Is extending a bad model really the way forward?

Regular readers will know of my extreme consternation when the Rudd Opposition declared that it would retain the Howard Government’s SES schools funding formula for non-government schools until at least 2012. There are quite simply reams of criticisms that can legitimately made of how the formula is applied and the way the system currently works, many of which have been quite poignantly made by Federal Labor over the years, while in Opposition. The current model does not allow for funding to drop, even if the SES “ranking” of a particular school changes from year to year. The current model is based on the socio-economic status of the census district of families who send their kids to a given school, rather than the actual socio-economic status of the families. It does not take into full consideration the facilities or assets a particular school has as its disposal. Quite simply, the SES funding model is inaccurate and needs a overhaul if the government is truly serious about funding non-government schools in an equitable and transparent way.

Given my feelings about the inherently flawed SES model, I must say I am feeling a bit perturbed that the Rudd Government is now looking to extend the model to also cover public schools, as Paul Kelly reports:

In an interview with The Weekend Australian, Ms Gillard said it was a “great frustration” that she was able to determine the socio-economic status of private schools but not public ones.

As a policy-maker, I cannot look across the nation now and identify within the public and private systems those schools teaching children from households most likely to face educational disadvantage,” she said.

I do continue to believe that needs-based funding for all schools in Australia is the right path forward for the country, and I can understand the need to have some common metric for comparing schools across the government/non-government divide. I am also quietly wondering whether this may be the means that Federal Labor is going to use to reinvigorate the federal funding of government schools, given that it is to be expected that on average, government schools should score better on the SES model than non-government schools, especially those located in affluent areas. However, we are still using a flawed model. Measuring all schools against a common metric does take the country a couple of steps forward, but the fact that the common model that would be applied is flawed and inaccurate takes us one step backwards again.

I therefore strongly urge the government to reform the SES funding formula as part of any initiative to introduce government schools into the scheme. Julia Gillard should not have to look too far for suggestions on this issue. Treasurer Wayne Swan told us all about the problems with the SES model back in 2005 in his carefully compiled book Postcode: The Splintering of a Nation. Despite their election commitment to the mediocrity of the current funding model for non-government schools, it would be disingenuous of Federal Labor to simply ignore their own quite correct criticisms of the model now that they are in government. If there was just one election commitment that I wished the Rudd Government would break before 2012, it would be this one (well, okay, and this one).

ELSEWHERE: You can feel the pain of raging lefty Steve Cannane as he interviews Julia Gillard here, back in January of this year. He asks good if very much loaded questions, and to Gillard’s political credit, she fends them off quite ably.