The time is now

At the end of this year, state, territory and federal ministers of education begin negotiating a new National Schools Reform Agreement (NSRA) – the document that sets the policies and ground rules for funding schools for the four years from 2024. 

For the new Albanese government, this should be unfinished business. Will the ALP take the opportunity to at last deliver the level playing field for students that was meant to be at the heart of the Gonski reforms it tried to introduce a decade ago? 

The voices for reform are getting louder even before negotiations begin. A series of reports has underscored just how wide the gap has grown between public and private schools after nine wasted years under the Liberal-National Coalition. 

New figures from the OECD in its latest Education at a Glance paper revealed that funding for public schools fell during the first two years of the pandemic – bucking a global trend of governments putting more money into their education systems to cope with the crisis. Only Hungary cut funding more. 

A September Productivity Commission report revealed that funding from all sources for Catholic schools now outstrips that for public schools. Independent schools, always far ahead, are now almost out of sight. Catholic schools are increasing their government funding at nearly double the rate of government schools and independent schools have seen their government funding increase by 47 per cent since 2011. 

Separately, the commission’s interim report on the 2018 NSRA highlighted the drift under the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments, and called out the lack of detail on how the agreement was meant to support the students who needed it most.