A SUBMISSION to the Review of Funding for Schooling

From Philip O’Carroll, Co-founder, Fitzroy Community School; March 2011

The opportunity provided by this Review will be wasted unless it is based squarely on mainstream Australian hopes for the future.  These are

  • better standard of education for Australia, and
  • a better window of opportunity for all Australian children.

School Funding Policy directly affects the realisation of these core values.

To achieve these outcomes, there are three essential conditions:

(1)  the performance of schools in core curriculum must be made public;

(2)  parents must be free to choose who educates their child;  and

(3)  new and better schools must be allowed to exist.

First essential condition:  the performance of schools in core curriculum must be made public.

Public availability of performance outcomes must be a necessary condition of funding.

Only the publishing of results such as NAPLAN will stimulate the necessary reforms for schools which are under-servicing children.  High-achieving schools should co-operate with external assessment schemes for the sake of children everywhere.

Public results enable parents to make an informed choice of school for their particular children.

Both absolute scores and rates of improvement should be published.  Different schools will suit different children at different times.  Some children need the stimulation of a class operating at A level.  There is no room for “improvement” here.  Others may need a class that will lift them from say D level to C level.

The publicising of results is becoming a reality as we speak, thanks to NAPLAN and MY SCHOOL.


Second essential condition:  parents must be free to choose who educates their child.

This parental right does not yet exist for all income levels in Australia.  Many lower-income families are financially coerced into local state schools – even where better-performing local non-state schools cost no more to run per student.

This is not an attack on state schooling.  There are many splendid state schools.  But if true parental choice were made available, under-performing schools would raise their standards overnight.

IMPLEMENTATION: let the standard (state-school) funding follow the child to the school chosen by the parent (portable student funding).

This is commonly known as the voucher system.  There are two main objections to the voucher system: 

(a) the country cannot afford it,  and 

(b) the envy factor will not tolerate it.

Re the cost: the taxpayer already pays

  • full funding for the 2/3 of the population who use state schools,
  • over 7/10 funding for the 20% who attend Catholic system schools, and
  • a substantial fraction of standard funding for the remaining 12%.

When you deduct the administrative savings a simple voucher system would bring, we are not very far from funding a simple voucher system right now.  (Naturally any family choosing a school that spends more than the standard funding has to pay the difference from personal income.)

But let us assume the envy factor is too strong to ignore.  Let us also assume that it is politically impossible to means-test families who choose state schools.  What we are left with is portable student funding with some element of a means-test for higher income families who choose private schools.

There is no earthly reason why Catholic-school-system children are receiving less funding than children who attend state schools.   This discrimination should be ended forthwith.

What we are left with is the existing practice of means-tested funding for users of independent schools.  Ironically, while this practice panders to envy politics, it has meant that lower-income children have been financially barred from this highest performing sector.  This bar should be removed immediately.

Since nearly 90% of children would already be on full funding (in state and Catholic schools), any family of the lower 75% income sector that gains enrolment in an independent school should automatically receive its full voucher for paying towards their independent school fees.

Such enrolments will often require a financial commitment from the family, but open a new window of opportunity that was not there before.  It will also motivate higher standards all round – because of the increased potential for social mobility.

The extra cost to the taxpayer will be small, since any families migrating to an independent school will mostly be moving from a fully funded school place anyway.

For the remaining upper-quarter income sector using independent schools, the portable student funding should be provided on a sliding scale – so as not to create sudden gaps or distinct “classes” in education.

The portable student funding should be 100% of standard funding for the lower 75% income families and this funding should then slide gradually.  This means 100% funding for the 1st to 75th income percentile then gradually reducing to say 50% funding (at the 100th percentile).


Third essential condition:  new and better schools must be allowed to exist.

The power of parental choice is the secret to a high standard of education.  But this power is diminished if there is little diversity amongst schools – little to choose from.  With overwhelming red tape and a negative attitude, existing school registration authorities discourage the opening of new schools by capable and innovative teachers.

New schools must be allowed so that innovation and evolution can occur.  Better ways will be copied.  The problem is that the power to permit a new school to open is at present vested in the state education departments – who operate their own schools in direct competition to all other schools.  There needs to be a second authority for registration, perhaps federal.

There is no other industry where one operator can veto the existence of another.  Funding should be extended to schools which are registered and inspected by an authority independent of the state school bureaucracies. With the advent of publication of school results, there is less rationale than ever for close interference in school operations.

Take our school, Fitzroy Community School (est 1976).  The state inspectors have known for decades that we exemplify a high standard of service delivery.  But they have consistently adopted a hostile stance towards us.  Even the latest inspection began with the threat that “we can close you down” and ended with the demand that the school “show cause why we do not close you down”.   (A fellow Melbourne educator and would-be school founder that we support was recently refused registration by these people.)

Now look at our school’s outcomes on the NAPLAN.  If we put our READING score into the 100 top schools list published by the Australian on May 1st, we are 5th in all Australia.  We were not listed, having a roll below 100 (we have 60).   We are not a selective school and we include all our students in the test.  Even give or take a thousand places, we are clearly doing well at providing education, but are not supported by the so-called Dept of Education, which clearly has other agendas than good education.



1. Accountability

Public availability of performance outcomes must be a necessary condition of funding.

2. Portable Student Funding

Let standard (state-school) funding follow a child to any registered school chosen by the parent, gradually reduced for families above the 75th percentile choosing private schools. 

3. Independent Registration Authority

State Education Departments operate in direct and fierce competition with other schools and their inspectors (or “reviewers”) should be replaced by independent education authorities.