Christian schools may face funding cuts

Christian educators divided on new schools policy

The Catholic school sector has called foul on the federal government’s new schools funding policy, which sweeps away special deals in favour of a single funding formula based on needs, and increases funding by $18.6 billion over ten years.

Federal education Minister Simon Birmingham announced on Tuesday that 24 independent schools would have their federal funding cut next year as part of the new “fair and equitable” funding model. By the end of the decade, 350 schools would also receive less federal funding than they would have under the current formula.

Most of the schools set for funding cuts were independent Catholic Schools, said National Catholic Education Commission acting director Danielle Cronin.

Cronin said the NCEC was seeking urgent discussions with the government to find out exactly how the new funding model would affect individual schools.

Catholic schools, which educate about one in five Australian children had a right not to be disadvantaged, said Bishop Comensoli, who leads the Broken Bay Diocese, north of Sydney.

“On face value, what is being proposed would appear to undermine the Catholic systemic approach. There is no way we want to see that,” he said.

But advocates for other Christian and independent schools welcomed the “courageous” commitment to overturn the distortions introduced by the Gillard government’s promise that no school would lose a dollar of funding.

“I have no confidence in politicians’ ability to measure anything meaningful, so it’s a worrying concept.” – John Collier

John Collier, Head of St Andrew’s Cathedral School and head of SACS Gawura Aboriginal school, said he was pleased with the “apparent courage” of politicians not to overfund schools beyond their entitlement.

“For the last 15 years politicians have refrained from keeping some schools to their entitlements, not above, because of an electoral backlash from parents of the students, and this has given the whole concept of education funding a bad name,” he said.

“I like sector-blind funding, particularly in our sector, because, despite the caricature and stereotype, the majority of independent schools are only of low to mid socio-economic status and not wealthy.”

Collier believes the idea of sector-blind funding targeted at need is a good way for Australia to deal with the large disparity between the disadvantaged and the advantaged in terms of education. However, he is worried by the concept of tying investment to a school’s performance.

“Some schools are terribly under resourced and can’t deliver at maximal level.” – John Collier

“I have no confidence in the capacity of politics to make decisions about which schools are performing well. They tend to focus on superficialities, which are electorally marketable. I have no confidence in politicians’ ability to measure anything meaningful, so it’s a worrying concept and it also raises the issue of whether schools that actually need the funding will be punished because their students are not performing,” he said.

“Do we say that a school that is populated with highly able students from affluent backgrounds is more successful than a school in an impoverished area where results are not as good? How do we know that the impoverished school isn’t adding greater value?”

He said involving David Gonski in a further review restored credibility to an approach that had been distorted out of shape by politicians and various lobby groups.

Collier applauded the government’s decision to apply a single funding formula across Australia rather than through 27 deals covering nine jurisdictions in three sectors.

“It’s politically very clever because the government is doing something bold and forthright.” – Martin Hanscamp

“We also need to spend a greater quantum of resources on education if we are to become a clever country. Some schools are terribly under resourced and can’t deliver at maximal level because they don’t have the wherewithal to do it.”

Melbourne-based Martin Hanscamp, executive officer of Australian Association of Christian schools, which represents 58,000 students across Australia, mainly in low-fee schools, lauded the policy approach as “clever”.

“It’s politically very clever because the government is doing something bold and forthright,” he said

After four years of resistance, the federal government had finally accepted that it had to work with a system that commits it long-term to funding wrapped up in formulas, he said.

“They’ve finally accepted that they’re pincered by what the previous ALP government had achieved in the Australian Education Act 2013, and they’ll have to work with it,” Hanscamp said.

He praised Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for saying, “it’s about time we ended the schools funding wars.”

“We need more detail to be able to say how positive it is.” – Daniel Panpuch

It was also “a top-class act” to bring in businessman David Gonski and Gonski Review panellist Ken Boston to provide advice on how the extra commonwealth funding should be used by schools to improve student achievement, because it neutralised criticism that that the government wasn’t engaging with the Gonski model. However, he had no idea what Gonski and Boston could say.

“There’s a real weakness in rhetoric here. Malcolm Turnbull wants to return us to the top of the OECD table. But measures such as NAPLAN are the only mechanism we’ve got to look at comparative results and it’s such a simplistic thing.”

Daniel Panpuch, CEO of Christian Schools Australia, which represents about 65,000 students, said the provision of certainty around funding would be a step in the right direction but the policy fell short of the original Gonski plan “by a long way.”

“On two levels it’s positive – we’re provided with certainty for the next ten years, so schools can plan and be transparent so that parents can see if they can afford to send their children there.

“Second, there a commitment that schools do need additional funding if they are to deliver the required level of services. But we need more detail to be able to say how positive it is.

“There are 27 individual arrangements at the moment and if they address that it will be statesmanlike, but it’s too early to say. We only have glossy headline statements at the moment and no details.”

Fairfax today published a list of schools it believes will have their funding cut in 2018*:

  1. Loreto Kirribilli, NSW – Funded at 196% of SRS
  2. Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College, NSW – Funded at 186% of Schooling Resource Standard (SRS)**
  3. St Aloysius’ College, NSW – Funded at 183% of SRS
  4. Mount St Benedict College, NSW – Funded at 156% of SRS
  5. Radford College, ACT – Funded at 151% of SRS
  6. Daramalan College, ACT – Funded at 147% of SRS
  7. Hillbrook Anglican School, QLD – Funded at 139% of SRS
  8. Marist College Canberra, ACT – Funded at 136% of SRS
  9. Northern Beaches Christian School, NSW – Funded at 134% of SRS
  10. Stella Maris College, NSW – Funded at 134% of SRS
  11. Brigidine College St Ives, NSW – Funded at 132% of SRS
  12. Oakhill College, NSW – Funded at 129% of SRS
  13. Burgmann Anglican School, ACT – Funded at 126% of SRS
  14. Brindabella Christian College, ACT- Funded at 122% of SRS
  15. St Augustine’s College Brookvale, NSW – Funded at 120% of SRS
  16. William Clarke College, NSW – Funded at 119% of SRS
  17. Covenant Christian School, NSW – Funded at 118% of SRS
  18. Eastern Suburbs Montessori School, NSW – Funded at 117% of SRS
  19. Melbourne Grammar School, VIC – Funded at 117% of SRS
  20. Queenwood School for Girls, NSW – Funded at 115% of SRS
  21. Cannon Hill Anglican School, QLD – Funded at 113% of SRS
  22. Canberra Girls Grammar, ACT – Funded at 110% of SRS
  23. Canberra Rudolf Steiner School, ACT – Funded at 110% of SRS
  24. Canberra Grammar School, ACT – Funded at 107% of SRS

* List based on Department of Education, Commonwealth school funding as a proportion of SRS, excluding special needs schools
** The government’s goal under the new model is to provide 80 per cent of the appropriate funding level – known as the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) – for private and Catholic schools by the end of the decade.