Media Release: Advantaged Schools Get First Call on the Best Teachers

A research paper published today by Save Our Schools shows that Australia allocates more and better teacher resources to socio-economically advantaged schools than to disadvantaged schools. SOS National Convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said there is a shocking mis-allocation of teaching resources between disadvantaged and advantaged schools in Australia that ranks alongside the worst in the OECD.

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Media Release: New Figures Show that Government Funding Has Massively Favoured Private Schools

Monday February 15, 2016

Updated school funding figures published today by Save Our Schools show that government funding per student in private schools has far outstripped that for public schools over the past 15 years. SOS National Convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said that increases in government funding for many elite private schools has far exceeded that for many disadvantaged public schools.

“The new figures show that Australia has an incoherent and unfair school funding system. Past government funding increases have been woefully misdirected to favour more advantaged students over disadvantaged students.

“There can be little wonder that Australia has failed to improve the results of disadvantaged students or to reduce the large achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students over the past 15 years. Public schools bear the very large burden of disadvantage but received less than half the funding increase provided to private schools.

“Between 1998-99 and 2013-14, government funding (Commonwealth and state/territory) per private school student, adjusted for inflation, increased, by 39% compared with only 17% for public schools. More recently, real funding for public schools actually decreased while funding for private schools continued to increase. Between 2009-10 and 2013-14, public school funding per student fell by 3% while private school funding increased by 10%.

“Other figures drawn from the My School website show even more perverse funding patterns, with government funding per student for many high fee, exclusive private schools in Victoria and NSW increasing by several times more than for many highly disadvantaged schools.

“In Victoria between 2009 and 2013, the average funding increase per student for 16 selected elite private schools was 25% compared with 3% for 17 disadvantaged public schools [Chart 1]. Six disadvantaged schools had their funding cut.

“For example, government funding for Korowa Anglican Girls School, with 83% of students from the highest socio-educational advantage (SEA) quartile and 1% from the lowest quartile, increased by 38%. In contrast, funding for Northern Bay P-12 College in Geelong, with 73% of students from the lowest SEA quartile and 1% from the highest quartile, had its funding cut by 18%.

“In NSW, the average funding increase per student for 14 selected elite private schools was 23% compared with 11% for 15 disadvantaged schools [Chart 2]. One disadvantaged school had its funding cut.

“For example, government funding for Ravenswood Girls School, with 85% of students from the highest SEA quartile and none from the lowest quartile, increased by 28% while funding for Punchbowl Boys HS, with 63% of students in the lowest SEA quartile and only 2% in the highest quartile, had its funding cut by 3%.

Mr. Cobbold said that the incoherent and unfair funding system is set to continue because the Turnbull Government has refused to fund the last two years of the Gonski plan which would have seen an extra $5.8 billion delivered to public schools.

“Continuation of this unfair funding system will incur major social and economic costs because of the failure address disadvantage in education. It severely limits the life prospects of hundreds of thousands of students, it harms the economy, and it weakens the social fabric of Australian society.

“A bi-partisan commitment to a national school funding plan directed at reducing disadvantage in education is desperately needed. A high performing education system with minimum levels of disadvantage means a high performing economy.”

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Media Release – New National Education Goals Are Fatally Contradictory

Tuesday January 27, 2009

A policy brief issued today by the public education advocacy group, Save Our Schools, claims that the new national education goals promulgated at the end of 2008 are fatally contradictory and fail on equity.

SOS national convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said the national commitment to reporting school results will work against improving equity in education.

“The new school year opens to follow new national education goals that will create a Janus-like school system tugged in different directions. Reporting school results and improving equity in education are incompatible goals.

“Reporting the results of individual schools makes the publication of league tables of school results inevitable. It will entrench choice and competition between schools as the fundamental organizing feature of school systems in Australia.

“The international evidence shows that equity in education is diminished where choice and competition rule. It leads to increased social segregation between schools as better-off parents use league tables to ‘vote with their feet’, as the PM says the system is designed to do. Increasing concentrations of students from low socio-economic status families in some schools tend to lead to lower average results and increase the achievement gap between rich and poor students.

“The new Melbourne Declaration of national goals for education means that the already large achievement gap between students from high and low income families in Australia will widen.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the contradictory signals of the Melbourne Declaration are compounded by its weaker commitment to improving equity.

“The SOS Policy Brief shows that the new Declaration weakens the previous Adelaide Declaration in three ways:

  • It removes the key goal of achieving social justice in schooling;
  • It increases the emphasis on equity in access to education and reduces the emphasis on achieving equity in student outcomes; and
  • It weakens the commitment to eliminating achievement gaps between students from different social groups.

“Dropping the previous goal of achieving social justice in schooling is symbolic of the retreat on equity in the new national goals.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the introduction of league tables of school results completes the Howard Government’s program to develop a national market in school education based on English and US models.

“Australian governments, led by the Rudd Government, have chosen to follow the example of the UK and the US – whose school systems generally perform worse than Australia – while ignoring the example of school systems that perform better. The highest achieving countries such as Finland and Korea don’t publish comparisons of school results.

“The Rudd Government has achieved what former Howard Government Education Minister, David Kemp, could only aspire to. Labor’s supposed revolution in education is one conceived by Kemp.”

28 January 2009

Contact: Trevor Cobbold 0410 121 640 (m)

Download the Policy Brief – New National Goals for Education Fail on Equity

SOS – Fighting for Equity in Education

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Media Release – “Creative Confusion” By Mr Klein

Sunday November 23, 2008

Save Our Schools today challenged the claims of visiting New York City Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, about large increases in school performance shown in newly published report cards for the City’s schools.

SOS convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said that the results strain credibility and there are suspicions that school grades have been manipulated to boost results.

“Mr. Klein has said that his approach to managing the New York City public education system was to cause ‘some creative confusion’. His new school report cards have certainly succeeded in creating confusion about the real state of schools in the City. The New York Times said that many New Yorkers are ‘somewhat befuddled’ by inconsistencies with other test results for the City’s schools.

“The huge increase in the number of schools being graded as A is hard to believe. The new progress report show that the number of schools graded as A increased by 80% over the previous year and 70 per cent of schools that failed (F) last year received an A or B. A Columbia University academic has described these changes as ‘magical transformations’.

“Major inconsistencies between City, NY State and Federal assessments of the same schools have been revealed by the New York Times (16 September 2008). For example:

  • Two elementary schools that received an A in Klein’s report cards were added to the New York State’s list of failing schools this year.
  • In over 60 of the 394 elementary schools rated A by Klein’s report cards, more than half the students failed to reach proficiency on the New York State’s reading test.
  • 30% of the elementary schools deemed failures under the Federal No Child Left Behind Act received an A in the report cards, while 16 of the 18 schools given an F are rated satisfactory under Federal guidelines.

“The only independent check on student achievement in New York City shows a completely different picture from that claimed by Klein,” said Mr Cobbold.

“The results of the National Assessment of Education Progress administered by the US Department of Education show that student achievement in New York City has stagnated since 2003. The achievement gaps between Blacks and Whites, between Hispanics and Whites and between low and high income students are as large as they were when Klein began to overhaul the system.”

Mr Cobbold said there was added confusion because the cut-off scores for each letter grade were reduced for the 2007-08 tests (see attached table).

“The reductions in cut-off scores have raised suspicions that the data was manipulated to artificially boost the results.

“This year, 79% of elementary schools received an A or B compared to 71% last year and 83% of high schools received an A or B compared to 65% last year. Virtually all of the increase in elementary schools and about two-thirds of the increase for high schools appears due to the reduction in grade cut-off scores. If last year’s cut-off points had been used, only 72% of elementary schools would be rated as A or B, almost no change from last year, and only 71% of high schools.

“The reduction in cut-off scores is not even mentioned in the list of changes to the school progress reports appended to the new technical guides to the reports published by the Department of Education. The guides for last year’s reports stated the cut-off scores ‘will be used for the next several years’. They lasted only one year before being revised down.

“Clearly, Mr. Klein has some explaining to do before his claims can be taken seriously.”

Mr Cobbold warned against adopting the New York City’s school reports in Australia.

“The New York City system of school reports lacks credibility and reliability. US education experts have criticised it variously as ‘inherently unreliable’, ‘dubious’, ‘baroque’ and producing ‘bizarre results’. Its methodology is so arcane and arbitrary that it is open to manipulation in a variety of ways to artificially boost results.

“Adopting such a model in Australia would lead to inaccurate and misleading comparisons of school performance. Experience with publishing school results elsewhere in the United States and England shows that they increase social segregation and inequity in education and stigmatise low income and ethnic students as failures.

“Publication of school results is heavily criticised in England for these reasons. Wales and Northern Ireland have stopped publishing school performance tables in recent years because they are unreliable and inaccurate measures of school quality and create perverse incentives.

“Governments all around Australia know where the problems are in our schools. We don’t need a reporting system which has already failed to prove its worth to find this out. What is needed is a real commitment of resources to disadvantaged students and schools.”

24 November 2008

Contact: Trevor Cobbold 0410 121 640 (m)

Download table of NYC school grade cutoff scores

Note: The cut-off scores in the attached table refer to the overall rated score out of 100 achieved by a school on a range of measures covering School Environment, Student Achievement and Student Progress. Source: New York City Department of Education. Progress Report Educator Guides

The 2007-08 Guides can be directly accessed while the 2006-07 Guides can be obtained by using the site’s search engine.

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Media Release 9 October 2008 – Gillard Should Come Clean on School Reports

Wednesday October 8, 2008

Save Our Schools, a Canberra-based public education advocacy group, today called on the Education Minister, Julia Gillard, to release details of her controversial school performance reporting plan.

SOS spokesman, Trevor Cobbold, said that the imminent visit of New York Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, is an opportunity for informed public debate about school reports.

“Julia Gillard wants schools to be open and transparent about their performance. Yet, she is not applying the same standard to herself. She has restricted public information and debate about her proposal. It is all being decided under the cloak of secrecy.

“It is time for Gillard to come clean and reveal the details of what she proposes for Australian schools.

“Klein is being brought to Australia to tout New York’s school progress reports. Let us have an informed debate while Klein is here and not just a one-sided presentation to bolster Gillard’s secret negotiations with State and Territory Governments.

“Parents, teachers and the public are entitled to know what school performance information will be made public and how schools will be compared. They need to be able to assess whether the information can be used to construct misleading league tables, whether it will actually reflect school performance rather than family social background and whether the information is statistically valid and reliable.

“Gillard says she that she rejects ‘simplistic and silly’ league tables and wants to compare ‘like schools’. However, the Klein model that so ‘impresses’ her fails both tests.

“The New York system reports the performance scores of all schools, thus making it possible to create school league tables. Many of its so-called ‘school peer groups’ are very un-alike in their social composition.”

Mr Cobbold said that the Education Minister’s refusal to provide the details of her proposal contradicts the Prime Minister’s promise of open government.

“It seems that it is all being decided behind closed doors with the axe of Commonwealth funding held over the heads of State and Territory Governments to ensure compliance. What a way to conduct the open government promised by the Prime Minister!”

“The Prime Minister’s message clearly has not got through to his Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister. Instead, she is taking her cues from her champion, Joel Klein, on how to force through controversial measures without public debate.

“Secrecy and avoidance of public debate are characteristic of how Klein has implemented change in New York’s schools. There too, teacher and parent organisations were excluded from the process. Gillard has clearly learned from him.

“Gillard needs to demonstrate that she is as open and transparent as she wants schools to be. She should release the details of her proposal for school progress reports and invite public discussion. We should have real public debate over proposals before implementation. This is what open government means.”

9 October 2008

Contact: Trevor Cobbold 0410 121 640 (m)

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Media Release 30 May 2008 – Rich Families Benefit Most from Over-Funding of Private Schools

Thursday May 29, 2008

A study of the SES funding model for private schools released today shows that two-thirds of all private school students are over-funded and that schools serving the wealthiest families are vastly more over-funded than those serving low income families.

The study was done by Save Our Schools, a public education advocacy group based in Canberra.

Trevor Cobbold, SOS spokesman and co-author of the study, said that the analysis demonstrates that private school funding is in need of urgent revision.

“Current Australian Government funding of private schools is incoherent and capricious.

“The SES funding model being continued by the Rudd Government delivers more than $2 billion in over-funding over four years to some of the wealthiest parents in Australia, supporting them to send their children to some of the most elite schools in Australia. In contrast, the poorest private schools get no over-funding.

“It provides preferential treatment of schools associated with one religious group, and major disparities in funding between states. In some cases, there are as many as 7 or 9 different funding levels for schools on the same SES score.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the study has revealed several new aspects of the SES funding arrangements.

“The study shows that the extent of over-funding of private schools is much higher than previously thought:

  • 64% of all private school students are over-funded;
  • 70% of all Catholic systemic school students are over-funded;
  • 56% of Independent school students are over-funded.

“The top 20 over-funded primary schools in Australia received average over-funding of between $2534 and $3072 per student per year during 2005-2007. The top 20 over-funded secondary schools received average over-funding of between $2485 and $3306 per student per year.

“Catholic and Independent schools serving the wealthiest families receive the highest amounts of over-funding per student per year:

  • Catholic primary schools in the highest SES score range of 126-134 were over-funded by $2923 per student;
  • Catholic secondary schools in the score range of 116-125 were over-funded by $2738 per student (there were no Catholic systemic secondary schools in the score range of 126-134);
  • Independent FM primary schools serving the highest income families were over-funded by $602 per student;
  • Independent secondary FM secondary schools were over-funded by $822 per student;
  • Catholic and Independent schools serving the poorest families did not receive any over-funding.

“The study also shows that the extent of inequality in funding schools on the same SES score is much more extensive than previously thought. It shows that schools on the same SES score have several different levels of funding per student. For example, there are 9 different levels of funding for schools on the SES score of 116 and 7 different levels of funding for schools on the SES scores of 109, 114 and 118.

Mr. Cobbold said that the study shows that the SES funding model being continued by the Rudd Government until 2012 is illogical and unfair.

“The SES model is not delivering a systematic, consistent and fair funding allocation system for private schools. It also provides significant levels of government funding to wealthy private schools whose total funding (from private and government sources) is well above the average for government schools.

“The model is in need of urgent revision to better take account of the differing social roles of private and government schools and to better take account of differing levels of student learning needs in schools.”

The estimates used in the SOS study are derived from school funding data provided to the Senate Estimates Committee by the Department of Education, Science and Technology in November 2006. See answer to Question on Notice E527_07, Attachments A and B. It is available at:

Contact: Trevor Cobbold 0410 121 640 (m)

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Media Release 23 June 2008 – Government Divided on School Site Sell-Off

Monday June 23, 2008

Save Our Schools called on the Government to clarify its position on the sell-off of closed school sites. SOS spokesman, Trevor Cobbold, said that statements by Government Ministers show that they are divided about the future of the sites.

“The Deputy-Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, said in today’s Canberra Times that the Government had not decided what to do with the school sites. She said that “we haven’t made up our minds on any site apart from Mt. Neighbour and Rivett” and that “everything was on the table” for the other six sites. She further stated on ABC radio that the “ACT Government has no plans to sell-off the green space”.

“These statements are clearly at odds with other statements made by the Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope and the Planning Minister, Andrew Barr.

“The Chief Minister told the Canberra Times in mid-2006 that closed school sites would be sold off for housing. Andrew Barr confirmed at the Estimates Committee hearing last month that it was government policy to sell off school sites.

“Mr. Barr, as Planning Minister, has prepared the way for land sales by amending the Territory Plan to remove the 4E overlay which protected the green space around all but two of the closed school sites from being sold off.

“Clearly, the Chief Minister and the Planning Minister do not believe that everything is ‘on the table’ in the current round of community consultations on the sites.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the Deputy-Chief Minister should clarify just what is ‘on the table’ in the current consultation.

“Is the Government ruling out any options for future use of the sites? Will the Government accept the preference of communities to retain the green space on closed school sites or is it intent on selling the land whatever the community says?

“We also well remember that it was Ms. Gallagher’s spokesman who told the Canberra Times before the last election that the Government had no plans to close schools. Yet, within two months of the election, the Government was planning the closure of Ginninderra HS and 18 months later announced plans to close 39 schools.”

Contact: Trevor Cobbold 0410 121 640 (m)

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Media Release 24 August 2007 – Hargreaves Cuts Consultation on Closed School Sites

Friday August 24, 2007

Save Our Schools today condemned the ACT Government for cutting short the public consultation on the future of closed school sites. SOS spokesman, Trevor Cobbold, called on the Minister for Territory and Municipal Services to fulfil his original promise of a 5-month consultation.

“The public consultation process on the closed school sites is now a charade because the Minister has reduced the 2-stage consultation period from 5 months to less than 3 months.

“Last May, Mr. Hargreaves stated that the consultaton period would run from July to the end of November. However, the consultant was only appointed this week, effectively cutting the consultation to about 3 months.

“The Minister is treating the public with contempt. He refuses to apologise for the delay to the start of the consultation, he refuses to extend the timeframe and he resorts to obfuscation under questioning. Yesterday, he blustered is way through questions on the matter in the Legislative Assembly from Deb Foskey, Greens MLA.

“The community has been short-changed by bureaucratic ineptness.”

Mr. Cobbold stated that the tender documents for the closed school site evaluations clearly state that Stage One (the regional consultations) of the process was due to run for 8 weeks from July to September and that Stage Two (the site specific consultations) would run for another 8 weeks from September to November. The consultant is due to provide a final report on 1 December.

“The delay in appointing the consultant and the Minister’s refusal to extend the timeframe means that the whole process is now at risk. Not only is the community consultation cut short but it also calls into question the quality of the analysis to be carried out.

“The evaluation of the future use of closed school sites is a complex process. Not only does it require extensive community consultation but the Surplus Property Policy of the ACT Government also requires a cost-benefit analysis to be prepared for each site identified as surplus and this requirement is reflected in the tender documents.

“For example, the evaluation must assess the economic and social impact in each local area of options for the future use each closed site. This has to be done for each of 21 school sites. It is a very demanding task if it is to be done properly.

“Save Our Schools calls on Mr. Hargreaves to extend the consultation period to full 5 months as he originally promised so as to ensure sufficient time for effective community consultation and a full analysis of the options for each site.”

Contact: Trevor Cobbold 0410 121 640 (m)

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Media Release 18 June 2007 – Use Surplus to Improve Student Outcomes

Monday June 18, 2007

Save Our Schools has called on the ACT Government to use part of its Budget surplus to improve student outcomes.

SOS spokesperson, Trevor Cobbold, has told the Estimates Committee of the Legislative Assembly that the ACT Government has accumulated a $600 million surplus while ignoring student learning needs.

“The ACT Government has one of the strongest financial positions of any government in Australia. It can well afford to do something about the fundamental issue facing our school system – the large achievement gaps between the highest and lowest performing students and between students from high and low socio-economic status families. These gaps have been ignored for too long.

“There is money available to improve learning outcomes in our school system. The ACT Government has accumulated a budget surplus of over $600 million since 2001-02 while ignoring fundamental issues in government school education. A further $320 million surplus is estimated for the next four years.

“The Budget Papers show that the ACT Government has the highest negative net debt of any government in Australia, it has a lower net financial liabilities to revenue ratio than most other jurisdictions in Australia and its net worth as a proportion of revenue is one of the largest in Australia.

“The ACT has a negative net debt of over -80 per cent, a net financial liabilities to revenue ratio of 36 per cent (only Qld and WA have a lower ratio) and a net worth to revenue ratio of 357 per cent. These are indicators of a very strong financial position for the Territory Government.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the large student achievement gaps have been amply demonstrated by the Programme for International Assessment (PISA) studies of 15-year old students.

“The ACT has amongst the highest average outcomes in the world, but it has a significant proportion of students not achieving expected outcomes and one of the largest student achievement gaps of all the high achieving countries.

“About 12 per cent of 15-year old students do not achieve expected benchmarks. About 50 per cent of ACT 15-year old students from low SES families are below the OECD average in reading and science, compared to less than 30 per cent of all students.

“The Stanhope Government has continually failed to address these well-documented problems. It has made only token efforts in the last 5 years to reduce the gaps and improve outcomes. Government Budget initiatives are now almost entirely ‘bricks and mortar’ expenditure rather than recurrent expenditure to address learning needs.

“This year the Government has cut 60 teachers from government secondary schools, 35 from high schools and 25 from colleges. These cuts have already been disastrous for schools and students.”

“The Government is beholden to the credit rating agencies at the expense of the needs of the Canberra’s young people.”

Mr. Cobbold told the Estimates Committee that the Government should introduce a comprehensive high school improvement plan supported by adequate funding and restore staff cuts.

“The first priority is to increase staffing in high schools. The Government now owes each high school an average of four additional teachers – two to replace those cut earlier this year and two more to honour its 2004 election promise to put an additional $12 million into government high schools.

“In addition, more support staff are needed as well as a systematic plan to improve teaching practice, develop curriculum that engages students, improve student safety and improve student/staff relationships.

“The teaching cuts made to colleges earlier this year should also be restored. These cuts have reduced student access to teachers.”

Contact: Trevor Cobbold 0410 121 640 (m)

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Media Release 21 June 2007 – Student/Teacher Advantage in Government Schools Slashed

Thursday June 21, 2007

Save Our Schools says that Canberra’s government secondary schools have lost much of their advantage over private schools in terms of their lower student/teacher ratio.

SOS spokesperson, Trevor Cobbold, called on the ACT Government to restore 60 teacher positions cut from government high schools and colleges earlier this year.

“The favourable staffing ratio held by government secondary schools for over 20 years has been slashed because the Minister for Education cut the resource equivalent of 60 teaching positions from high schools and colleges earlier this year. High schools lost the equivalent to 35 positions and colleges lost 25. These cuts occurred after the Australian Bureau of Statistics collected the figures that were published this week.

“The cuts mean that the student/teacher ratio in government secondary schools is more like 12.4 instead of 11.9 as reported by the ABS. Private schools have a ratio of 12.8.

“Government secondary schools have therefore lost over half their previous advantage. The situation is little changed even if we accept the Minister’s estimate of staffing cuts of 43 instead of 60. In this case, the student/staff ratio is 12.3.

“The cuts also mean the ACT advantage over interstate government schools has been completely lost as the student/teacher ratio is now the same as the national average for government secondary schools.”

Mr. Cobbold questioned the sincerity of the Government’s promotional campaign on behalf of government schools.

“The Minister told the Estimates Committee yesterday that the ACT Government is committed to promoting government schools. Slashing a key advantage held by government schools over private schools makes a mockery of any promotional campaign for government schools. It is a complete breach of faith with government schools.”

“The more favourable student/teacher ratio in government secondary schools has been an important factor in delivering high quality learning outcomes, strong pastoral care and enhancing student social and personal development. These features are now at risk because of phoney budget deficits and unnecessary cost-savings.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the Minister’s assertion that the quality of education in high schools and colleges would be unaffected by the teacher cuts demonstrated a disturbing level of ignorance about how learning occurs in schools.

“The Minister has a particularly narrow view of a good learning environment in secondary schools. It is not just what happens in the classroom. It is about the general level of support available for young people in a school. Fewer teachers mean less out-of-class learning help for students, reduced feedback for students, less out-of-class pastoral care and personal mentoring of students. Fewer adults in secondary schools mean less support for young people at a crucial stage of their learning and personal development.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the strong advantage held by government primary schools over private schools is unaffected by the cuts to teacher positions which were confined to secondary schools.

“Families can be assured that the large advantage in the student/staff ratio enjoyed by government primary schools remains.

“Save Our Schools calls on the Stanhope Government to come to its senses and provide government secondary schools with an equivalent advantage by restoring the cuts to teacher positions. It should also deliver on its 2004 election promise of an additional $12 million in funding for government high schools.”

Contact: Trevor Cobbold 0410 121 640 (m)

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