Christoper Pyne throws the Education baby out with the Gonski Report.

Christoper Pyne throws the Education baby out with the Gonski Report.

I started off thinking about this Post as a way to embarrass Christopher Pyne and to make him look like the fool he is, but in doing research, (yes, research is required to write factual stuff in blog posts), I realised that the Education Portfolio of an advanced nation like Australia is not to be treated as the object of ridicule, but as a serious and important subject.

To have gone down the lampoon road (this time at least) would have been to copy the political tactics of the Coalition. It would indeed have given them some ammunition.

Before I look at the doorstop statement of the Education Minister Christopher Pyne on 4th December 2013, I would like to do what most good documents do, and that is provide some background.

In this post, I am going to be talking about Education reform, PISA, GONSKI and other definitions of some of the terms.

Firstly I want to define PISA:

“The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. To date, students representing more than 70 economies have participated in the assessment.

Around 510,000 students in 65 economies took part in PISA 2012 representing about 28 million 15-year-olds globally. More than 70 economies have signed up to take part in the test in 2015 which will focus on science.”

Source from the PISA Website

PISA was an OECD creation in the year 2000 and is conducted every three years. It deals with Literacy, Numeracy and Science.

The Gonski report into its “Review of funding for schools” on page 25 says the following:

“PISA is a standardised assessment that is administered across thirty-four OECD countries and thirty-one partner countries involving 15 year-old students in schools. In PISA 2009 the domains tested were reading literacy, mathematical literacy and scientific literacy. Student achievement in the PISA domains is reported in terms of levels of proficiency across a scale from 1 to 6.

Students achieving Level 1 have difficulty completing basic tasks. Students achieving Level 6 have mastered complex tasks. Level 2 represents the base level of achievement needed for full participation in society.”

Next I want to define the Gonski report “Review of funding for schools” which was conducted by David Gonski and his expert Panel.

On 15th April 2010 the Gonski panel was set up by the then Education Minister, Julia Gillard. You will recall that Julia Gillard always had Education as one of her primary social and economic imperatives.

When he delivered the final report to the new Minister to Education, Peter Garrett, David Gonski summed it up thus in his covering letter:

“On 15 April 2010, the then Federal Minister for Education, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, initiated a review of funding arrangements for schooling to develop a funding system which is transparent, fair, financially sustainable and effective in promoting excellent educational outcomes for all Australian students.”

The report was finished and handed to Government in December 2011 and was 319 pages long, had 41 recommendations and 26 findings. For those of you who wish to read the Gonski report a copy can be found here. (Thanks Fairfax Press).

Readers would be well aware of the flip flop coalition plans for school funding under the incoming Abbott Government.

Simply put, they opposed the Gonski recommendations when they came out in February 2012

Then miraculously they said that they (Abbott and Pyne) were on a Unity ticket with the Government (Just before the September 7th 2013 election).

Two weeks ago they dumped the Better Schools Funding Agreements with the main States of NSW and Victoria in a breathtaking backflip of policy and said that they would not honour the agreements on funding.

One week ago Abbott and Pyne in a jaw dropping display of political gymnastic athleticism reinstated the agreements and added the rest of the States in as well. They added back in the $1.2 billion which had been taken out of the budget, because those States had refused point blank to sign up for Better Schools under Labor.

Labor had conditions on the delivery of the money and that was that the States put in extra dollars to the system as well. That is what Western Australia, Queensland and The Northern Territory refused to do. It appears that the Coalition will have no conditions either. Saying they do not like “Command and Control” from Canberra.

The 2012 PISA results and Christopher Pyne’s doorstop on 4th December 2012

Last week the so called League Table of the PISA results came out. Christopher Pyne had this to say. The transcript is copied from his web site.

“CHRISTOPHER PYNE: The PISA results that have been released today show that Labor has been delivered a very bad report card on their period in office because from 2009 to 2012 Labor can’t dispute that they were in office and had been for three years and yet, since that time, in science Australia’s ranking has fallen from 10th to 16th, in maths, from 15th to 19th, and in reading, from 9th to 14th. Over that period, Labor introduced the Building the Education Revolution and the Education Revolution. They spent $16.4 billion on school halls and over $2.5 billion on giving laptops and computers from Year 9 to Year 12. So almost $20 billion of extra spending in that period and in spite of what the Leader of the Opposition says today, in that period, real increases of spending increased by 10%, whatever model you’re applying. And in that period, our results dramatically declined. These are the worst PISA results since PISA began in 2000.

They are demonstrably worse than anything that ever occurred under the Coalition Government. They are a serious wake-up call for the Australian education system but, more importantly, they tell us one fundamental thing – money is not the answer in education. Labor spent $20 billion on the education revolution. They increased real spending in education by 10% and our results declined. The PISA results also show that for Australia, teacher quality is the most important determinant of outcomes for students. The OECD found that it is the teacher you are allocated within a school that has a more important effect on the outcome of your results than which school you’ve been allocated to. It also found that Australia is a high equity country – that we are above the OECD average in terms of equity.”

This classic political statement is delivered three days after the report was released. I know because the file properties of the PDF document released shows that it was created on that day, 1st December 2013.

I would make the following points about Pyne’s statement:

1/ When the Coalition were in power in 2000, the Pisa ranking in mathematics was 6th and so between 2000 and 2009 the ranking fell to 15th that is 9 places, whereas from 2009 to 2012 when labor were in power the rank fell 4 places.

2/  When the Coalition were in power in 2000, the Pisa ranking in science was 8th and so between 2000 and 2009 the ranking fell to 10th that is 2 places, whereas from 2009 to 2012 when labor were in power the rank fell 6 places.

3/ When the Coalition were in power in 2000, the Pisa ranking in reading was 4th and so between 2000 and 2009 the ranking fell to 9th that is 5 places, whereas from 2009 to 2012 when labor were in power the rank fell 5 places.

4/ The Education revolution Pyne talks about was made of two parts. One was Building the Education Revolution or BER. That was instigated as part of the Labor stimulus packages to combat the Global Financial Crisis. It was also successful in creating 534,500 new jobs in 2010.  That was a $16 Billion package. See my post

This post  highlights Job growth as part of that stimulus package.

The second part of the $20 Billion he mentions was the digital revolution. The purchase of computers for students. I might add that PISA looks at the proportion of children who have computers in their educational experience and also a desk and a quiet place to study.

So in (1,2,3 points above) the three disciplines under Liberal National Coalition – maths ranking went down more than Labor’s drop, science dropped less than Labor’s drop and reading dropped the same.

I would say that if you were to take this simplistic look at the figures it was a dead heat and Education generally under both governments had made a serious decline.

Pyne’s argument about $20 billion of funding for education is comparing dollars to bricks which were not meant to have a specific defined educational outcome. However now that those buildings are there, they are contributing to the community at large, the school community specifically and allow further educational activities to take place.

Pyne cannot claim of the results, that: “They are demonstrably worse than anything that ever occurred under a Coalition Government”

The comparison is simplistic. In 2000 the Shanghai- China and the Macao – China  cities were not in the data and they are cities, likewise Singapore. The same test was not conducted and different scales of results are observed. For example the highest means in 2000 were 546 for reading, 560 for maths and 552 for Science. In 2012 the highest means were 570 for reading, 613 for maths and 580 for Science.

Whilst Australia’s performance in these subjects has fallen (according to the mean scores) it is still significantly higher than the OECD average.

When the Gonski panel was initiated, the results of two PISA reports were available, the 2009 reports were not printed and these 2009 results were released in November 2010.

The Gonski Panel realised that they were dealing with a complex task and so commissioned further research to inform their final report.

They were highlighted in a short paper published by the Gonski panel entitled Paper on Commissioned Research | August 2011

“On behalf of the panel, I welcome the opportunity to thank those who have contributed to the review

so far, giving generously of their time, experience and expertise.

Many have spent time on submissions to the Review of Funding for Schooling: Emerging Issues Paper, which closed earlier this year. Others have met with panel members, or have opened schools to us during our visits to schools across Australia between February and May 2011.

I have said on previous occasions that the task ahead in developing any new funding model for

schooling is complex. It is critical that our deliberations be informed by comprehensive research and

analysis. In addition to the extensive research which has been undertaken over recent years, the panel has commissioned four research projects.

These research projects have been undertaken by leading research organisations including the

Australian Council for Educational Research, Deloitte Access Economics, The Allen Consulting Group, and a consortium led by The Nous Group, which includes the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at The University of Melbourne and the National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University.

This paper accompanies the release of the four commissioned research reports and invites public

comment on the findings of the reports. The panel is seeking public comment through a submission

process. We are particularly interested in comments on how any funding approach suggested by the research reports might impact on the future provision of schooling in Australia.”

The wash up of the Gonski panel’s thorough and in depth research was to recommend at:-

Recommendation 1

The Australian Government and the states and territories, in consultation with the nongovernment

sector, should develop and implement a schooling resource standard as the basis for

general recurrent funding of government and non-government schools. The schooling resource

standard should:

• reflect the agreed outcomes and goals of schooling and enable them to be achieved and improved

over time.

• be transparent, defensible and equitable and be capable of application across all sectors and


• include amounts per primary and secondary student, with adjustments for students and schools

facing certain additional costs.

• complement and help drive broader schooling reform to improve Australia’s overall performance

and reduce inequity of outcomes.

So a base rate with loadings suggested for:

Recommendation 14

The schooling resource standard should include loadings for:

• school size and location

• the proportion of students in a school who are Indigenous or from low socioeconomic backgrounds,

with loadings to increase for schools where the concentration of such students is higher

• the proportion of students in a school with limited English language proficiency.

Loadings for students with disability should be added as soon as possible once work underway on

student numbers and adjustment levels is completed. The Australian Government should work with

the states and territories and the non-government sector to develop and check specific proposed

loadings by mid-2012.

Broadly speaking this is what the Better Schools Plan did. They had a standard payment and then added loading as recommended for those parts of recommendation 14.

I have tried to show, after a credible but short look at the PISA model, and as a member of the Education Policy Committee for two years (where we discussed the Policy implications of Gonski, the Finnish model and a swag of other associated research regarding school sizes, Socio economic disadvantage and advantage), that this short post does not even begin to inform the public debate on how much work has been done on these Educational issues. Let alone canvas those issues.

Of course the one issue that Pyne raises is money.

Money is for for excellent teachers and their professional development.

Money is for buildings and facilities.

Money is for breakfast for the kids who don’t eat in the mornings.

Money is not the root of all evil, but it can be argued that the lack of it is in an educational sense

Money used judiciously can advantage the whole of Australia both now and in the future.

I am appalled at the simplistic political grandstanding of the coalition, their trite and inane three word slogans just don’t cut it for me.

Their Lazy lack of attention to detailed policy work and a serious detailed policy and long serious discussion about the implications for the growth of Australia socially and economically seem to have passed these people by.

The largest investigation into Australian educational practice and the funding implications for schools which Gonski did has just been trashed by a coalition government adapt at the three word slogan and the snide remark “Conski”.

So do we have a credible Education Minister who weighs up the expert’s advice and then acts on it for the good of Australia’s children and the Australian Nation?

I think I have demonstrated we have some sort of empty vessel involved, who hasn’t got a clue about reality, doesn’t read, doesn’t listen to experts and is lazy in the extreme, but is a superb circus performer with the glib line and the cherubic smile.

God help our kids and God help Australia under this so called “Adult” government.


By Vince O'Grady

Vince emigrated to Australia in 1978 from the United Kingdom, where he was a Police Constable in Brierley Hill, on the outskirts of Birmingham in the West Midlands. He saw a great deal of dysfunctional society during his four-and-a-half years’ Police service and realised the necessity of always being truthful, factual and slow to judge others. Deciding to pursue a different career in Australia, he chose telecommunications and has worked in sales, product and marketing management in the public and private sectors. In 1981, he became ill with arthritis and ceased full-time work in 1992, when he became a sessional teacher at TAFE in a number of subjects — mainly related to manufacturing. During the Howard years, he became interested in politics and after “hiding in plain sight” for many years, joined the Labor party in 2010. Vince has many interests, including social justice, inclusion and the good old Australian “fair go” for all. He has policy interests in economics and education. His interest in history shows that we make the same mistakes over and over again and hopes to make a difference to the political debate by clear thinking and analysis rather than by trite sloganeering. In his private life, Vince enjoys woodwork and also is a keen family historian, with a very Irish paternal side and a very French Huguenot maternal side — and is a mixture of a working class and an upper middle class upbringing. He has a Bachelors degree in Business and qualifications in Workplace Training and Assessing. He is also a keen home brewer of fine ales — at least according to his son!

1 comment

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: