Australia’s education system needs a common framework of responsibilities and obligations to ensure that all publicly funded schools are accessible to all children, the latest RSA Webinar has heard.
At Wednesday’s webinar, guest speaker Chris Bonnor, an established author on public education and schools funding, said such a new framework would help address declining achievement and growing disadvantage between public schools and the Catholic and Independent systems.
Bonnor argued for the full public funding of all schools, the removal of fees and discriminatory enrolment practices that have sorted children based on socio-economic differences – a proposal put forward in his 2022 book, Waiting for Gonski: How Australia failed its schools, co-authored with Tom Greenwell.
He said congregating disadvantaged children in free public schools and children from wealthier families in private schools was contributing to declining education outcomes, with negative peer effects and resource discrepancies impacting students in the public system.
“We need a common framework of responsibilities and obligations to ensure that all publicly funded schools are accessible to all kids,” he said.
“A common public framework could support choice without creating social and economic segregation. At no cost families could access schools that reflect their values and preferences, and schools would no longer be defined by who they enroll and by who they reject. Taxpayer funding would no longer provide some students and schools with privileges not available to others.
“[A common framework] addresses the root causes of declining achievement and growing disadvantage for our schools because we would be no longer gathering the disadvantaged together in the schools that are free, or currently free.”
Bonnor said adopting such a solution would essentially amount to “admitting defeat” for the campaign for a secular publicly funded education system – a battle, he argued, that was lost half a century ago.
“Unless we put that to one side, we’re going to lose much more in the coming decades. The social class and student achievement divides in Australian schooling are increasing year by year. And this shows up in My School data.”
He conceded that the proposal to fully fund religious schools would raise many questions, especially around ensuring compliance with a common framework, but warned of the costs of further inaction.
“[With the book] we wanted to kick the door open to a conversation about solutions and to invite others that have solutions to put them forward – don’t keep ignoring the problem. Start adding up the gains and losses of going in other directions, and, most of all, the cost of doing nothing, because nothing is what happens right now. And the real costs, including to kids, is mounting.”