Time to end the class war on education

By Noely Neate
Mach 31st, 2013

Yesterday on Sky News Australian Agenda @vanOnselenP raised the question of tertiary education. What should have been a good segment discussing policy for a change ended up with Craig Emerson getting cranky while defending the right of kids less privileged than others to attend Uni as the so-called team of experts sat there decrying the ‘class-warfare’ Labor was promoting via Mr Emerson.  It was a little bizarre…

I will state upfront that I actually enjoy Peter van Onselen’s analysis on Sky. I don’t often agree with him and feel he brings too much of the elitist academic to his view, but he he backs up what he says, ‘owns’ what he says and doesn’t flip flop around repeating mantras. It was a good question that he raised with Mr Emerson (who is now responsible for that portfolio) with regard to University numbers being up but the standard of student bering down. With my daughter going to University last year, even as a mum I could see that, though that does not mean they should not be given the chance, which is what Mr Emerson was trying to say.

The so-called conversation that followed really got up my nose.  I wonder the journo’s around the table even had kids, and if they did, if they went to an average State School?  The standard of the kids getting into Uni now and the increased numbers were due to more lower socio economic kids getting in means that yes, there is a lower standard than the days the ‘good old boys’ at the table were talking about.  It will improve, but the schools themselves need to improve first – and that’s a hell of a lot more complicated than tossing out the old ‘Class-Warfare’ mantra.

Piers, Troy and Paul solemnly agreed that the class war on university education was well and truly over.  Well boys, it is NOT.  Kids may be able to get into university from a lower socio-economic background now, but they are still nowhere near educated to be prepared for that university education!

The fact is the average standard in State Schools is not all that good. Some are very good, but in general they are lagging behind.  The Libs love to chant about ‘choice’ in education, but the fact is, most people do not have a ‘choice’ – they get the local State School only.

I can only speak for my area, northern Sunshine Coast in Queensland. The number of kids staying to senior has increased massively in recent years. Part of this is the sheer number of kids moving to south east Queensland and the other part is the ‘Earning or Learning’ that came in during the Bligh Government. So you have a hell of a lot of kids in school, yet the funding by State Governments has fallen.

Only a few days ago I was talking to a journalist in Wide Bay who tweeted:

@yathinkn spoke to a Principal today who’s losing 100 collective years of experience on Thursday, when 4 mature teachers take redundancies

— Caitlin Holding (@CaitlinHolding) March 25, 2013

@yathinkn can replace permanent mature teachers on 80k with new contract teachers on 50k, but can’t replace experience.

— Caitlin Holding (@CaitlinHolding) March 25, 2013

The hits just keep coming for the State School system.

The above is happening everywhere all over this state and is getting worse.  That is not good for the kids, yet they are in a system where you have to either get  a job or stay at school.  My area has massive youth unemployment, so basically kids have to stay at school.  They have the option of doing Certificates through TAFE whilst doing senior or going the OP route to university.

Now TAFEs are closing down, courses being cut back and TAFE teachers being made redundant. We recently lost the trainer for our trainee in our business,  who was a bloody good, very experienced IT Teacher. Three months later we’re still waiting for contact from TAFE – UGH!  So not only is TAFE not helping the kids now, they are stuffing around small businesses like ours, giving us no incentive to take a trainee on.

So what are kids to do?  Unlike a private school, if you have an issue because you come from a broken family it is not so easy to get extra tutoring after school to catch up. Tourism Noosa doesn’t like to promote it, but there is an awful lot of housing commission at Sunshine Beach (where our largest State School is), a lot of broken families and a lot of lower socio-economic families.

Many many kids trying to finish senior at this school are struggling big time, combining the personal background difficulties with an over-crowded school with limited resources. You are not going to get the best standard of student entering University from here.

The thing is, the average standard may not be that high BUT some will hit uni and flourish; they will put past issues behind them and make something of their lives.  As Mr Emerson was saying, in the past these kids would not have been able to get their nose in the door at University.

The class war when it comes to education is not over, as the pontificating experts on Sky announced this morning.  Until the average State School has good resources, a consistent standard of education across the nation, teachers with experience (more than one bloody professional counsellor per 1000 kids would be nice) and some sort of equality in the education system, Mr van Onselen will still be complaining (rightly) about the lower standard of students entering University being lower.

Unlike Mr van Onselen I don’t believe that not accepting them is the answer, because that means the kid who can maybe get their life in shape at uni miss out.

The answer is raising the level in the state education system so that the level of student entering University is higher.  Families move all the time and kids go to uni in other states, so it is time for the Federal Government to take Education and Training off the States entirely.  Put one system in place nationwide (with a small allowance for local learning content), fund it directly and work in with TAFEs and universities for seamless education and  training.  The system we have is broken.  Gonski should be the start of education reform, not the end game.

Then again, what the hell do I know. I am just a mum of a kid who went to the local state school and then university hundreds of kilometres from home, joined P&C and gives a rats about the future of ALL the kids in my region, not just the privileged few whose parents can afford to pay for better educational opportunities for their kids.
Noely  @YaThinkN

PS: I am not an ALP voter, and have not voted for the ALP since the state election when Goss got in.  I am just a punter who values education and feels that a decent education gives every child the opportunity to advance in life, regardless of the circumstances they were born into. The image promoted for Noosa is not the reality for most people the who live here. Go to the ABS stats – once you look past Hastings Street & Gympie Terrace you find an area of very high youth unemployment, below average wages and a massively high percentage of single parent families.

MARGO NOTE: I recommend a piece by my sister @Gay_Alcorn on the need for Gonski’s education funding reforms Going, going, Gonski: Time running out for education reform:

What’s happened is that our funding system has led to a clustering of disadvantaged children in schools that aren’t well enough resourced to bridge that gap. This system – ”unnecessarily complex, lack[ing] coherence and transparency” – was well intentioned, but it has failed. Even our best students are falling behind their overseas peers, and we have turned our back on fairness.

Gonski’s solution is simple enough: end the funding of schools based on whether they are government, Catholic or independent. Be sector blind. Fund according to need, with state and federal governments responsible for all sectors…

The Coalition doesn’t see inequity as a big deal. Education spokesman Christopher Pyne insisted last year that ”you can have very bright children from low SES [socio-economic status] backgrounds who have every opportunity to get ahead”. To suggest otherwise was ”dramatising the situation”.

Gonski didn’t dramatise anything – it just laid out the facts, and proposed a solution. So it’s over to the struggling Julia Gillard. If she survives as leader, and if she can get this up – find the money through ”structural” savings, as she puts it, and arm-wrestle the states – she’ll have her legacy.

She recalled in her maiden speech that Labor luminary Barry Jones would often say that your expectations of success in life depended on your postcode. ”It will be one of my priorities in politics to ensure that in the Australia of the future the famous quiz master is, for once, wrong,” she said.

Now’s your chance, Prime Minister.

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  1. Mary Rofe says

    I agree Noely that the answers lie in improving schools but disagree that centralising education funding will achieve that. I am in favour of decentralised funding and control of schools. There is a lot of rhetoric around this and I do not think a one size fits all approach recognises the individual needs of individual school communities. The school needs to have greater independence in hiring, firing and staffing their schools – school boards are a good step in this direction. Yes there is a great discrepancy in income levels between schools in different areas. This should guarantee the provision of basic operational needs by the federal/State governments plus allocations for ongoing maintenance. How the individual school spends their allocation should be up to them and their priorities. In Queensland we have seen targeted funding for mandated facilities such as covered play areas when individual communities would have been happier choosing where and when those funds were spent and who was employed to install them. In many instances the inflated costs were directly linked to the provision of this targeted funding by the federal government.
    All students are nurtured by intelligent and responsible teachers. I have struggled for years to find an atmosphere of dedicated learning in schools largely because teachers in the last 40years have been trained to administer systems rather than teach young minds to reason from a sound knowledge base. This hampers the abilities of many good teachers and perhaps accounts for the high rate of teacher burnout. At all levels of the education system the value of sound knowledge must be reinforced starting with the sound education of trainee teachers. I have good memories of the apprenticeship model of training where new teachers were nurtured on the job. However they have been let down by the content they have to teach which I have found to be superficial in many cases and not conducive to inculcating a desire for learning through into tertiary level. As a tertiary student myself I find the level of knowledge amongst fellow students varies greatly and the basics of grammar, spelling and general knowledge seem nearly absent in many instances. As a parent, I can recall teachers emphasising my child’s ability to express ideas over his ability to grasp the alphabet and read correctly – this attitude/policy guaranteed that many children were handicapped throughout their school life and that the wrong values were rewarded.
    Your concern for the class disadvantage is realistic and I believe scholarships for students capable of sincere and competent study can help here. But why not raise the level of entry all around – money should not be able to buy entry into tertiary study it should be based on the individual student’s potential for academic excellence. Much of this debate occurs around economics – paying for the universities requires government funding which is tied to wide availability of courses and harvesting of overseas students willing to contribute large sums for degrees. Somehow we have to put the horse back in front of the cart and encourage real learning from the first grades through to tertiary levels and take the obsession with income streams out of the mix. One wonders how many university offerings are necessary to provide an educated population. I guess the old debate recurs – is education for the improvement of the mind and society or the acquiring of job skills. This is a huge question but we must start with good teachers who love their work enough to pass on solid skills to young minds.

  2. One area of education that seems to be forgotten, in all the discussion, is trades or TAFE. There is a high degree of discussion on Gonski, some discussion on University and pre-School funding but little or no discussion on TAFE. Considering the debate on 457 visas and trade shortages, we are missing a very big boat.
    TAFE funding is being reduced in NSW and Qld., I don’t know about other states. Yet the future employment of, maybe 25% to 40% , school leavers is related to Trade and industry specific training.

  3. J.Fraser says


    Thanks for that contribution.

    I know at the end you added that you are not a Labor voter, unfortunately you will have to make a choice.

    Gonski with Labor

    Gonski with Pyne, who is already on record as saying he will accept “some” of the Gonski reforms.

    I am a Gillard supporter and even if I wasn’t I would still thank you for playing an active role in your State School and displaying an unqualified support for quality education for all Australian school children.

    • Thank you for your kind comment. Sorry, I just don’t think Political Parties are democratic, they have their first loyalty to the party, not the actual electorate, so in principle I find it difficult to support them.

      Education should be above politics. I live in an area that only has 2 State High Schools, we have crap public transport so not even really possible to go to a State High further away. It is therefore so important that when you only have 2 options that they are of a decent standard. I am just happy now that my daughter has finished there, it means I can now attend P&C and make the Principal accountable, ask more questions, without worrying about ramifications against my daughter (with this recent Principal it is a serious concern).

      TAFE is another big issue here, if you live in Cooroy a kid has to catch 4 buses to get to the TAFE in Mountain Creek further down the coast. These are now being cut back, the courses are also being cut back, so that is leaving youth in this area (with massive youth unemployment) nowhere… At least if they have a good education at the High School level they have better skills to maybe leave the coast and have a decent life, or, make good decisions if they stay here to get work, get training etc…

      Either way, it always comes back to a good Education :)

  4. Cutting back on TAFE funding across all Liberals states has been disgraceful.
    Not all students are university material and practical courses in trades is critical to this country. What the hell are they thinking?

  5. Noely thanks for putting the video clip up there. I hadn’t seen it. No wonder you felt the need to write your article. You are correct in saying that if you want to raise the standard of university entrance then fix up the chronic underfunding and standard of education in primary and high school. If we don’t fix the funding then our nation will eventually go backwards to the time when only the wealthiest, those who could afford the very best, will be university educated? Do we really want this gross unfairness to return into our society?

    Ackerman said people have no idea what Gonski is about. Well it is clear that he has no idea, and for that he needs to have his senior political journalist tag removed. He should know, it’s his job to know and it’s his job to impart what he knows to others. But as usual the man is so intent on spitting his bile that he loses the plot every time. So enough of him.

    Ackerman & Co (and that includes PVO) along with Christopher Pyne & the conservatives love saying Labor is ‘throwing’ money at the problem. Firstly, I note it is only throwing money at the problem when money is being ‘thrown’ at the poorest in society. It is never ‘throwing’ money when it lands in the hands of the wealthiest. But I digress. The new funding model, based on the recommendations of the Gonski Review, is actually ‘targeted’ funding, the implication and the emphasis is quite different. I think you will agree that when you use the correct language ‘targeted’ it sounds like the new funding model means a fairer more equitable system, and you would be right.

    So briefly for those who are interested in what the new funding model entails. Gonski recommended an extra $6.5 billion extra be found to go into school funding. Why do we need a new funding model? Because we are lagging behind the rest of the world due to a “substantial tail of underperformance” We are slipping in literacy and lagging behind badly in Maths and Science ” Australia will need to lift the achievements of our lowest-performing students – in many cases the most underprivileged students in our society – and to focus research and practice on this” https://theconversation.com/latest-tests-show-pms-2025-education-goal-is-in-doubt-11292

    The government’s “National Plan for School Improvement” aims to: lift teacher quality, give more power to principals’ over budgets and staff selection, and make more information to parents via the My School website. To help lift our educaiton standard the government plans introduce a ‘high-quality and high-equity education system’. Every child’s education is to be supported with a benchmark amount of funding. This amount has been calculated by looking at the cost associated with educating a child in a school that already achieves strong results (how sensible is that! any less and one can only assume quality goes down). On top of that there will be a “needs loading” whereby extra funding will be available to students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, indigenous students, student with disabilities and students with limited English skills. Further extra costs for particularly small schools and remote schools.

    I suggest for anyone who wants to know if this has had impact thus far on education outcomes go to Peter Garretts website http://ministers.deewr.gov.au/garrett and read through his press releases. It is having an impact, and the coalition are right to be worried that education will be high on the list of people’s concerns come September 14. The smirk on Sheehan’s face said it all, who could possibly think more money to educate the poor might spur people to think before voting! Mr Pyne’s has spent no time on his portfolio he dismissed Gonski 20 minutes after its release. Bernard Keane sums him up well Mr Pyne should go back to school: http://www.crikey.com.au/2013/02/27/why-christopher-pyne-should-go-back-to-school/

  6. Time to end the class war on education http://t.co/kxZJJQ1QJX