy seems divided.

The Gonski Review recommends funding on a per student basis. However, the Queensland Government’s recently introduced Great Teachers Equals Great Results plan aims to focus spending on raising teacher quality in schools.

Although state government’s have till the 30th of June to officially sign off on the Gonski Review, it seems that the Queensland Government is already making it clear how they feel about the reforms.

As stated in the recent release of the action plan of the Great Teachers Equals Great Results scheme, “The Queensland Government rejects the proposition that national solutions will achieve universally improved educational outcomes. One-size-fits-all proposals unnecessarily increase bureaucracy and weigh schools down with excessive reporting and red tape.”

If the Queensland Government does not sign up to the deal, Queensland schools could pass on millions, if not billions, of dollars of Federal funding.

Professor Robert Lingard in the University of Queensland’s education department said that Gonski is an important reform for Australia’s schools, “what you get is the greatest redistribution to schools. Serving the poorest and most disadvantaged kids. And that comes out of a commitment to try to equalize opportunity”.

Data gathered by the international PISA study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development found a worrying trend in Australian schooling. A child’s performance in school in Australia is heavily linked with their socio-economic background.

“The bottom end of performance in Australia is highly correlated with social class,” Professor Lingard confirmed.

“All young people for social justice reasons need to be offered the same chance as others. Just because you are born poor, shouldn’t affect your chances through schooling. So Gonski tries to address this head on,” he added.

Julie Brown, the Queensland Teachers Union Vice President, agreed, “The Gonski Review takes into account the fact that it costs more to educate kids who have, for example, English as a second language or who live in remote locations.”

The Queensland Government’s scheme will invest an additional $535 million over four years, beginning in 2015, towards raising teaching standards. The changes will include the addition of 150 full-time teacher aides in prep classes.
Annual performance reviews will be conducted to monitor teachers’ performance. This concept has raised some doubts with how these reviews will be conducted.

Teacher at Clairvaux MacKillop High School, Helen O’Rourke, said “If you are assessing teacher quality based on the student achievement, it’s like teaching to the test and therefore you will fall into that trap of giving the kids the answers to the test so that they get high scores so the teacher is paid more”

“All of the evidence shows us that once you set targets for performance, it reduces the width of the curriculum, you narrow teaching to the test,” Professor Lingard said.

However John Robertson, Principle at Holy Family Primary School Indooroopilly, thinks teaching based funding is the best place to focus funding.

“Teachers, they are going to make the biggest difference. And throwing money at schools to buy more things or to buy more recourse and not really addressing the need of what is good teaching will mean that we will still have the same outcomes in the long run,” said Robertson.

As Julia Gillard increases pressure on the States to sign up to Gonski before the end of June, the debate around the school reform has become a heavily politicized issue.

“I think that Tony Abbot is not keen on Gonski and been putting pressure on conservative governments in Victoria, Queensland, in Western Australia not to accept Gonski simply to score a political point” said Brown.

If the Gonski review reforms are adopted $5 billion dollars will be injected into schools each year, with 75% of that funding going to public schools.

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