Fellowship Dinners Australia

Educational Myths

Education Myths

Myths are common currency in Australian politics: That John Howard, Paul Keating, Bbb Hawke – depending on your political allegiance – changed the definition of unemployment when it has been unchanged for 50 years; that the states never abolished the taxes they agreed to abolish in return for the GST when they abolished the four they agreed to years ago; that the 1967 referendum made Aborigines citizens, gave them the vote or got them counted in the census when it did none of these; that the Australian Constitution contains a section that allows the states to introduce racially discriminatory voting requirements when it contains a section that punishes any state that does so by reducing its seats in the House of Representatives; that Jim Killen won his seat in 1961 on Communist Party preferences when he won it on DLP preferences.

Education is the same. Myths abound. Experience tells us that in a contest between belief and fact, nine times out of ten, belief will win. Even so, the facts need to be put on the public record. Those facts depend on numbers, and numbers are hard to retain so there will be a sheet to be circulated via email that contains the numbers for future reference.

Educational myths are spread by both the Left and the Right, more often by the Right, often in pursuit of some ideo-illogical belief that demands reality conform to prejudice rather than in acceptance of what is true. These myths are there to serve political ends.  They may begin as misunderstandings or as straight-out lies, but, whatever their beginning, they are often exaggerated and distorted before being repeated and then exaggerated and distorted before being repeated a second time, along the lines of the old World War One joke of the message “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance” transmuting into “Send three and four pence, we’re going to a dance”.

Let’s look at the myths that are repeated ad nauseam in the daily media and rarely permitted correction. In essence there is a narrative of high and wasted spending on pampering teachers, supporting huge bureaucracies and lowering class sizes, brought about by powerful and militant teachers unions that control state Labor governments for no educational result, while non-government schools educate students more cheaply and effectively. That narrative is factless. There is a competing narrative of both Labor and Coalition governments squandering public resources on highly privileged non-government schools, unique to Australia. That narrative is also factless. Both narratives are peddled by interest groups and then picked up and disseminated by lazy journalists who do not check even the simplest facts.

Education Spending

That Australian education spending has increased by 40/50 per cent in total/per student over the past decade/from the 1990s or it has doubled or increased by 333 per cent or whatever – it’s basically a case of make up your own figure and your own period.

In fact, properly measured education spending has in the long term simply kept up with economic growth. The claims of huge increases rely on ignoring some or all of population growth, inflation and economic growth. The National Reports on Schooling in Australia show that government spending per student in Australia was $8,115 in 1999-2000 ($11,731 in 2012 dollars) and $13,544 in 2008-09 ($14,637 in 2012 dollars). That is a real increase of only 24.7 per cent, about half the oft-exaggerated 44 per cent that came from the Grattan Institute’s report several years ago.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports a real increase in per capita GDP over the ten years from 1998-99 to 2008-09 of 24.4 per cent. The relevance of this is that the salaries of teachers have to keep up to some extent with the general living standards of the population as a whole. Does anyone really think we would attract able people to teaching and retain them if that 24.7 per cent increase in education spending had not occurred and, as a consequence, the top Victorian teacher salary was now only $76,152 and the beginning salary was now only $50,807? My salary as a beginning teacher in 1974 was $6,700 - $57,429 in real terms, showing that teacher salaries have dropped not only in relation to average wages but also in actual purchasing power over a period of 43 years, during which the average standard of living has leapt ahead.

Andrew Leigh gives an increase in real expenditure per student of 333 per cent in between 1964 and 2003.

Those who say this increase is unjustified should do the exercise in reverse. We can do that by cutting teacher salaries by 77 per cent (i.e., to $21,841 for the top classroom level in Victoria) or by increasing the maximum class size by 333 per cent (i.e., to 108 students in a secondary school), or by increasing teaching loads by 333 per cent (i.e., to 97 hours a week in a primary school), or by some combination. How many able people do the critics of education spending think would become or remain teachers if the pay and conditions were as bad as their advice would make them?

Then there are misleading international comparisons that simply show poorer countries spend less in real terms than we do, but the comparison has to be based on the living standards if each country. South Korea spends less per student than we do because it is a poorer country. OECD figures show that it actually spends 20 per cent of its per capita GDP on each primary student (compared with our 17 per cent) and 30 per cent on each secondary student (compared with our 23 per cent).

Then there are misleading international comparisons that ignore the differences in characteristics of each country’s system. Thus, Australia is compared with cities like Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong, which do not have expensive remote schools and do not have large non-native speaking populations.

That education is run by a huge central bureaucracy.

In fact, there have been 30 years of cuts to central bureaucracies as schools take on more and more functions, such as staffing and budgeting, once done centrally: Victoria – 40,000 teachers, 10,000 SSSOs, 2000s central and regional staff.

Victoria has had the most devolved education system in the country for at least the last 40 years. Victoria has had locally elected school councils since the 1970s, local appointment of principals since the 1980s, local appointment of other staff since the 1990s and local budgetary control since the 2000s. In fact it had local school committees from 1872.

The other point to note is that managerial autonomy does not improve learning.  The autonomy that improves learning is curriculum autonomy, the sort of autonomy under which highly trained and committed teachers work together to ensure they teach children what they can take in at each stage of their educati0onal journey.

That spending on education makes no difference to student learning.

In fact, increased school funding brings large improvements for low income students in high school graduation rates and educational attainment, wages, family income, and reductions in adult poverty according to a study published by the US National Bureau of Economic Research. It also found that these effects were dependent on how the increased funding was spent.

The study found that a ten per cent increase in per-student spending each year for all 12 years of public school extends the schooling of low income students by nearly half a year. It increases their adult earnings by nearly ten per cent and family income by 16 per cent. The annual incidence of adult poverty is also reduced by seven per cent. These benefits, it said, “are large enough to justify the increased spending.

C. Kirabo Jackson, Rucker C. Johnson, Claudia Persico, The Effects of School Spending on Educational and Economic Outcomes: Evidence from School Finance Reforms. Working Paper No. 20847, National Bureau of Economic Research, Chicago.

Victoria has had the most devolved education system in the country for at least the last 40 years. Victoria has had locally elected school councils since the 1970s, local appointment of principals since the 1980s, local appointment of other staff since the 1990s and local budgetary control since the 2000s.  In fact it had local school committees from 1872.

That having smaller classes makes no difference to student learning.

In fact, those who claim that smaller classes make no difference to student learning but effective teachers do should connect the two factors. Able people are more likely to become and remain teachers if they have decent working conditions, and smaller classes are one aspect of decent working conditions. Able people understand that every extra student increases the stress level in the classroom, the time available for interaction with each student and the correction time demanded of a teacher. If a teacher with say, six different classes of 25 students, spends five minutes a week correcting the work of each student, that teacher will spend 12 hours 30 minutes a week on correction. Adding one student to each class will add half an hour to the correction time for that week. Adding two students will add one hour. Adding six students will add three hours. Adding students will also increase report-writing time and needed preparation time. The teacher will handle this by cutting back on the detail in correction of each student’s work, cutting back on preparation time, withdrawing form other school activities or increasing the time working. The committed teacher will be inclined to the last option, but in the end will be likely to burn out and either reduce effort or leave the profession.

Research supports the value of small classes.

Many class size studies are poor quality and ignore other factors; e.g., parental affluence, the nature of the students in the school. Proper studies use randomised samples.

In Tennessee’s Student Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) study (available at http://www.heros-inc.org/) in 1980s, students and teachers were randomly assigned to a small class of 15-17 students, a regular class of 22-26 students or a regular class with a teacher’s aide. Several thousand students in years prep to 3 were involved in this study. This class size large reduction increased student achievement by an amount equivalent to about three additional months of schooling four years later. Follow-up studiers showed that students from those smaller classes were still in front of those from larger classes in year 8 and more likely be in college at the age of 20.

The reasons were better student engagement, more individual attention and fewer disciplinary problems.

It should be noted that the larger classes were of 22 students.

Professor John Hattie, of New Zealand, has done a comprehensive study (EARLI Presentation by John Hattie for Web.ppt) of all the factors that lead to improved student achievement. He concludes that smaller class sizes are not as significant as other factors, but nonetheless he rates them as giving a nine-month improvement in student achievement.

That class sizes have been reduced in the last 20 years.

In fact, average class sizes in 2011 were 22.0 (primary), 19.2 (prep), 20.5 (P-2), 23.2 (3-6), 21.4 (secondary), 19.2 (12). (Summary_Statistics_for_Victorian_Schools_Brochure-July_2012.pdf).  There was a slight increase in primary class sizes in 2012 as the Coalition government’s cuts took hold.

The average secondary class was 20 in 1992, so contrary to the myth, classes are larger now than 20 years ago.

That teachers are a pampered privileged and lazy lot.

In fact, teachers are paid dramatically less than they were 40 years ago. They have worse working conditions than 30 years ago.  They have less security of employment than 25 years ago. They are being replaced by the unqualified student teachers of Teach for Australia, who are put in charge of classes after a six-week summer course. They have had the elected members of their registration authorities replaced by government appointees.

The long term is instructive. The secondary pupil teacher ratio was 10.8:1 in 1999 (the last year of the state’s first ever long-term Labor government, the one accused of being controlled by supposedly militant teachers unions. Yet that ratio had been 10.9:1, way back in 1981, the last full year of a Liberal government that cared about education in the state’s history.  

The Victorian primary pupil teacher ratio was 15.4:1 in 2011 (a residual effect of the Labor government that had lost office in November of the previous year). The Victorian secondary pupil teacher ratio was 11.7:1 in 2011 and had risen to 12.6:1 by 2015, meaning that Victorian secondary schools have 2,578 fewer teachers today than they did 35 years ago for the same number of students.

Teacher pay shows the same sort of long-term decline. Male average ordinary time earnings for November, 2010, were $1356.90 (c$70,801 pa), $483.60 (55.4 per cent) more in real terms than the December, 1974 equivalent.  

In 1975, a beginning teacher was paid 118.8 per cent of MAOTE (The Secondary Teacher, No. 4, May, 1981). That would be $84,112 in 2011. A beginning teacher is paid $55,459 in 2011, $28,662 (33.8 per cent) less than if the relativity had been maintained.

In 1975, sub-division 14 teacher (the top unpromoted sub-division, reached after seven years) was paid 166.2 per cent of MAOTE. That would be $117,671 today. A teacher with seven years’ experience was paid $69,946 in 2011, $47,725 (40.6 per cent) less than if the relativity had been maintained. The top unpromoted teacher salary was $81,806 in 2011 (reached after ten years and performance reviews), $35,865 (30.5 per cent) less than if the relativity had been maintained.

In 1975, a senior teacher was paid 189.8 per cent of MAOTE. That would be $134,380 in 2011. 2011’s equivalent, a leading teacher, started on $84,536, $49,844 (37.1 per cent) less than if the relativity had been maintained. A leading teacher, subject to successful performance reviews, could then reach $89,423, $44,957 (33.5 per cent) less than if the relativity had been maintained.

The situation with principals is more complex because they are now on salary packages, with different proportions of their packages going into superannuation. They may also package other items (e.g., cars).

In 1975, a principal in the top classification was paid 252.1 per cent of MAOTE. That would be $178,489 in 2011. A principal in the top range in 2011 and in the Revised Superannuation Scheme started on approximately $118,354, $60,135 (33.7 per cent) less than if the relativity had been maintained. A principal, subject to successful performance reviews, could then reach approximately $133,446, $45,043 (25.2 per cent) less than if the relativity had been maintained.

The Power of the Left

That the AEU is a powerful, militant union that controls state Labor governments.

In fact, as the previous comments show, pay, working conditions and security of employment are all far worse today than they were 20, 30 and even 40 years ago.

We can take the Cain/Kirner government as an example. Had a Senior Teacher salary been maintained at its 1982 pre-election level, its recipient would have earned $556 325 in real 1994 dollars in the 11 years, 1982 to 1992 inclusive. In fact, the pay cuts of the Cain governments took $56 249 away from Senior Teachers. Unashamed media propaganda to the contrary, Labor was not generous to teachers. It was mean. The table below tells the story.

Teacher Pay under Labor

Year   Senior Teacher  Salary in 1994   Change on 1982

                Salary            dollars

1982        24 456            50 575
1983        27 450            51 386        +     811
1984        28 630            49 387        -   1 188
1985        29 804            48 819        -   1 756
1986        31 714            48 015        -   2 560
1987        32 471            44 778        -   5 797
1988        32 993            42 495        -   8 080
1989        35 665            42 620        -   7 955
1990        37 273            41 336        -   9 239
1991        38 391            39 811        -  10 764
1992        39 975            40 854        -   9 721
                                                      -  56 249

The unions opposed national tests. We have national tests.
The unions opposed A-E grades. We have A-E grades.

That teachers can’t be sacked.

In fact, they can be. It’ just that they are entitled to natural justice and cannot be dismiss don the whim of a principal, who might be an incompetent bully.

That outcomes based education is a left-wing plot.

In fact, outcomes-based education was introduced by the Victorian Liberal Government in the early 1990s as an alternative to the claimed fad of process-based education and as part of the argument that inputs made no difference in state education (though spending $30,000 for a private school place draws no such criticism), not as a replacement for the syllabus.

The inservice which introduced me to OBE was in 1994. Below is an extract from a report I wrote then: ‘According to the DSE et al, the new focus in education is on "outcomes", not "inputs" or "free-floating process statements" - on learning not teaching: the DSE is therefore moving from "course advice" to "curriculum support material", and the era of re-inventing the wheel in schools is over.

‘The CSF (Curriculum Standards Framework) - all 300 to 400 pages of it - will cause schools to focus on content, the how of learning and the demonstration of learning having taken place.’ (MEN IN SUITS, 20/6/1994) The claim that OBE would focus on content rather than process is the reverse of the claim made about it today.

The focus on ‘outcomes’ was part of a political campaign to justify the cuts to teacher numbers in Victoria by getting the public to forget about ‘inputs’.  It was accompanied by a particularly nasty series of attacks on teachers as a pampered elite:

‘…teacher unions have “captured” the operation of education services in regard to staffing and working conditions so that the education system has become unduly teacher-driven.’ (Institute of Public Affairs, Schooling Victorians, 1992)

‘There is extensive over-staffing of teachers, inefficient work practices and “union” capture of education expenditure.’  (IPA, Schooling Victorians, 1992)

‘The schools are simply a racket and a rort for teachers who use it as a fully salaried system of outdoor relief.’ (Peter Ryan, “Teachers fail to get the point”, The Age, 1/8/1992)

‘Socialist Left ideology…is nicely entrenched throughout the state education administrative system, thanks to a continuing infiltration of the faithful throughout the Cain/Kirner years.’ (Michael Barnard, ‘Labor could not learn”, The Age, 28/8/1992)

‘The perks and privileges of this cosseted profession were absolutely sacrosanct.” (“A lesson in anarchy”, Herald Sun (editorial), 19/11/1992)

‘Schools…appear to be run more for the benefit and convenience of their employees than for their users.’ (Claude Forell, “A reckoning unions had to have”, The Age, 25/11/1992)

‘The Kennett Government is pledged to a course that promises to break the debilitating union stranglehold…” (Michael Barnard, “Teachers in a state of intellectual undress”, The Age, 27/11/1992)

‘A strong moral case for the present Government unilaterally renouncing all agreements entered into by the previous Government with its employees can be made on the grounds that they were not arms-length agreements.’ (Professor Ross Parish, “Let the Public Service pay towards cutting the ranks”, The Age, 11/12/1992)

‘Mr Kennett…set out to break the power of the education unions which had been running then system…’ (“A hundred high speed days” (editorial), Herald Sun, 11/1/1993)

‘The present system has allowed education to become captive of its bureaucracies and powerful lobbies.’ (“A testing year in education” (editorial), The Age, 25/1/1993)

‘Money for schools was channelled into creating more jobs and better conditions for teachers.’ (“School lessons in economic necessity” (editorial), The Age, 27/1/1993)

‘The emergency teacher system…had not existed before 1980…’ (Don Hayward, quoted in Denis Muller, “Schools already feel bite of education cuts”, The Age, 1/3/1993) [As a school daily organiser, I knew this was untrue because I had employed emergency teachers without restriction in 1978.]

‘Money which could have been saved by reduced teacher numbers has been used to improve teachers’ working conditions…the education budget has been allowed to become unnecessarily bloated…Throwing more money at a problem, by itself, can never be guaranteed to achieve the desired result.’ (Kevin Donnelly, “Why we’re inefficient”, Herald Sun, 3/5/1993)

‘That structure is prone to “capture” at the centre and the extremities by organised interest groups such as teacher unions…(page 9, Vo. 2, Report of the Victorian Commission of Audit, 1993)

‘The powerful public sector unions were permitted by default to run…education…’ (“Jim Kennan scratches”, Herald Sun (editorial), 29/6/1993)

‘…during the 1980s, the union movement “captured” the operation of the public sector.  This led to considerable over-staffing and restrictive work practices…’ (Des Moore, “Why government needs to be rolled back”, The Age, 5/7/1993)

‘…cosy deals with teacher unions…wasteful school work practices.…It is understandable that some union officials who rode the Labor gravy train are resistant to reform.’ (Alan Stockdale, “Education’s future depends on savings”, The Age, 22/9/1993)

‘Unions have focused on industrial relations to build up a cosy bracket of work practices rather than concentrate on professional standards.’ (Don Hayward, quoted in Felicity Dargan, “100 schools to go”, Herald Sun, 30/9/1993)

The most amazing feature of this period was the freedom with which the Coalition got away with its claims and the ready endorsement it received from credulous journalists and commentators. A bizarre example occurred when a journalist, Claire Heaney, reported (Herald-Sun, 16/2/1994) that that the government was considering a proposal for "STOPPING the alignment of the first-term holidays with Easter because it makes the first term too short". First-term holidays had not been aligned with Easter since 1989.

OBE was not a trendy left idea, but a hard right one.

As far as I can tell, the test of OBE is the specific outcomes set. They can be clear and worthwhile or they can be vague and ridiculous.

Teachers had always taught to outcomes and continued to do so. I quote from the writing outcomes of the post-OBE English course of Whittlesea College (where I was English Coordinator at the time):
'2.1    To develop confidence, ease and enjoyment in writing.
2.2    To write with correct grammar, spelling and punctuation.
2.2    To develop senses of purpose and of audience, and a structure in writing.
2.3    To develop fluency and expressiveness in writing.'
Outcomes-based education is neither good nor bad in itself: it all depends on the educational validity of the specific outcomes chosen.

That students are worse behaved now than when whoever says it was at school.

In fact, behaviour at the end of my time as a teacher was no worse than at the beginning, though students swore more and did far less work.

‘Your boy has just got his [Year 12], and yet he has no cultural interests. He despises classical music, never reads a serious book, and seldom uses a word beyond the range of a six-year old child.  And he has no manners…this generation of teenagers is inferior in almost every respect to the generation of, say, the 1930s.’  
(William F. Broderick, “The Ugly Teenager”, The Age, 7/2/1976)

The Rudd Myths

That Kevin Rudd promised to give a laptop to every child.

The computers in schools promise was correctly reported at the time it was made:
$1bn to create digital classrooms

“EVERY student in years 9 to 12 will have access to their own school computer under a $1 billion Labor policy to bring classrooms into the digital world….
“The announcement was one of the few spending initiatives outlined in Labor's campaign launch at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. The $1 billion over four years would supply computers to about one million students, and schools would apply to upgrade their equipment every three years.’
(Justine Ferrari, The Australian, November 15, 2007)

It says “school computer”, not “laptop”; it says “years 9 to 12”, not all students; it says “over four years”; it says “access”.

The computers in schools policy was delivered in full and on time.  The initial promise was that every year 9 to 12 student would have access to a computer at school within a four-year period:
‘A Rudd Labor Government will invest $1 billion over four years to turn every secondary school in Australia into a digital school.

‘Federal Labor’s National Secondary School Computer Fund will allow every Australian student in years 9-12 to have access to their own school computer….

‘The National Secondary School Computer Fund will allow secondary schools to apply for capital grants of up to $1 million to acquire new or upgrade information technology equipment.

‘This could include personal laptops or computers, thin clients with virtual desktops and internet network infrastructure to plug our secondary schools into the information superhighway…’

(Kevin Rudd, Federal Labor’s Education Revolution - A School Computer For Every Student In Years 9-12, Media Statement - 14th November 2007)

The program began in 2008 and all the computers had been delivered by the start of 2012.

In fact, when Kevin Rudd held up a laptop and said it was “the toolbox for the 21st century” he did not promise that every student would be equipped with one. He was announcing the policy for tax refunds for parents who spent money on educational items, including - but not restricted to - laptops. The news report at the time (October 20, 2007, a month before the computers for schools policy was even released) said ‘…$2.3 billion would go to working families via tax rebates to help pay for school items such as laptop computers, home internet connections and books’. Legislation to allow this tax refund has been passed.

That the Building the Education Revolution meant school halls.

In fact, the BER provided classrooms, libraries, science labs and language centres. The Coalition has managed to convince people that the program was school halls only just by repeating the phrase. The spending was to be broken up as follows:
Multi-purpose halls - 2822 projects, $4.8bn,
Covered areas – 750 projects, $0.5bn,
Libraries  - 3009 projects, $3.6bn,
Classrooms – 3052 projects, $3.9bn,
Other – 952 projects, $1.1bn.
In other words, only one third fo the expenditure was on halls, and these were multi-purpose halls too.

The truth is that the BER was a wonderful injection of funds and resources to neglected schools that helped keep the construction industry afloat, but it did cost too much in most government sectors - WA was an exception - but not in most Catholic sectors, because past governments, in thrall to the ideo-illogical warriors of the IPA, had got rid of public works departments with people who knew what stuff should cost.

The Kirner Myth

That Joan Kirner closed technical schools.
In fact, Joan Kirner and the Labor Party did not shut down technical schools. I taught in a technical school from 1988 to 1999 – it’s still open today

What actually happened was that Cain Labor government, not the Kirner one, stopped building new technical and high schools, instead built post-compulsory schools, started to amalgamate some high and technical schools and renamed lots of schools “secondary colleges”, but you only had to spend 30 seconds inside a “secondary college” to know whether it was a high or a tech.

The actual wholesale closures of technical schools, including those called “secondary colleges”, occurred under the Kennett government after 1992. It has been recently said the closed schools were marked for closure by the Cain and Kirner governments, but that was not said at the time. The reason given at the time was that Victorian schools were closer together than NSW schools and therefore needed to be bigger.

The Kennett Myths

That the teachers removed by the Kennett government were just those on leave.

‘School truths
The Age 14/11/2006

‘LABOR'S point-scoring campaign against the Liberals on education shows scant regard for the truth. Both Labor (1982-92) and the Coalition (1992-99) closed schools because of falling enrolments and their often dilapidated condition. In both cases state revenue and the property industry benefited from the sales. Labor, of course, called its closures "amalgamations".

‘Teacher numbers quoted by Labor in this campaign are also rubbery. The thousands "ripped from the system by Kennett" were mainly intending retirees and those on family or other leave who were happy to accept the packages on offer. Today's "thousands of extra teachers" include many teacher aides and assistants working as little as two days a week, but counted as if full-time for election purposes.

‘John Morrissey, Hawthorn’

In fact, between1992 and 1998, the Coalition removed 6,787 full-time equivalent teachers from our schools, despite promising before the election that it would do no such thing.  Teachers on leave of more than four weeks, and family leave is seven years, are not counted in the figures in the first place.

Staffing for secondary schools had three main components - a base factor, an enrolment factor and a special needs factor.  In 1992, there were 4,205 base teachers, 13,921 enrolment teachers and 2,138 special needs teachers, making a total of 20,264 teachers (FTUV Briefing Notes, 7/2/1994). The Liberal government’s cuts were to the staffing formula.  In secondary schools, the changes to the base, entitlement and special needs factors cut 3,648 teaching positions from secondary schools.  (FTUV Briefing Notes, 7/2/1994).

The main changes were large cuts in special needs staffing and a cut in the base staffing factor from between 9 and 13.2, depending on the size of the school, to 4 irrespective of the size of the school.

That the Kennett government changes were just because of the state’s financial situation.

In fact, many of the changes had nothing to do with money; e.g.,
Running a campaign of denigration against the teaching profession,
Dismantling the teacher registration boards and replacing them with nothing,
Using retrospective legislation to get out of legally enforceable contracts with the teaching profession,
Clogging reports with jargon of “beginning”, “consolidating” and “established”,
Reducing the number of marks required to get an A in VCE English tasks between 1994 and 1996,
Putting large numbers of teachers on short-term contracts,
Putting principals on contracts to facilitate their supporting the Liberal attack on their colleagues in the classroom,
Abolishing history and geography in favour of the mess of Studies of Society and the Environment,
Removing teacher input from principal selection,
Changing principal section panels so that it was no longer required that the majority of members be local or that the majority have educational qualifications,
Increasing the power of principals to bully and victimise their staffs,
Introducing limited tenure promotion positions and bonuses for sycophants as command and control devices,
Introducing performance plans, annual reviews and all the mad jargon of the business world,
Bogging schools down in charters, triennial reviews, data-fests and the like,
Discriminating against teachers and other department employees on school councils,
Destroying the advantages of economies of scale inherent in a system by making schools spend thousands of person-hours creating their own versions of key selection criteria, etc.,
Producing a ministerial order (140) purporting to ban teachers from speaking out about education.

The 1992 Coalition government kept blabbing about standards as they lowered them, attacked the teaching profession, made working conditions much worse, pulled support out of schools and created a Kafkaesque satire in our schools - a daily live 'Yes Minister' that teachers, principals and students all had to survive.

The Bracks Myths

That the Bracks government did nothing.

In fact, the Victorian Labor government delivered the following improvements to education between 1999 and 2010:
Employing an extra 3,779 teachers between 1999 and 2009,
Improving the primary PTR from 17.2:1 in 1999 to 15.7:1 in 2009,
Staffing primary schools to allow a maximum class size of 21 pupils in prep to grade 2,
Cutting the average primary school class from 25.4 to 22.0 (2010),
Cutting the average prep class from 23.2 to 19.2 (2010),
Cutting the number of primary classes with more than 30 students by 96 percentage points, from 4.6 per cent of all classes to 0.2 per cent,
Improving the secondary PTR from 12.6:1 in 1999 to 11.8:1 in 2009,
Generally limiting high school classes to 25 students,
Cutting the average secondary English class from 22.7 to 21.5 (2010)
Cutting the average year 12 class from 21.0 to 19.6 (2010),
Reducing secondary teaching loads (marginally),
Setting up the Victorian Institute of Teaching,
Restoring teacher representation to principal selection panels,
Ensuring that principal selection panels once again have a majority of members with educational qualifications on them,
Providing the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning as an alternative to Victorian Certificate of Education,
Dumping SOSE and restoring history and geography as traditional disciplines within the humanities,
Lifting the ban on teachers speaking out on education,
Bringing in the A-to-E grading system (required by the federal government's interference in the state responsibility for education) by defining high standards for A and B
Instituting a high-standard reporting system across the state that provides parents with specific information on how much their children have progressed each year and where they are in relation to the expected standard, explicitly indicating to parents the year level their children are achieving; for example, if a Year 8 student is two years below the expected standard, the report will tell parents that their child is at Grade 6 level - a level of frankness in reporting that I have never before seen in my 33 years of teaching
Investing $3.4 billion in capital spending on schools, as part of a program to rebuild or refurbish every school in the state over a ten-year period,
Making Victorian graduate teachers at those at the top of the scale the best paid in the country in order to attract and retain talent (though no state ever stays at the top for long),
Moving away from the previous government’s failed marketisation of education to an understanding that education is better run as a system in which the government takes responsibility for all schools and does not leave some to fade and die, an attitude which shows a disgraceful disregard for the children in them.

Capital spending on schools
These figures are from the all-party parliamentary public accounts and estimates committee:
97-98 $58 million
98-99 $90 million
99-00 $112 million
(That’s $260 million in the last three Liberal years.)
00-01 $216 million
01-02 $265 million
02-03 $200 million
(That’s $681 million in the first three Labor years – more than double the Liberals.)
03-04 $125 million
04-05 $307 million
05-06 $287 million
06-07 $379 million
(That’s $973 million in the last three Labor years for which I have PAEC figures – more than triple the Liberals.)
The next two figures come from 2008-09 Budget Paper 3, p 23.
07-08 $555 million
08-09 $592 million
The last figure is from the all-party public accounts and estimates committee.
09-10 $476 million (not including the BER)
(That’s $1,623 million in the last three Labor years - more than five times the Coalition’s three-year expenditure.)

The Andrews Myths

That the Victorian government has banned Christmas carols from schools.

In fact, singing religious hymns by students at Christmas time has not been banned by the state government.  As the education minister, James Merlino, said:
‘This time of year is often referred to as the “silly season” and I haven’t seen a better example of this than the article entitled Christmas Carol Ban Is Out Of Tune With Society by president of the Young Liberal Movement of Australia, Simon Breheny.
‘This ridiculous piece is all part of a Liberal Party campaign to convince Victorians that we have banned Christmas carols in schools. Not only is this untrue, it is a shameful attempt to drive a wedge in our community.
‘Victorian schoolchildren — like my own daughters who attend government schools — can sing any Christmas carol they want at their school.
‘From classics such as Away in a Manger, Silent Night, and Oh Come All Ye Faithful, to Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Jingle Bells.
‘The guidance given to Victorian principals this year was clear: schools can put up Christmas decorations or pictures of Santa, sing carols or decorate Christmas trees on school grounds, as these items have a cultural place in Australian society.
‘The guidance also stated that other activities, such as colourful celebrations during Diwali and candle lighting during Hanukkah, were not banned.
‘However, if an outside provider such as Access Ministries, or a volunteer group, wishes to come to a school and sing religious songs, this is considered Special Religious Instruction and must be done before school, after school, or during lunch time.
‘The guidelines exist to make it clear that there is no proselytising in Victorian government schools.’
(http://the-scan.com/2015/12/23/the-grinch-who-fibbed-about-christmas/ The grinch who fibbed about Christmas)

Any Victorian government school that bans Christmas carols, including religious ones, is acting contrary to government policy.

That the Victorian government has banned religion from schools.

In fact, the Andrews government has actually increased the amount of religious education in our schools.  The removal of Special Religious Instruction from class time does not mean the end of education in religion in schools.  SRI was done by a minority of students in a minority of schools.  Now all students in all schools will do general religious education.  Parents who want a more specific religious education may send their children to religious schools, most of whose funding comes from the government.  In fact, James Merlino introduced the Andrews Labor government’s legislation to guarantee the public funding of non-government schools within three months of the 2014 election.

The Non-government School Myths

That Gough Whitlam commenced the funding of non-government schools.

In fact, non-government schools first got capital funding in the early 1960s from the Menzies government. They got recurrent funding from the Bolte government in 1967 and from the Gorton government in 1969. Funding increased in 1973, but it had begun much earlier.

In 1964, the federal government passed the States Grants (Science Laboratories and Technical Training) Act to provide grants for science laboratories and equipment in government and non‐government secondary schools.   

State aid for students actually started because the DLP told Henry Bolte that it would recommend its preferences to the Country Party if he did not grant it and he looked at the numbers and realised he had to comply. In 1967, the Victorian government introduced per capita grants of $10 per primary pupil and $20 per secondary student for non‐government schools.

In 1969, the federal government passed The States Grants (Independent Schools) Act 1969 to authorise payments to non‐government schools at the flat rates of $35 per primary school student and $50 per secondary school student.

In 1972, Gough Whitlam realised he had to commit to funding students in non-government schools if he was ever to be prime minister and thus provided a needs-based funding model, which lasted in various forms until 2001, when the Howard government introduced the SES model, renamed “capacity to contribute” by the Gonski panel and to be extended under that name to all schools.

That Gonksi is a need-based sector-blind funding model.

In fact, prior to the Howard government’s changes, schools were funded on the basis of their own income. A low-fee school with few private resources would get more government support than a high-fee school with lots of private resources. It did not matter whether the school was attended by people with wealthy neighbours or people with poor neighbours. It did not mater if the parents of the children were wealthy or poor. The system supported social inclusion because it gave more money to a low-fee school than to a high-fee school. Thus, a low-fee schools serving a middle class neighbourhood could keep its fees low and thus still take comparatively poorer children. It was not forced to put up its fees and drive poorer children out of it because it drew students form a middle class area.

The SES funding model changed all that. It ignored school fees. It ignored school income. It ignored school resources. It funded schools on the basis of how well off the students’ neighbours were. It used census collector districts to determine how well off the neighbours were. This immediately penalised low-fee schools in well-off areas. No longer could they be accessible to poorer families.

The result was the funding guaranteed promise. The public education lobby calls this “over-funding”. It looks at what a school would get under the absurd SES model, declares that to be the fair amount and condemns any extra. Yet the extra is compensation for the failings of the SES model. The “extra” simply restores the school’s level of support to what it would have been if the SES model had never been introduced. It restores the school’s level of support to what it would have been if the school’s fees and other income were taken into account. It restores the school’s support to what it would have been under the previous Labor government. Let that sink in. The “overfunding” puts schools where they would have been if the Labor Party’s model had stayed in place. The low-fee private schools were conned by thee Howard government. By agreeing to the SES model with funding guaranteed, they set themselves up for 12 years of criticism by the public education lobby. Are they dumb enough to let this happen again? We will see.

The SES model also broke the nexus between funding and fees. There was no longer any incentive for a school to keep its fees low, as the fees charged had no effect on the level, of taxpayer support.

The Gonksi panel wants to keep this absurd system. It just wants to use a smaller area than the census collector districts to determine the wealth of the neighbours.  Later on, it wants to funds schools based on the income of the individual parents. Nothing is better guaranteed to socially stratify our schools than this.

One of the three reasons that the Gonksi recommendations produced a list of 3,000 losing schools is that they kept the SES model, the one that ignored school fees. Naturally, all those schools protected form the insanity of the SES model would find their protection ended if the SES model were to be continued. (The other two reasons are dealt with in the link I gave earlier.)

The Gonski model funds not only mainstream students according to how well off the neighbours of the students in the school are, but also disadvantaged students in the same way. Students, including disadvantaged students, have their funding adjusted according to the sector they are in. A student with a low SES or with a non-English-speaking background in a government school will get a loading of 100 per cent of the amount for that category. The very same student in a non-government school will get between 20 and 90 per cent of that loading, not because of the variation in fees private schools charge but because of the variation in the SES level of the neighbours of the students who go there. It’s completely bonkers.

That the Andrews government increased non-government school funding to a guaranteed 25 per cent of state school funding.

1)    In fact, The calculation of Victoria’s school costs by a 25 per cent pool may be illogical, but it is no more illogical than the Gonski panel’s supposed method of so-called high-performance reference schools.
2)    The 25 per cent is not a per capita payment to every non-government school but the amount allocated to a pool that is distributed on a needs basis.
3)    The Victorian model is not new but has been in place since 2005, and the increase to 25 per cent was promised by John Brumby in 2010 and implemented by the subsequent Coalition government.
4)    All the Andrews government has done is put a 10-year-old policy into legislation and tighten the requirements around it.
5)    Not all government school expenditure is used to calculate the pool.
6)    The funds in the pool are distributed on a needs basis, not, as the Howard/Gonski funding model does, according to how well off the neighbours of all the students in the school are.
7)    Three quarters of the government funding of non-government schools comes from the federal Gonski model and only one quarter from the Victorian model, raising the question of the motivation behind the attacks on the Victorian government..
8)    Behind all this hysteria is the failure of the public education lobby to propose any funding model at all to the Gonski review, thus letting it extend the Howard government’s socio-economic funding model to all schools, including those protected from it by the funding guarantee, and increasing social stratification in our education system, something the Victorian model works against.
9)    The Victorian government is showing how we can improve on Gonski.

Victoria’s method for funding non-government schools was not introduced by the Andrews government this year but by the Bracks government in 2005.  The increase to 25 per cent was not introduced by the Andrews government this year but promised by the Brumby government in 2010 and implemented by the Coalition government after the 2010 election.  All the Andrews government has done is take the existing policy and out it in legislation.

The increase in the funding pool to 25 per cent was announced by the Brumby Labor government in 2010:
‘Mr Brumby said Labor would deliver independent and Catholic schools three times the level of funding they received when the ALP came to office. ''This provides a guaranteed funding stream as Labor will establish an ongoing 25 per cent linkage for Catholic and independent schools,'' he said.’

Victoria’s longstanding 25 per cent rule for calculating school costs is attacked as illogical, but it is no more illogical than the Gonski panel’s so-called high-performance reference schools calculation.  The Gonksi report’s recommendations were based on the Allen Consulting Group’s Feasibility of a National Schooling Recurrent Resource Standard Final Report, which concludes in 112 pages that it is possible to establish a national schooling recurrent resource standard but which does not get around to actually determining one (even though one had already been presented to the review panel).

The Allen Report does not determine the amount needed to resource schools and the methodology it suggests that someone else use to do the job is flawed.  The underlying failing in the report is the reliance on the language of the 1990s about “providers”, “service delivery” and “purchasers”, a philosophy that did so much damage to Victorian education in that period.  The national resource standard needs to be based on an explicit staffing ratio for schools, not the success, however determined, of “reference” schools under the current model.   The report has taken something conceptually simple and buried it in complexities.

To determine the school resource standard by looking at what so-called “high-performing” reference schools cost is both bizarre and dangerous.  It is bizarre because some differences in expenditure have nothing do with education (e.g., the different WorkCover levies in different states) and nothing meaningful is to be learnt by averaging out the costs of a $30,000-fee private school and a $10,000-a head public school that just happen to meet the same student results benchmark.  It is dangerous because it adopts the “inputs don’t matter” philosophy that so damaged Victorian schools in the 1990s.

Different schools have different electricity charges, different water charges, different gas charges, different WorkCover rates, etc.  Public schools pay payroll tax; private schools do not.  All these differences have nothing to do with the educational effectiveness or the educational efficiency of the school, but they feed into the cost formula.

One school might run a government-funded Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning program, which costs money and thus feeds into the formula, but VCAL runs at years 11 and 12 and has nothing to do with the school’s year 9 NAPLAN results.  Indeed, the school’s year 9 NAPLAN results are affected by where the students were when they arrived in year 7, the results of their primary school education, yet the model takes no account of this.

If a high-fee private school charges $30,000 per student and a middle-class public school spends $10,000 per student, averaging them to get $15,000 is meaningless.  Indeed, Appendix H in the Gonksi Report hints, in particularly obscure language, that high-fee schools have had their fee levels discounted to calculate the average:

Step 3 – Setting base school characteristics
To obtain estimates of per student amounts holding everything else equal, a number of assumptions need to be made about the characteristics of the ‘base’ school, that is, one with no significant disadvantage that would attract per student amounts only and minimal if any loadings. The main variables that need to be set in this way are:
The percentage of NRIPS sourced from private income – there are significant differences within the reference school group in the proportion of NRIPS that is publicly and privately funded. In the government sector higher NRIPS is associated with smaller and more remote schools with higher levels of disadvantage, which is controlled for in other settings. In the non-government sector, especially among secondary and combined schools, higher NRIPS is associated with higher private contributions, which have the potential to skew the estimated per student amounts. (Appendix H)

The report does not say exactly how it adjusted for the different proportion of private income in different schools.  If it got the data from lots of schools, including high fee ones, to determine the cost of educating a mainstream student and then deducted the extra costs of the high-fee schools, that prompts us to ask why they would be in the mix in the first place only to be taken out because they had high fees.

It is not logical to put all the “successful” schools in a basket, make a statistical adjustment because some of them have high private income and then declare an average.

When it comes to the distribution of funds, the Victorian Financial Assistance Model is more needs-based than the Howard/Gonski socio-economic status funding model because it funds students on their actual needs and schools according to their actual resources, whereas the Howard/Gonski SES model adjusts the funding for both mainstream students and disadvantaged students according to how well off the neighbours of the students in the school are. It’s as absurd as adjusting your Medicare rebate according to how well off the neighbours of the doctor’s other patients are.

That Australia is unique in funding non-government schools.

In fact, The UK gives 100 per cent funding to most non-government schools, called voluntary controlled or voluntary aided schools, which are integrated into the public system. It does not fund elite private schools, but most non-government schools are not elite. They are open to all, but they are privately run. New Zealand is similar with Catholic schools that are integrated into the public system. Australia spends $US6137 per student in a non-government school.  Austria spends $US7373; Belgium, $US9773; Denmark, $12012; Finland, $US9266; Norway, $US12155 (OECD Education at a Glance 2015, Table B3.3) – and that’s not the full list. 25 of the 28 countries for which data is given fund non-government schools, 11 of them more generously than Australia.

The UK gives 100 per cent funding to most private schools, which are integrated into the public system. It does not fund elite private schools, but most private schools are not elite. They are open to all, but they are privately run. New Zealand is similar with Catholic schools that are integrated into the public system.

The difference between Australia and other countries including those that fund non-government schools more generously, is the conditions imposed on that funding regarding fees and access; e.g. in England, government-funded non-government schools must not charge fees and must take students according to a priority list, wit the first category on the list being students with a disability, not students of a particular religion.

That non-government schools achieve better results for students than government schools.

In fact, once results are adjusted or socio-economic factors, there is no difference between the results of government schools and non-government schools. It is a fact that students from non-government schools are more likely to reach university but it is also a fact, that has been known for 30 years, that students from non-government schools who reach university are less likely to complete their courses than students from government schools.


Education is no different from other areas of public dispute: facts give way to belief. Much is complex and thus beyond the ability or interest of the modern journalist to understand and communicate. The best way to approach common beliefs is with a grain of salt.

Chris Curtis