Schools jittery as Gillard delays education reforms

THE federal government has delayed its long-awaited response to the first major review of school funding in 40 years amid anger over lack of consultation and concerns some private schools would be worse off.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was expected to announce the reforms early next week. However, a spokeswoman for School Education Minister Peter Garrett said it would now be ''in the next few weeks''.

The delay comes as the Victorian government, the Catholic Education Office and the Independent Schools Council of Australia warned some schools would lose out if the Gonski reforms were adopted.

This has been denied repeatedly by Mr Garrett, who insists no school will lose a single dollar.

Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon said the delay suggested ''some of the real concerns raised by stakeholders are starting to bite''.

''It just shows you that they have gone into this whole process unprepared and with unreal expectations,'' Mr Dixon said. ''We run the second-largest [education] system in the country and they have not spoken to us in a realistic way. It has been an absolute travesty of the Federation.''

The Gonski review recommended the federal and state governments boost spending on education by $5 billion a year, based on 2009 figures, with the lion's share to go to public schools. The model aims to address disadvantage by allocating a standard amount for every student, with loadings for students with a disability and those from low-income, indigenous and non-English-speaking backgrounds.

The federal government is likely to contribute about $3 billion from 2014, with the states also required to chip in. Commonwealth funding will be conditional on the states agreeing to reforms to improve teacher quality, such as annual performance reviews.

The current funding model - which the Gonski report said was ''unnecessarily complex'' and lacked ''coherence and transparency'' - expires at the end of 2013.

Mr Dixon said this week it was ''just ludicrous'' for the federal government to suggest a new funding model would be in place for 2014. ''It just shows how out of touch it is and how it is just about getting over the hump of the next election.''

Federal opposition spokesman on education Christopher Pyne said the Coalition would support any legislation to extend the existing funding model for two years.

''We would be pleased if the government would take up our offer so schools can plan budgets. This current uncertainty is unacceptable and is creating real trouble in the non-government school sector amongst principals and governing councils who can't plan and parents who don't know what school fees are going to be.''

The Coalition has pledged to repeal any legislation to introduce the Gonski reforms if it is elected to government.

Modelling by the Victorian government showed more than 50 per cent of Catholic schools would lose funding, which the executive director of Melbourne's Catholic Education Office, Stephen Elder, said could result in fee increases of $800 to $6000.

The Independent Schools Council of Australia has also warned one in six private schools would be worse off and would have to raise fees.

But the federal government says the review panel modelling assumes government and Catholic education systems will redistribute funding to ensure no school is worse off.

Mr Elder told The Saturday Age last night the wait was making everyone nervous. ''We just want to know - the suspense is wearing everyone out unnecessarily.'' Independent Schools Victoria chief executive Michelle Green said: ''I think it's clear with something like this reaching agreement with the states and territories is not going to be easy.

jtopsfield@theage.com.au

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