Tumut gives a Gonski

Tumut gives a Gonski

Teacher Jess Campbell and student Grace Denny say Gonski programs make kids happy about going to school.
Teacher Jess Campbell and student Grace Denny say Gonski programs make kids happy about going to school.

Tumut public schools are set to receive a significant injection in funding next year, as part of the highly publicised Gonski funding reforms.

Tumut High Year Seven student Grace Denny is involved in several programs that have been made possible through the Gonski funding Tumut High has previously received.

One of those is RISE (Re-engaging Individual Students through Empowerment), created and run by Tumut High teacher Jess Campbell for chronically disengaged girls.

“At the start of the year, before [these programs] I didn’t want to go to school,” Grace said.

“I absolutely hated it and wanted nothing to do with it. But ever since RISE and [other programs] I think really good thoughts about myself. I think, ‘we’ve got school today, let’s go,’ and I’m really keen. Every morning I get up really early, if I’ve got homework I get it done before dinner.

“It’s helped me massively. [The program] has taught us how to do breathing to calm us down, and we talk about how problems affect us and the choices we make and how to succeed.”

Ms Campbell said the benefits of the program and other Gonski-funded programs are tangible.

Compared with other year groups that preceded Gonski, the new cohorts have higher attendance and lower rates of misbehaviour both inside and outside of school.

“If they don’t want to be here, they’re not going to learn. They have to be happy and healthy before they can learn,” she said.

“So if I can help, if Gonski can enable me to run programs like RISE to make them happy and healthy then that just leaves learning – more time for learning, more headspace for learning.”

‘Gonski’ is a needs-based funding model introduced by the Gillard government that is based on an investigation by businessman David Gonski.

The reforms aimed to address Mr Gonski’s findings: that the performance of Australian students is slipping when compared with other countries, that the gap between the highest-educated students and the lowest-educated students is widening, and that there is a clear link between low achievement in school and other disadvantages such as a low socio-economic background or disability.

The model aims to address these concerns by allocating schools a base amount of money per child, with loadings for disadvantages such as disability, low socioeconomic background, school size, remoteness, the number of indigenous students, and lack of English proficiency.

It is an equity funding model, which means money is allocated on the basis of individual students need, rather than the broad brush approach that preceded it.

However, the future of Gonski is in doubt.

The funding model is currently split between state and territory governments and the federal government. All state governments except Western Australia are in favour of the Gonski model, but the Turnbull Government wants to either scrap it or reduce the amount of money put into it.

They have criticised the funding model as not being what the original Gonski recommendations intended, and that it advantages some children over others.

NSW Education Minister Adrian Picolli has said the states will fight the federal government’s plans.

“If the Government go through with this they’ll break the hearts of a lot of parents out there right across Australia,” he said.

Tumut High School will get $731,928 of Gonski funding in 2017, with $292,781 for Batlow Technology School, $317,456 for Tumut Public School, $560,409 for Franklin Public School, $85,140 for Adelong Public School, $86,065 for Brungle Public School, $36,781 for Talbingo Public School, and $68,125 for Gadara School.

However, Tumut High Principal Don Dixon said that the amount of money announced as being part of the Gonski model was misleading, because the complex school funding structure means that money earmarked for one thing may actually be intended for something else.

He said the school is receiving a significant increase of money to spend on programs for disadvantaged kids, but the announced $730,928 will not all be spent in that way.

“The funding of schools is changing each year,” he said.

“So each year that we receive [funding], different pockets of money are put under different categories. So when you see that $730,000, that may include things like electricity, energy bills, that sort of stuff, which may have been under a different category before.

“[However] the school has had an increase in terms of money that we can use on programs to support kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds, which is what most people refer to when they refer to Gonski.”

“We’ve only just got that funding so we haven’t sat down and had a look at it in any sort of fine detail yet, and we’ll do that a little bit later on when we prepare the budget for next year. But certainly there has been a bit of an increase for us, it’s certainly more than the previous year, and there’s no question that it certainly makes a difference in terms of what we’re able to do.”

He said the 2017 funding could potentially be spent on include hiring temporary teachers to take regular classes while more experienced teachers run other education programs like RISE, or Rock and Water which teaches boys about healthy ways to manage anger and aggressive behaviour.

It could also go towards remodelling the library to enable modern collaborative learning and teaching techniques using technology.