What is the real reason we are being told we need a new school funding model?

| May 1, 2013

The current way of how schools get their funding seems to tick all the boxes in being fair and effective. So why do advocates of change really want a new school funding model, asks Carolyn Pyne.

Writing to member schools in New South Wales on April 9 this year in its newsletter, the Association of Independent Schools stated that it will continue to fight for a school funding system that delivers six features:

“No loss of funding in real terms to any independent school; a needs based funding model; annual indexation reflecting increasing education costs; increased and continuing capital and targeted funding; funding based on robust data and consistent and transparent application of (the) funding model.”

Isn’t that we have now?

The current model of funding for non-government school students is indexed on the basis of the Average Government School Recurrent Cost of educating a student. It therefore means no school can lose funding in real terms from year to year.

It is based on need as schools with significant private resources available to them are provided with the least funding and those with the smallest private resources available to them receive the most government support per student.

The annual indexation is based on the real cost of educating a school student in a government school in Australia rather than the Consumer Price Index or another method of indexation.

Until the current proposal to introduce “loadings” per student, targeted funding for capital and programmes to improve the performance of individual students have been a feature of the school funding model.

The model is based on robust data. The data is collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and developed into a Socio Economic Status score that is determined by the employment, academic achievement and incomes of the census collector districts in which the parents of the children at a particular school are resident.

Finally, the model is applied consistently across Australia. Each non-government school is treated the same way. Reporting is transparent. Each school reports to the Australian Government in the same way.

So, if we were to base our view on the kind of model the Association of Independent Schools in NSW thought was a fair and effective model, you would think that the current model ticks all the boxes.  So, why do advocates for a new model insist that in fact, the Socio Economic Status (SES) model is broken?

Perhaps the answer is found in statement of the head of the Independent Schools Council of Australia, Bill Daniels in his column in the Australian Financial Review on February 26 this year, where he wrote:

“Adding to the complexity of the task (to introduce a new school funding model) is the overlay of the government’s key outcome of the review, ostensibly to fix a “broken funding system”, but in reality to increase funding to government schools.”

Bill Daniels may be on to something. The real reason for the introduction of a new school funding model may well be to transfer more federal government funding to state government schools. That suggests the question – is that what the supporters of change should be doing?

State schools, both primary and secondary are owned by the state government in the state in which they are situated. Every one is operated by a state government. Most of the funds for their activities come from state government. Isn’t that as it should be? Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics notes that 66 per cent of all school students are educated in government schools. The report on Government Services 2012 indicates that 78 per cent of funding from state and federal governments is spent in government schools.  So where is the inequity?  How does this support the idea that the current system is broken?

Of all students, 66 per cent are being educated in government schools and they receive 78 per cent of all government spending. Funds are not being redistributed from government to non-government schools. In fact, if each of the students being educated in non-government schools were instead enrolled in government schools it would cost all taxpayers an extra $8.4 billion according to the same column by Bill Daniels referred to above.

The real reason advocates of change want a new school funding model is not because the current model is broken; it is because they want to channel more funds to government schools, not non-government schools.  From what I have seen, the Australian Education Union has not tried to hide this motive in the public debate. Others should be as brave.



  1. wendypineapple

    August 30, 2013 at 4:25 am

    A Warning to all – dont believe everything you read
    Dear Carolyn Pyne,
    You forgot to mention one relevant fact in the mini bio at the end of your heavily biased article.
    You are in fact the wife of Christopher Pyne, Shadow Minister for Education, Apprenticeships & Training.
    This omission, I feel, renders your article to nothing more than a piece of LNP political propaganda.