Abbott must tell us whether the Federal Government is abandoning government schools

29 May 2014

Prime Minister Tony Abbott must confirm whether he is planning to abandon government schools after extraordinary claims by Education Minister Christopher Pyne that he doesn’t feel responsible for them.

AEU Deputy Federal President Correna Haythorpe said Mr Pyne’s comments appeared to show that the Federal Government wanted to only fund non-government schools.

Speaking at a Christian Schools Association dinner this week Mr Pyne said:

"Having talked to the Prime Minister about this matter many times, it is his view that we have a particular responsibility for Non-Government schooling that we don’t have for Government schooling.

"The emotional commitment within the Federal Government is to continue to have a direct relationship with the non-government schools sector. I think the States and Territories would prefer that as well.”

“Mr Abbott needs to come out and tell us whether Mr Pyne’s comments are correct, and if so, why he feels a greater responsibility to the minority of students who attend non-government schools,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“This divisive view of schools goes against the needs-based principles of the Gonski funding model, a model that Mr Abbott has refused to fund beyond 2017.”

Ms Haythorpe said federal funding of government schools was crucial to the quality and equity of the schools system.

“Federal governments have funded government schools for over 40 years recognising the need to support State Governments who do not have the same revenue base,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Students, parents and teachers don’t care which level of government funds their schools, they just want to know that their school is properly resourced.

“A federal government that claims it has no responsibility for government schools is one that would condemn the majority of Australian students to a sub-standard education.

“Data from the MySchool website shows Independent schools already have, on average, 30 per cent more recurrent income to spend than public schools.

“Government funding should be about closing this gap and making sure all students have access to a well-resourced school, not entrenching gaps between government and non-government schools.

“What Minister Pyne is suggesting is that the Federal Government abandon the sector that educates 65 per cent of students, including a disproportionate number of students with disability, from low-income households, students in regional areas and Indigenous students.

Ms Haythorpe said these comments came on top of the Abbott Government’s decision to abandon the last two years of the Gonski agreements which would remove promised funding from government schools and will see up to 20 per cent of schools fail to meet minimum resource standards.

“Gonski’s needs-based, sector-blind funding is already delivering much-needed extra funding to disadvantaged schools and students,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Gonski recognises the extra cost of educating students with disability, from low-income households, students in regional areas and Indigenous students, and the long-term benefits to society of ensuring these students get an education that allows them to reach their potential.

“The decision in the Budget not to honour the last-two years of Gonski agreements means that two-thirds of the extra funding agreed with the states will not be delivered.

“This government wants to return to a system that pits sector against sector and ignores the effects that social disadvantage has on school performance.

“For all the talk of a budget emergency we are now seeing the real reason for the cuts to schools funding: that this government wants to favour non-government schools.”

Mr Abbott has made it clear in the past that he is happy to be a Prime Minister for non-government schools. In 2012 he said that:

“Overall, the 66 per cent of Australian school student who attend public schools get 79 per cent of government funding. The 34 per cent of Australians who attend independent schools get just 21 per cent of government funding. So there is no question of injustice to public schools here. If anything, the injustice is the other way.”

“The primary obligation and responsibility of any government in education is to ensure that government schools are appropriately resourced,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“They are the only schools, open to all, in every community and the only ones that can ensure that every child gets a high quality education.

“Australia’s public education system has a long and proud history of providing a quality education to ALL students, regardless of their social background. We are now gravely concerned that this government has no real commitment to public schools.”

“Already they are abandoning needs-based funding of government schools and the bulk of the Gonski funding that is so urgently required. Now the plan seems to be to get rid of responsibility for funding them altogether.”

Media Contact: Ben Ruse 0437 971 291