Interview on ABC News Breakfast with Michael Rowland and Virginia Trioli
Topics: Turnbull Government’s plan to transform schools; Delivering real needs-based funding and fixing Labor’s model
Virginia Trioli: We’ll take you back to the Government's school funding announcement made yesterday. There’s plenty of reaction around this morning.
Michael Rowland: The man with the job of implementing the plan is the Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham. He joins us now from Sydney now. Minister, good morning to you.
Simon Birmingham: G’day Michael. Good to be with you.
Michael Rowland: As you well know the Catholic school sector is absolutely ropable this morning claiming that Catholic schools right around the country face the invidious choice of either raising fees, sometimes substantially, or closing schools. Have they got a point to be concerned?
Simon Birmingham: No they don’t, Michael. Catholic school systems over the next four years under our proposals will see per student growth of around 3.7 per cent across the nation on average which totals up to $1.2 billion in extra funding that will flow into the Catholic school system. Now 3.7 per cent growth is well above current inflation growth, it’s well above current wages growth, it’s well above the type of wages growth that many of your viewers would be experiencing in their households just at present. So there’s no reason for complaint there. Of course what we are doing though is we’re taking 27 different funding models based on a whole lot of ancient sweetheart deals and transitioning all schools across all sectors to a single model over 10 years.
And that means there are different indexation rates across different schools to get people to a model that is truly based on need, truly sector blind, truly doing what David Gonski recommended back in 2011.
Michael Rowland: The Catholic school officials hear that. We have people like Stephen Elder who runs the Catholic education office in Melbourne and Bishop Peter Comensoli from the New South Wales Catholic education office still pointing to the fact that as you well know the Catholic schools are based on a parish based model where diocese get a pool of funding and they distribute that funding according to need. And they say despite what you say those schools will suffer, particularly those Catholic schools in the outer suburban areas that give families a choice, families who may not want to pay lots of money for independent schools, prepared to pay a bit more for Catholic schools, they according to the Catholic school system will be dudded?
Simon Birmingham: Well, let’s look at the facts there. Firstly, this is a needs-based model. So parish schools in suburban areas that take in students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds will receive the needs-based loading to give additional support to them. As well, the funding for schools within the Catholic education system, whilst it will be calculated based on the individual needs of each of those schools, it will then still be paid as a lump sum to those Catholic education commissions. They will be free if they choose to redistribute between their schools as they see fit based on whatever needs they identify.
So this doesn't change their capacity to do that. What it does mean though is that each of their schools, just like every independent school, just like what ultimately we’ll be doing with every government school, has a consistent approach to need, that has a base funding for each student and then additional support for low socioeconomic students, for students with a disability, for the students from Indigenous backgrounds, all of those different factors that ensure we deliver truly on what it is that David Gonski proposed, not squib it as the previous Government did, when instead they struck a whole bunch of special deals that led to a much more expensive model and left all the inconsistency in place.
Michael Rowland: But if it’s a smaller pile of funding given to those different Catholic areas around the country, by definition they’ll have less money to distribute [indistinct] …
Simon Birmingham: But Michael, what I said in the first answer is there’s $1.2 billion extra for those Catholic schools over the next four years.
Michael Rowland: But none of those are affected by the- none of those are in the 350 school list that will see their funding decline over the next decade?
Simon Birmingham: So across Australia more than 9000 schools are going to see significant growth. Around 300-odd schools are going to see slightly lower rates of growth and 24 schools over the next couple of years will see small reductions in their funding in the order of one or two per cent to get everybody over that 10-year period to the same landing point. [Indistinct] …
Michael Rowland: [Interrupts] Sorry to interrupt- there’ll be no Catholic schools is what you’re saying in that list of close to 400 schools?
Simon Birmingham: In terms of the non-systemic Catholic schools, so the ones that actually operate outside of the Catholic education systems, there’s a couple that are in the list of 24 and there’d be some that are in the 300-odd. But ultimately, the Catholic education systems across Australia are going to see growth of $1.2 billion, 3.7 per cent per student across the nation on average out of a total pie that is providing an extra $2.2 billion to government schools across the country. Growth overall over the next four years of around $4.6 billion and additional funding by the Turnbull Government at $18.6 billion over the next 10 years to fix this hotchpotch series of different school funding agreements and models, to get everybody onto an approach where they’re all treated consistently regardless of background or faith, where there aren't any special deals and where we actually then have a real focus on how we make sure that money is spent most effectively to turn around our declining international student performance, to actually lift school outcomes and that’s the new completely separate piece of work that David Gonski has agreed to do with a panel of education experts.
Michael Rowland: Those schools we’re talking about of course a very very small proportion of the more than 9000 schools around Australia. So for the other schools you’re talking about those 9000, can they all expect to see their funding increase?
Simon Birmingham: The schools that are 9000-plus schools can all expect to see their funding to increase. Funding will grow by between 3.7 per cent per student over the next four years for the Catholic schools, up to 5.4 per cent I think it is roughly for the Government school sector, so we see strong growth to get to that true consistent needs-based model. This is real additional funding well above inflation, well above wages growth into every single school sector; Catholic, independent or government, but it’s getting them all to a point of a consistent needs-based approach that means that you don't have a circumstance where students in a government school in New South Wales receive different levels of federal funding than a government school in Western Australia regardless of the fact they might have identical needs in those school communities or the same type of differentials that exist between a Catholic school in Victoria versus a Catholic school in Tasmania that might similarly have identical need and yet at present, under the hotchpotch arrangements we’ve got they are funded in very different ways. We’re ending those disparities, transitioning everybody into a fair needs-based sector-blind arrangement.
Michael Rowland: There’s a fair bit of crankiness around this morning, including from the Catholic system about the lack of what they see is a lack of consultation here. Also crankiness from your Liberal colleague in New South Wales, the Education Minister there Rob Stokes who is even holding out the option of taking legal action against the Government if the New South Wales school system needs aren't met by this model. Have you spoken to him and what can you say to the New South Wales system?
Simon Birmingham: Well I’ve spoken to the Catholic education system and to Minister Stokes, both of them on numerous occasions. Look people who don't get all that they want out of a proposal, often then say there wasn't enough consultation. It’s more because they weren't dissatisfied with not getting everything they asked for and getting to keep the special deals that may have been negotiated previously.
In terms of Minister Stokes, look I don't think that there is a serious prospect of that happening. I’m sure the New South Wales Government like the Turnbull Government would much rather see funds invested in schools than funds invested in lawyers.
Michael Rowland: What happens next? You’d need to consult the states and territories more. Are you confident as the Prime Minister boldly asserted yesterday that this will see the end of that long running funding war over schools in Australia?
Simon Birmingham: Well I’ve been really pleased that we’ve seen reactions from primary school principals associations, independent school leaders, different representatives, independent commentators like the Grattan Institute, actually all say this is a really positive step to fix a lot of broken models into a much better system. And that gives me hope that the Senate and the Parliament will support us to put in place the legislation that can end the school funding wars and give us a much better way forward in the future.
Michael Rowland: Okay Minister, we all know you’ve had a very busy week. Appreciate your time. Thanks for joining Breakfast.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Michael