School gap blamed for nation's stupidity Anna Patty Education Editor July 10, 2007 AUSTRALIA is on its way to becoming "the stupid country" through neglect of public education and a widening gap between its best- and worst-performing school students, an influential principal has warned. Chris Bonnor, who until last year represented 466 principals as the head of the NSW Secondary Principals' Council, makes his argument in a book to be released later this month. Mr Bonnor, principal of Asquith Boys and Davidson high schools through the 1990s and until 2005, was last year made a member of the Order of Australia for services to education. His book, The Stupid Country: How Australia is Dismantling Public Education, co-written with the public school advocate Jane Caro, says populist education policies are diverting attention from government neglect of schools, particularly in disadvantaged areas. Mr Bonnor says the Federal Government's focus on issues such as performance pay for teachers indirectly blames schools and teachers for problems in student performance. Attacks on the curriculum have been ideologically driven and have shifted attention from the growing inequity in resources between high-fee private schools and low-fee independent and public schools. Social inequity and class differences are becoming entrenched in the growing divide between private and public schools. Rather than tackling educational problems linked to economic disadvantage, Bonnor and Caro say, the Government suggests there must be something wrong with schools, creating "an easy and populist agenda for politicians". "What passes for educational policy degenerates into competing plans for more testing, accountability, standards and anything else that addresses community anxiety, real or otherwise. "It all sits easily with calls for more police, longer jail terms ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‚Â¦ [and diverts attention from] problems that can't be boiled down into simple policies or blamed on teachers." The Government and bureaucracy often point to "lighthouse schools that register substantial achievement against the odds, as some form of proof that the solution lies entirely within schools and that the broader context doesn't matter". Australia's top students perform well compared with those from other developed countries, but the poorest students are behind their equivalents in similar countries. Mr Bonnor said this gap was set to worsen because of the growing inequity between economically disadvantaged and well-resourced schools. The Federal Government will increase its funding to private schools by 30 per cent over the next five years to $7.5 billion and by 10 per cent to $3.4 billion for public schools. The Federal Minister for Education, Julie Bishop, said policies such as performance pay, greater principal autonomy and national consistency in curriculum were aimed at improving academic standards "so that students across the nation have access to a high-quality education from a high-quality teacher in a high-quality environment".