Is this the Full Gonski? Equitable Funding of NSW Government Schools
Equality is seldom the same as equity. In today’s post, Dr Peter Ninnes of Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand analyses the New South Wales government’s data to refute their claims that the Gonski recommendations have been fully implemented through the Resource Allocation Model (RAM).
Addressing complex social problems, such as educational equity, requires not just technical knowledge and data, but “a strong emphasis on the social relations and stakeholder perceptions inherent in policy direction and program systems”. As a result, governments do not only use technical knowledge and data to address policy problems, but they also use political knowledge, including persuasion and advocacy. This is not a new idea. The use of discourse to establish “the truth” is a governing strategy described in the poststructuralist literature more than three decades ago. Furthermore, critical feminists and sociologists have drawn on poststructural ideas to argue that to disrupt political discourses and practices that marginalise individuals and groups, what is needed is “strong objectivity”, that is, more comprehensive data that takes into account a range of perspectives and uncovers the biases in supposedly neutral methods.
The purpose of this analysis is to examine the NSW Government’s truth claim that it is equitably funding schools and upholding its part of the Gonski agreement. It undertakes a brief but comprehensive analysis of the government’s publicly available data on 2016 Gonski-funded school allocations, to determine if in fact these allocations are equitable.
The New South Wales government uses a Resource Allocation Model to fund government schools. This model has been in place for three years, and uses funds provided as part of the Gonski agreement. According to the DEC, the model benefits schools by:
- ensuring a fairer allocation of funding for all schools, based on student needs
- allocating most funding on a per student basis
- allocating funding to recognise the different characteristics of each school
- reducing big changes in a school's funding that can accompany small changes in enrolments
- providing increased funding that goes directly to schools, enabling certainty in school planning, evaluation and reporting from year to year
- reducing red tape and reporting requirements
During 2014 the RAM included allocations to support schools with students with disability, new arrivals and refugees, Aboriginal students and students from low SES backgrounds. In 2015, two further equity loadings were included to support students with disability and from non-English speaking backgrounds. On the other hand, in the 2016 RAM, no equity loadings were included. Instead, the there was a “base” funding using a per capita model (more students means more funding), with a professional learning allocation for all staff (more staff means more funding). This brief analysis intends to examine the effects of this per capita funding model.
The DEC argues that the RAM methodology is “consistent with the recommendations of the Gonski review”. The DEC’s RAM allocation table on its web site shows the funds allocated in 2016 for each government school (“2016 RAM”), the difference between the 2016 and 2015 allocations (“2016 Variance”), and the Family Occupation and Education Index (FOEI) for the school, which is a measure of school family SES. Lower FOEIs represent higher school family SES, while higher FOEI represents lower school family SES.
The figure below shows the average percentage change in school RAM allocation between 2015 and 2016, for schools grouped into 20-FOEI-point categories.
Key aspects of the figure are:
· The largest increases in RAM funding in 2016 compared to 2015 occurred in the highest SES schools (FOEIs <20), with an average 25 per cent increase.
· Increases in RAM funding between 2015 and 2016 were roughly proportional to SES for schools with FOEIs less than 180; the higher the SES, the greater the increase in RAM funding.
· The schools with the lowest SES had an average 17 per cent increase in RAM funding between 2015 and 2016, but this was still less than the average for schools with FOEIs in all the FOEI categories less than 100.
· The lowest average increase in RAM funding between 2015 and 2016 were found in schools in the second lowest FOEI category (FOEI = 200-219).
The government claims that the RAM model is based on student needs and allocates “most funding on a per student basis.” The inherent contradiction in this approach is revealed by the above analysis. Overall, the version of the RAM funding model used in 2016, which had no equity (i.e., needs based) loadings, has been of far greater financial benefit to government schools with relatively high family SES, (which are assumed to have relatively low needs), than to schools with relatively low family SES. This is because the per capita funding model assumes that all students have equal needs. It is a funding model that is based on equality rather than equity, despite the government’s initial rhetoric to the contrary. The government has employed the political tactic of persuasion to attempt to influence stakeholder perceptions and convince its constituents that it funds government schools in an equitable way. Yet objective analysis of their own data shows that the 2016 school funding model is inequitable because it benefits the advantaged schools over the less advantaged schools.
This is clearly contrary to the intent of the Gonski reforms. Future use of Gonski funding needs to return to using equity loadings if it is to avoid further instances of schools serving high SES communities getting larger funding increases than schools serving low SES communities.
 Head, B. W. 2008. Three Lenses of Evidence-Based Policy. The Australian Journal of Public Administration 67(1), 1-11.
 Ibid. p. 5.
 See, for example, Foucault, M. 1984. Truth and Power. In P. Rabinow (ed), The Foucault Reader (pp. 51-75), Pantheon, New York.
 Harding, S. 1990. Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Thinking from Women's Lives. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press; Ninnes, P. 2004. Critical discourse analysis and comparative education. In Ninnes, P. and Mehta, S. Reimagining Comparative Education, (pp. 43-62), Routledge, New York.
 In the press release announcing the new funding model in 2012, the NSW Minister for Education stated that “the RAM will provide a loading … to ensure equity for our students” and “The RAM takes into account the fact that students and school communities are not all the same; they have different needs and will need different levels of support. This is about a more equitable allocation of the resources we have to spend on our public schools.”
 These six bullet points are a direct quote from www.dec.nsw.gov.au/about-the-department/our-reforms/local-schools-local-decisions/reform-agenda/resource-allocation-model
 Schools which had atypical funding changes between 2015 and 2016, such as participants in the former Low SES National Partnership schools program, are excluded, to ensure only like-for-like comparisons.