Peter Costello, May 24th 2013: “Unless Tony Abbot gets caught stark raving naked in Collins Street, I think it’s over and even then he might win.”
Tony Abbott, Budget Reply Speech: ”We won’t back a so-called national education system that some states don’t support, especially as this government has a history of spending more while schools’ performance actually goes backwards.”
This was Tony Abbott’s response to Gonski in his Budget Reply Speech. Part of the difficulty with looking at education is that nearly everyone agrees that the system could be improved, so that it’s easy to say that anything that’s actually being done is a failure. It’s easy to suggest that we’re going backwards, but the data is nearly always ambiguous.
Someone I spoke to – a person in their seventies – assured me that when he went to school everyone could read and write, and that spelling was taught much more effectively than now, leading to everyone being able to spell. The fact that he himself was a poor speller seemed to be completely irrelevant to the discussion.
The subtext of what Mr Abbott and Mr Pyne have been saying is quite terrifying for anyone in education. Whenever I hear things about it being the quality of the teacher that’s the most important thing, I shudder. Of course, an excellent teacher can overcome enormous obstacles and still have success, but a well-resourced excellent teacher will have even greater success. No-one suggests that a clever CEO doesn’t need to have access to technology, or that air-conditioning is just a needless expense for the company.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps this suggestion that increased spending doesn’t actually improve the quality of teaching and learning isn’t code for: “Let’s ignore Gonski and keep the current model.” I certainly hope so. When Liberals say that education isn’t about money and cut funding, I notice that it’s never private schools that have their funding cut. That’s class warfare.
(The mining industry can spend millions saying that they shouldn’t pay any more tax, that’s free speech, but when Wayne Swan says that they aren’t paying enough tax, that’s class warfare. Or to put it another way, when a country starts sending missiles into another country that’s ok, but if the second country says that they’ll fight back, they’re the ones starting a war.)
Of course, the media has been telling us about Mr Positive, but when it comes to education, Mr Abbott has told us what he won’t back. When does he plan to tell us what he will back? Closer to the election has been the refrain from the LNP for the past three years, but how much closer can you get?
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