Tomorrow, Australians will head to the polls to elect their 31st Prime Minister in what is expected to be a cliff-hanger of a vote.
While both the Coalition and Labor had pledged to improve school education sector, each party insists its plan differs greatly from the others’ in terms of school funding and education policy.
However, some education experts say the two major parties have more in common in this regard than they’d like to think.
One of them is Dr Glenn Savage, a senior lecturer with expertise in education policy and sociology of education at the University of Western Australia.
“In the past decade, particularly since Labor’s Education Revolution reforms, we’ve seen both parties increasingly singing from the same nationalising and centralising hymn book to the extent that every major schooling policy that is promoted by the Coalition is supported by Labor, and vice-versa,” he said.
“While Labor argues that it will fund schools more – and has a number of election promises that are different from the Coalition – for the most part, the two parties are in alignment.”
Since the 2016 election, the Coalition’s approach to schooling has mainly focused on its Quality Schools agenda, which was centred around increasing school funding but making that funding conditional on national reforms in areas such as teaching, curriculum, assessment and, in particular, the use of evidence.
“Most of the Coalition’s current policies are being informed by the Gonski 2.0 review, which looks at how record levels of funding can be better targeted towards evidence-based practices within schools,” he said.
“The recommendations that came out of that review have been central to the recently signed National School Reform Agreement, which is tying that federal money under Gonski to a number of new national reform initiatives.
However, Dr Savage says the funding agreements struck between state and federal governments to get these reforms through have been “far from ideal”, especially in terms of school funding.
“The agreement signed between the feds and states basically ensures that by 2023, private schools will receive 100% of the recommended funding amount under the Gonski funding model, whereas most government schools will only be receiving about 95% or less,” he pointed out.
“So, it’s not just feds that are to blame for this – the states also share great deal of the blame, but it’s definitely not a good look for a federal government that going into an election promoting a commitment to needs-based funding.”
Dr Savage said that while Labor might change some elements of the national reform conversation, the extent to which the party would radically shift current education policy was “debatable”.
“Labor has promised further school funding increases, universal access to early childhood education for three-and four-year olds, tougher requirements into teaching degrees, and the creation of a National Principals’ Academy, but on every other measure, Labor shares a great deal in common with the Coalition,” he said.
“But on every other measure, Labor shares a great deal in common with the Coalition; both preference a strong federal role, both preference nationalisation; both support, at least in theory, the principles of the Gonski model, and there is significant alignment between them when it comes to the national reform agreement.”
Dr Savage said that ahead of tomorrow’s federal election, it’s safe to say that while the issue of schooling strikes a powerful chord with voters, this doesn’t mean that a vote for either party will lead to radically different outcomes.
“What we’re seeing at the moment is a lot of political rhetoric and a lot of posturing, the parties are seeking to draw dividing lines that makes the choice between them look stark, but really they have more in common than they’d like to think,” he said.
Dr Savage said given the NAPLAN controversy this week, it’s important to note that irrespective of which party is elected on Saturday, the new government will inherit the issue of NAPLAN.
“NAPLAN has been marred by lack of public and political confidence, and there is a broad national review of NAPLAN taking place. It’s hard to imagine how this week’s issues will not play into that review,” he said.
“Whoever is in power next will play a really powerful role in helping determine the future of NAPLAN. It’s a live question as to whether we actually have NAPLAN in a few years from now, or whether the assessment landscape evolves into something different”.