How we got Gonski over the line

Advocates for a fairer school funding model placed immense pressure on NSW politicians in the lead-up to Premier Barry O’Farrell signing NSW up to Gonski school funding reforms.

Teachers, parents and students across NSW took their support for the Gonski reforms directly to their local State MPs, including Blue Mountains representative Dr Roza Sage.

Michael De Wall, Jason Gerke, Henry Rajendra 
City Organisers


Delegations representing teachers, principals and parents from across Greater Western Sydney delivered bundles of giant postcards to Coalition MPs during the last week of term 1 in a final effort to secure a deal on Gonski at Council of Australian Governments.

The postcards urged Premier Barry O’Farrell to “give a Gonski for our kids” and contained the signatures of thousands of local public school community members and supporters.

Throughout the week, the work of these delegations was supported by a truck carrying a 4x8 metre billboard also addressed to Mr O’Farrell, saying, “Aren’t our kids worth it? Don’t reject urgent school funding.”

Blue Mountains MP, Dr Roza Sage acknowledged there was in principle agreement between the state and federal governments on the importance of the Gonski reforms. If Dr Sage was in any doubt about the priorities of the delegation, their concerns were rein- forced by the arrival of the bill-board truck. The driver parked across the road from Mrs Sage’s office. The billboard attracted attention, with people calling out, clapping and tooting their car horns.

Lower Blue Mountains Teachers Association President Mike Manderson asserted that all interested parties need to rise above the politics and finalise the deal on the funding of schooling.

In Penrith, campaigning addressed comments made by local State MP Stuart Ayres in March, when the Penrith Press reported his claim that the Government would be trialling a Gonski-style funding model in NSW schools.

At a media conference outside Mr Ayres’ electoral office on April 10, Nepean Teachers Association President Paul Lang said, “The O’Farrell Government’s Resource Allocation Model is nothing like Gonski. Gonski recommended that governments invest an additional $6.5 billion in education every year. The RAM model has been used in TAFE colleges to reduce budgets by over 9 per cent since 2006.

“It’s time for Mr Ayers and the O’Farrell Government to stop being pretenders and to go the full Gonski,” Mr Lang said.

Local parent, Jo Jacobson agreed. “Everyone involved needs to rise above the politics and make a genuine commitment to the Gonski recommendations. The Gonski review identified unmet needs in our schools based on submissions made nearly three years ago, so there are kids missing out right now.”

Blacktown Teachers Association President Elizabeth Rose was direct with Riverstone MP Kevin Conolly. “Negotiate school funding changes with the Federal Government,” she said. “Implementing Gonski would better support student learning by increasing resources for smaller class sizes and more individual attention for students.”

Quakers Hill High School principal Lauretta Claus challenged the claim that the O’Farrell Government already had a resource allocation model similar to that which Gonski recommended.

“This is about gaining much needed additional resources into our schools, not simply altering the distribution methods of what we already have,” Ms Claus said.

Speaking on behalf of local parents, Kirsty Boerst urged Mr Conolly and his government to rise above the politics.

“It is time for all governments to stop using our children as political footballs,” she said. “It is the fundamental right of our kids to access high quality, well-funded public education.”

In Sydney’s south-west, dozens of signed postcards were delivered to Camden MP Chris Patterson. A delegation of principals, teachers and parents were supported by local Gonski sup- porters who also sent hundreds of emails to Mr Patterson calling for the O’Farrell Government to sign up to a new schools funding formula.

Camden-Campbelltown Teachers Association President Dianne Byers said, “Mr Patterson got the message loud and visibly clear. The billboard was massive. It’s something the residents of Camden don’t often see.

“The community supports increased funding for local public schools. We just want the politicians to support it.”

Mr Patterson commended the delegation for supporting a worthy campaign.

The following week, Ms Byers and Thomas Acres Public School principal Greg Cartwright joined a  50 strong group of teachers, principals and parents who headed to Canberra to directly engage with the Prime Minister and keep Gonski at the forefront of the agenda at the Council of Australian Governments meeting.