‘The worst idea ever’: Adrian Piccoli blasts Malcolm Turnbull on schools

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli. Photo: Kate Geraghty Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s suggestion of withdrawing from the funding of public schools would be the biggest mistake ever in education, says NSW Liberal Adrian Piccoli. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
Nanjing Night Net

Giving the states full responsibility for funding public schools, as proposed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, would be the biggest mistake in the history of Australian education policy, according to NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli.

A war of words has erupted between the NSW and federal education ministers just months before the federal election, with Mr Piccoli accusing his Coalition colleague, Simon Birmingham, of making “incomprehensible” claims about the relationship between school funding and academic results.

Senator Birmingham shot back, accusing Mr Piccoli of perpetuating “class warfare” and “defying mathematical logic” by calling for extra money from Canberra for NSW schools.

Mr Turnbull last week said the federal government could withdraw from funding public schools, while continuing to fund non-government schools, if it gave state governments a share of income tax revenue.

This approach would give the states more autonomy over their own school systems and create clearer lines of responsibility, Mr Turnbull argued.

The impasse over school funding arrangements has not been resolved, with federal and state leaders agreeing to re-examine school funding in 2017 and explore options for states to receive a fixed share of income tax to fund their services.

Asked for his view of Mr Turnbull’s proposal, Mr Piccoli told Fairfax Media: “That would be the biggest mistake in education policy – probably forever.

“It would entrench a two-tiered education system.

“The non-government [system] would be funded by the federal government with plenty of revenue raising ability, while public schools would be fighting for funding against hospitals and policing.

“NSW and I have been big supporters of what David Gonski recommended in his review and he wanted sector-blind funding of schools based on need.

“Having two different systems funding schools separately is absolutely contrary to what Gonski recommended.”

The federal government currently contributes around 15 per cent of funding for public schools, with the vast bulk coming from state governments.

On the weekend, Senator Birmingham released an analysis showing that 46 per cent of public schools with the biggest improvements in their latest literacy and numeracy results had received a real funding cut from 2013 to 2014.

“Which does demonstrate that how you use the money is far more important than how much money there is,” he said.

Mr Piccoli, who wants the Turnbull government to fund Labor’s six-year school funding deals in full, responded: “Anyone who argues money doesn’t matter in schools is wrong.

“If money didn’t matter, why would people spend $30,000 a year to send their kid to a school like Sydney Grammar, Malcolm Turnbull’s old school?

“To say money doesn’t matter is incomprehensible.”

Mr Piccoli said extra Gonski funding had allowed low-income public and independent schools to upskill existing teachers and hire new specialists.

“Now they can be proactive about helping kids with learning difficulties in a way wealthy schools have been able to for some time,” he said.

Senator Birmingham said that it defied “any mathematical logic or reason” to argue the federal government, which is in deficit by $36 billion, is better placed than NSW to increase schools spending, given the state government is in surplus.

“Mr Baird was given the opportunity to take responsibility for increasing taxes to pay for the extra spending that Mr Piccoli wants and he rejected that opportunity,” he said.

“Rather than seeking to play class warfare over school funding, perhaps Mr Piccoli should acknowledge that he completely controls decisions over funding allocations to each school, teacher wages, class sizes, year 12 curriculum and pretty much every other operational decision in NSW schools.

“Of course money matters, but it is Mr Piccoli who already has complete autonomy over how much each school receives and, most importantly, how it is used.”

Mr Piccoli said he still wanted the Coalition to win the next federal election, even though Labor has committed $4.5 billion in extra Gonski funding.

He said he had no problem with the federal government linking funding to improved teacher entrance standards or principal autonomy.

“I have proposed capping teacher places and minimum national entrance standards but haven’t received a lot of support, either from other states or the Commonwealth,” he said.

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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