“They need to get on a plane to come to Sydney or another metropolitan centre, stay there for a night and then come back,” said Mr Woo. “For someone like me, who lives in a metro area… it is so much cheaper to actually access those kinds of resources for professional learning in the teaching space than [for] someone in a regional area.”
Three public school students had asked the Q+A panel why they had access to fewer educational programs, worse facilities and too few textbooks when some of the state’s richest independent schools were constructing Olympic-size swimming pools and libraries modelled on Scottish castles.
“My answer to this is that funding needs to be sector-blind, needs-based,” the principal of St Andrews Cathedral school John Collier replied. Mr Collier, whose leads an Anglican, central Sydney school, said both the Abbott and Gillard governments had politicised the Gonski school reforms.
He also had harsh words for the Catholic sector’s funding lobbying.
“If we can actually have needs-based funding without special deals for interest groups, we will be a lot better off in this society,” Mr Collier said. “There was a great deal of politicking by Catholic Education in Victoria before the last federal election and the Catholic sector is perhaps not as starved of funds as they might have been.”
Catholic Education Melbourne made robocalls to voters ahead of the 2018 byelection in the Victorian seat of Batman backing Labor’s Ged Kearney, who ultimately won the seat, after then-leader Bill Shorten announced he would give Catholic schools an additional $250 million over two years if Labor won federally.
The Coalition announced a funding “fix” later that year worth an additional $4.1 billion to Catholic schools after lobbying from the Catholic sector, which it argued would help address previous funding problems.
But Mr Collier was adamant that examples of extravagant spending among private schools were uncommon. He said that despite concerns about some independent schools, most were not wealthy.
“We don’t have a tree-lined drive,” Mr Collier said of St Andrews, which is housed in a high-rise building near Town Hall in the Sydney CBD. “We don’t have a drive. We don’t have a tree.”