PM unveils education overhaul

KEY independent MP Rob Oakeshott said regional students would be among the biggest winners from the overhaul to education funding unveiled by Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday.

Under the changes, to be phased in over the next six years, federal and state governments would be required to find an additional $6.5 billion annually for education.

It would also involve a shift to a "needs-loadings" system, whereby indigenous students, those with a disability, those with limited English skills and students from poor backgrounds would receive extra funding.

Both changes were among the key recommendations arising from the Gonski review of education funding.

Mr Oakeshott said education reform was a key plank of the deal he struck with Ms Gillard to help Labor form government after the 2010 election.

And he urged Ms Gillard to be "brave" in pursuing the reform.

"Those who listened to a certain 17-minute speech two years ago would appreciate that one of the key reasons the Prime Minister gained office was because her education plan was better for regional Australia, for poorer Australians and for Aboriginal Australians," Mr Oakeshott said.

"Along with an emissions trading scheme, regional health spending and better internet services for regional Australia, today's speech by the Prime Minister reveals why she successfully negotiated office two years ago."

Mr Oakeshott, who represented the regional New South Wales seat of Lyne, said the current funding formula "entrenched disadvantage".

He said it was situation that needed addressing urgently.

"As a regional MP who represents an area with a comparatively high number of people who are poorer and who are Aboriginal, I recognise the 30% gap in education outcomes between the rich and the poor in Australia," Mr Oakeshott said.

"I also recognise the 30% gap in education outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in Australia, and the 30% gap in education outcomes between regional and metropolitan students in Australia."

In delivering the government's response to the Gonski review of education funding, Ms Gillard called on Australians to join her on a "national crusade" as she set an ambitious target of 2025 for the performance of Australian students to be among the top five countries for reading, science and maths. Australia is currently ranked seventh in reading and science and 13th in maths.

Ms Gillard said she wanted the government's National Plan for School Improvement, and the 2025 target, enshrined in law by the end of the year.

She said the Australian Education Act would ensure education was an "entitlement of citizenship".

For the plan to work Ms Gillard will require each of the states and territories to get on board.

She did not reveal details of what the state-federal funding split would be - it currently sits at 70-30 - but she immediately set about pressuring the states to "play their part".

"I believe as a nation we should aim to make new money of this order ($6.5b) available to our nation's schools, provided we can ensure that every dollar of the money makes a difference by having an appropriate transition to the new system and tying the money to improving schools," she said.

"There should be no blank cheques. The money should be for better results for our children, not for more jobs for bureaucrats," she said.

"State governments must put in their fair share."

Ms Gillard vowed to take a lead role in establishing the new funding model through the Council of Australian Governments, but said she would not be "held to ransom" by states that are "genuinely committed to reform".

In defending the six-year timeline for change, Ms Gillard said improving schools would "require our patience and determination".

She also began softening the ground for "tough budget choices".

"I am prepared to make those choices but I want the Australian people to understand that today I am asking them to support not just our goals for school improvement but the tough budget choices that go with that," she said.

Asked how the Federal Government would find the money in an already stretched budget, Ms Gillard said the six-year transition would be used to "work through the money issues".

But Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne was buying none of it, describing Ms Gillard's speech as "all feathers and no meat".

"Julia Gillard is asking voters to trust a funding commitment made today that won't be fully in place until 2020 which is three federal elections away," Mr Pyne said.

"The Prime Minister also failed to outline and release the modelling on how much money is required to implement her changes, how much the States must contribute and where the extra billions are coming from."

The education sector widely welcomed the measures, although some were critical of the timeline and the lack of detail.

LIFTING STANDARDS

  • Under the changes to school funding proposed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, state and territory governments, and catholic and independent schools would be required to:
  • Lift teacher quality, including requiring more classroom experience before graduation and higher entry requirements for the teaching profession.
  • Give more power to principals, including over budgets and staff selection.
  • Provide more information for parents through My School.

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