Deputy Prime Minister James Merlino, Federal Minister of Education Stuart Robert, experts outline visions for future schooling

Education editor Adam Carey had an interesting piece this week in which he looked at Mr Merlino’s record of nearly eight years in the job.

In it, Merlino’s record in terms of funding, results and policy is all up for scrutiny.

Victorian Commissioner for Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Ro Allen, who helped the education department deliver the program, said Merlino was under “intense and persistent pressure” on Safe Schools.

“For James, even though this was not about making decisions based on ideology or populism – he questioned the available evidence and used it to first form his decision and then stick to it,” Allen says.

“It can be a rare thing in politics, and I admire the position he took and the decision he made.”

Analysis of Trevor Cobbold, a former economist at the Productivity Commission and a relentless advocate for government school funding convening the Save Our Schools lobby group, found that the 10-year deal signed between Morrison and Andrews’ governments would shorten Victorian government schools by $ 19.5 billion.

“The minister has had eight years to rectify the chronic underfunding of Victoria’s public schools, but has failed to do so,” he says.

“Victorian state aid per student, adjusted for inflation, is still significantly below the level of 2009-10. Public schools will face a funding crisis for the rest of the decade unless there is a dramatic change in policy from the Andrews government.”

When the NAPLAN results were published in December, they were remarkable for what they did not show. Two years of interrupted schooling and lost teaching time had no measurable negative effect in the headline data.

Victorian students led in 13 of 20 NAPLAN measures, prompting Merlino to celebrate that “our investment in the state of education pays off”.

But critics say a closer look at the data suggests there is less to celebrate. A comparison of 2021 results with 2019 showed that learning progress was below the national average for students who moved from year 3 to year 5, years 5 to 7, and years 7 to 9 in most goals.

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