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Stop threatening schools, Mr Rudd

If it is inappropriate for a Government to threaten universities with their funding unless they do as they are told, how can it be appropriate to threaten schools?

Minister Gillard, in legislating for "the removal of unwarranted bullying government interference over our universities and other higher education providers," said that the aim is to "get the heavy foot of the Liberal Party off the throat of our universities". At the same time, she is applying the heavy foot of the Labor Party onto the throat of schools, arguing that federal education funding should be conditional on information about the performance of individual schools being made available to parents.

It's time to face the fact that public education has been underfunded for more than a decade and that you cannot have an education revolution unless you are prepared to fund it.

Every child is entitled to leave school able to read and write, and to be given the opportunity to achieve the best they can at school and afterwards. But it won't happen if the Government does not immediately reject the Howard Government's funding formula for schools. Putting off a review of that funding formula will see public education further disadvantaged as the public schools share of Commonwealth funding is set to fall even further than it fell in the Howard years. If Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd don't inject extra funds into the public schools system, there will be 1000 fewer teachers in public schools by 2012.

I am sick and tired of schools and teachers being blamed and held totally responsible for falling retention rates in certain areas or for less than optimum literacy and numeracy outcomes in some schools. If those public schools had received the same level of funding as their private counterparts, the outcomes would be different. It's time that we thought about education differently. It's time we recognised that special needs students need to be supported with aid funding and that all students benefit from smaller class sizes.

The only way we are going to get better outcomes in a knowledge-based society is for the whole community to value education and to be prepared to fund it equitably and according to the needs of the students concerned. People need to be encouraged to engage in lifelong learning and to be assisted to improve their literacy and numeracy no matter what their age. Schools and teachers cannot overcome the very different social capital that students bring to school on their first day if they are chronically under-funded. How can a child who has had no breakfast concentrate? How can a child do homework if they go home after school and return the next day having not eaten or had a shower? How can parents read to their children or help them with homework if they themselves don't have the skills to do so? As a society, we need to value education, praise teachers, fund schools and invite a collaborative, supportive approach to education, rather than one based on punitive sanctions and meaningless league tables.

The Prime Minister has said "Kids out there going to average schools deserve every opportunity that kids at flash schools have." I agree. So, Mr Rudd, fund those so-called average schools so that they can provide the same opportunities as so-called flash schools.

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