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.”