WE’LL never get tired of telling people just how good educational services are in Ballarat.
The diversity and standards of options for primary and secondary schooling are the envy of other regional Australian cities.
And it’s a competitive market. The debate between private and public, between independent and Catholic, has an underlying edge in Ballarat and maybe that helps breed better schools.
The eagerly-awaited release of the Federal Government’s response to the Gonski review into school funding is only likely to heighten awareness of the vagaries of the education system and opportunities in our city.
According to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, no school will be worse off following the implementation of school funding reform.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott claims that any change to the current funding structure would inevitably lead to some schools being disadvantaged.
The debate was less clear than an algebra lesson.
It seems ridiculous that school funding is a competition. Sure it helps, but funding levels do not make a “good” or “bad” school, for want of a more educated description. If it did, surely the $5 billion nationwide increase suggested by Gonski would be filtered only to schools which were seen as poor-performing or disadvantaged so that every young person had appropriate opportunities to learn?
Consider in Ballarat, a school like Yuille Park Community College, established with massive injections of government cash in the heartland of one of the city’s most disadvantage areas – Wendouree West. It’s never likely to break NAPLAN score records but it doesn’t make it a bad school.
Indeed, one could argue that the work done at Yuille Park to connect and service the community makes it one of the Victorian education system’s great success stories.
The current school funding model, designed by the Howard government and based on the socio-economic status of schools, was criticised in the Gonski report for being unnecessarily complex and lacking transparency.
The premise is sound but the rhetoric is not. Mr Abbott this week used a speech to highlight the fact that a high percentage of government funding goes to public schools.
Maybe it’s just a reflection on society that our political leaders see fit to turn a discussion which should be about better educating young people into a divisive debate about social standings. I might be naive but we should, and must, expect better.
While the government is yet to announce just exactly how its response to the Gonski review will look, it has the perfect opportunity to make a statement about what is important about the future of the nation.
That means casting aside scaremongering about budget bottom lines to make a statement about the importance Australians place in having equitable access to education. If $5 billion isn’t enough, then allocate more. If the government must cut funds in other areas, it has justification. This is not advocating for rash spending. Instead we need a sustainable model, based on students’ needs, which aligns with the importance everyday Australians place it in the hierarchy of priorities.
Investing in teaching systems, improved curriculum delivery and learning tools and an emphasis on basic reading, writing and maths is every bit as important as new buildings or equipment.
Bridging the gap is possible. Looking beyond the rivalries which exist in the current education system is the first step that must be taken.