Federal government is back in the game in school education

by Peter Goss

Published at The Conversation, Tuesday 3 May

See full article: Federal budget 2016: education experts react

Quality Schools, Quality Outcomes signals a shift in approach from the Coalition on two big issues in school education: equity, and the role of the federal government.


The goal seems to be to neutralise a Labor attack on “fairness” rather than make big changes. But it is a step in the right direction, including a clear acknowledgement of that achievement gaps widen as disadvantaged students move through school.

Additional funding for students with disability will be welcome.

For low SES students, the main policy response is to encourage incentives to attract high performing teachers and principals to disadvantaged schools. This is sensible but no game changer.

Assessing reading, phonics and numeracy during Year 1 will help to identify students who are behind, and is therefore in some sense an equity measure.

Yet there is no attempt to address the structural issues that reduce equity in Australian schools. Nor, despite the Coalition affirming its support for needs-based funding, will disadvantaged (largely government) schools see the big increases in funding that David Gonski called for. And states will need to justify how they spend even quite modest amounts of additional funding.

Role of federal government

The new interventionist mindset does not stop there. No longer does the government claim that it “runs no schools and employs no teachers”.

Instead, there are new initiatives, such a National Career Education Strategy. There are new aspirations, such as recruitment targets for STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) and indigenous teachers. Above all, there are proposed new requirements, covering:

  • attendance targets for indigenous students
  • Year 12 graduation requirements
  • progress reporting to parents
  • use of explicit teaching in classrooms
  • teacher training and career progression, and
  • principal certification.
  • These new aspirations and requirements (I counted over 15 of them) must be implemented by states, and must therefore be negotiated with them. And if the states don’t play ball, they may not get the extra funding.

    Lastly, it is concerning that the continued focus is on autonomy and accountability for outcomes, with limited discussion on the support that is required to make autonomy work.

    So, the federal government is back in the game in school education, and trying to set most of the rules. It will be interesting to see how states respond.

    The Conversation