Morrison Puts More Nails in the Coffin of Gonski

The following is a new Education Policy Brief published by Save Our Schools. It can be downloaded below

Introduction

The Gonski funding model was systematically dismantled by the Abbott and Turnbull Governments and it was almost dead and buried by the end of Turnbull’s reign. The Morrison Government immediately put more nails in the Gonski coffin with a new special $4.6 billion funding deal for private schools that is not fully based on need.

The new special deal has two main components –an additional $3.2 billion over 10 years from 2020 to 2029 to implement a new method of assessing capacity to pay in private schools and an additional $1.2 billion over the same period to support parent choice. The large bulk of the increase will go to Catholic schools.

Continue reading “Morrison Puts More Nails in the Coffin of Gonski”

State Govts Evade Commitments to Public Schools

Public schools have suffered a double blow in the last fortnight. The Morrison Government announced a $4.6 billion appeasement deal for private schools with no increase for public schools. Last week The Guardian exposed how Labor and Coalition state governments are trying to evade commitments to increase their funding of public schools through a subterfuge. If successful, public schools, which enrol over 80% of disadvantaged students, could lose up to $2.6 billion a year. Public schools need and deserve better than this. Continue reading “State Govts Evade Commitments to Public Schools”

Have Kids Stopped Trying on PISA and NAPLAN?

This is a summary of a new Education Research Brief. It can be downloaded below

A much-ignored aspect of school results in Australia over the past decade or more is the sharp contrast between declining or stagnating scores on international and national tests for Years 9 and 10 and solid improvements in Year 12 results. How is it that trends in school outcomes only two or three Year levels apart are so different? Continue reading “Have Kids Stopped Trying on PISA and NAPLAN?”

New Figures Reveal that the ACT Government Has Cut Funding to Public Schools

Thursday May 31, 2018 

New figures show that government funding increases have massively favoured private schools over public schools in the ACT. Despite much rhetoric about its support for public schools, the ACT Government has cut funding for public schools since 2009. It even cut its funding during the Gonski funding period, after agreeing to increase it.

The new figures published last month by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (adjusted here for rising costs) reveal that the ACT Government has taken the opportunity of increased Commonwealth Government funding to cut its own funding of public schools.

Total government (Commonwealth and ACT) funding for public schools, adjusted for inflation, was cut by $154 per student between 2009 and 2016. In contrast, funding for Catholic schools increased by $1,335 per student and for Independent schools by $480 per student.

The funding cut to public schools was due to a large cut by the ACT Government of $410 per student which more than offset an increase in Commonwealth funding of $255 per student. Yet, the ACT Government increased funding for Catholic schools by $220 per student.

The cuts to public schools were even greater during the Gonski funding period of 2013-2016 despite the ACT Government signing up to the Gonski plan. Total government funding for public schools, adjusted for inflation, was cut by $606 per student compared to an increase of $879 per student in Catholic schools and a small cut of $76 per student in Independent schools.

Again, the cut to public schools was due to a large cut in funding by the ACT Government of $660 per student. It was the biggest cut made by any government during the Gonski period except for the Northern Territory. At the same time, it increased its funding of Catholic schools by $221 per student, which was the biggest increase provided by any government in this period.

The ACT Government has clearly reneged on its Gonski agreement. Under the agreement that the then Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, signed with the Commonwealth Government in 2013, the ACT Government committed to increasing its current funding effort by 3 per cent a year and to put in another $22 million beyond this over six years.

The expectation was for a small increase in the real resources for public schools. This has not happened. ACT Government funding of public schools has not even kept pace with rising costs; instead of increasing real resources in public schools they have been cut.

Catholic schools in the ACT are vociferous in their complaints about inadequate government funding. Yet, they have had a great deal – better than any other sector. Their total government funding per student, adjusted for inflation, has increased by 20 per cent since 2009 compared to 8.4 per cent for Independent schools and a cut of 1.3 per cent to public schools.

Catholic schools are massively over-funded at 139 per cent of their Schooling Resource Standard. The Commonwealth Government has also given them another special deal of an additional $36.1 million to 2027 beyond the planned increase under the new Commonwealth funding arrangements. Catholic schools have nothing to complain about, especially compared to public schools.

In cutting funding to public schools, the ACT Government has failed disadvantaged students, over 80% of whom attend public schools. High inequality in school results between students from rich and poor families is a constant feature in the ACT.

The latest NAPLAN results show that Year 9 students from low SES families are 2-3 years behind their high SES peers. Indigenous students are 3-4 years behind. The OECD’s PISA 2015 results show that the achievement gap between rich and poor in the ACT is only exceeded by that in Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

We have to do better. Low education achievement by a significant proportion of young people has far reaching individual, social and economic costs. It stunts individual lives and it brings higher health, social welfare and crime costs. It also stunts economic growth and prosperity.

The ACT is essentially a knowledge-based economy dependent on education improvement for its continuing prosperity. An underperforming education system means an underperforming economy.

Next week’s Budget is an opportunity to redress the Government’s long neglect of public schools. The Minister for Education has been going through a long consultation process on the future of education in the ACT, but it will come to nothing without a major funding boost for disadvantaged students and schools.

Trevor Cobbold

This article was originally published in the Canberra Times on 29 May.

New Figures Show States Have Cut Funding to Public Schools

Tuesday May 29, 2018

The following is a summary of a new research paper published by Save Our Schools on the state of school funding in Australia. It can be downloaded below.

New figures show that government funding increases have massively favoured private schools over public schools across Australia since 2009. Total government funding per student in public schools was cut between 2009 and 2016 while large funding increases were provided to Catholic and Independent schools. Even during the Gonski funding period of 2013-2016 funding increases for private schools far outstripped the increase for public schools.

While the Commonwealth Government increased funding for public and private schools, all state and territory governments (hereafter referred to as “states”) cut funding for public schools by more than the Commonwealth increase and nearly all increased funding for Catholic and Independent schools.

The introduction of the Gonski funding arrangements made little difference to this trend in the first three years of its operation from 2013 to 2016. While the Commonwealth increased funding for public schools (and private schools), all states except Victoria and Tasmania cut funding for public schools. The Commonwealth increase was sufficient to offset the state cuts in some jurisdictions but not in others.

The new figures were published last month by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority but have been adjusted here for rising costs by a composite index of the Wage Price Index for public and private education and training and the Consumer Price Index.

School income 2009-2016
The total recurrent income per student of Catholic and Independent schools in Australia and in nearly all states and territories was significantly higher than in public schools in 2016. The average total income per student in public schools in Australia was $13,747 compared to $21,092 per student in Independent schools and $15,026 in Catholic schools.

The total income (adjusted for inflation – hereafter called “real” income/funding) of public schools fell by $174 per student between 2009 and 2016 but increased massively for private schools. The total real income of Catholic schools increased by $1,582 per student and by $1,866 in Independent schools.

The disparity in real income per student between public and private schools has widened considerably since 2009 – from 36% to 55% higher for Independent schools and from 6% lower to 10% higher for Catholic schools.

Government funding changes accounted for the large part of the increased income disparity between public and private schools. Fees and donations in private schools also increased in real terms.

Government funding 2009-2016
Australia
Average real total government (Commonwealth and state) funding per student in public schools across Australia was cut by $110 per student (-1%) between 2009 and 2016 while funding for Catholic schools increased by $1,171 per student (15.2%) and for Independent schools by $1,026 (16.3%).

The cut in real government funding for public schools was due to significant cuts by state governments which more than offset increased Commonwealth funding. Real Commonwealth funding for public schools increased by $370 per student (23.1%), but state government funding was cut by $481 (-5.4%).

Both the Commonwealth and state governments increased real funding for private schools. Commonwealth funding for Catholic schools increased by $1,091 per student (18.9%) and by $950 per student in Independent schools (20.8%). State government funding for Catholic schools increased by $80 per student (4.1%) and by $76 per student (4.4%) in Independent schools.

States and territories
Real total government funding for public schools was cut in all states except Queensland and Tasmania while private schools received large funding increases in all states. The funding increases for Catholic schools were larger than for Independent schools in all states.

The largest cuts in real government funding for public schools occurred in Victoria (-$267 per student), Western Australia (-$806), and the Northern Territory (-$1,282). The largest increases for Catholic and Independent schools were in Victoria ($1,360 & $1,166 respectively), Tasmania ($1,917 & $1,738) and the Northern Territory ($3,666 & $1,609).

The Commonwealth increased funding for public schools in every state, but every state government cut funding to public schools. The state cuts to public schools were very large in most cases: -$523 per student; Victoria -$458; Queensland -$144; Western Australia -$961; South Australia -$370, Tasmania -$264; -$410 and the Northern Territory -$3,026.

Increases in Commonwealth funding for Catholic and Independents schools were over double that for public schools in all states.

Most state governments increased funding for private schools while cutting funding for public schools. For example, the Victorian Government increased funding for Catholic schools by $254 per student and by $131 for Independent schools while cutting funding for public schools by $458. Where cuts to funding for private schools occurred, they were much smaller than the cuts to public schools. For example, the Government cut funding to public schools by $523 per student compared to only $77 per Catholic student and $10 per Independent student.

School income in the Gonski period: 2013-2016
The total real income per student in Catholic schools increased by $699 between 2013 and 2016 and by $827 in Independent schools compared to only $86 in public schools. The disparity in real income per student between public and private schools widened from 48% to 55% for Independent schools and from 4% to 10% higher for Catholic schools.

Government funding changes accounted for the large part of the increased income disparity between public and private schools. Fees and donations in private schools also increased in real terms.

Government funding in the Gonski period: 2013-2016
Australia
In the first three years of the Gonski funding plan from 2013 to 2016, average real total government funding per student in Catholic and Independent schools across Australia increased by over four times that in public schools. Real total government funding for public schools increased by $123 per student (1.2%) compared to $524 per Catholic student (6.3%) and $507 per Independent student (7.4%).

The smaller increase for public schools was due to a smaller increase in Commonwealth funding and a cut in state funding. Commonwealth funding for public schools increased by $260 per student (15.2%) compared to $532 per student (8.4%) in Catholic schools and $482 per student (9.6%) in Independent schools.

State governments cut funding for public schools by $137 per student (-1.6%) compared to a cut in funding for Catholic schools of $8 per student (-0.4%) and an increase of $25 per student (1.4%) for Independent schools.

States and territories
Catholic and Independent schools received much larger increases in government funding than public schools between 2013 and 2016 in all states. Total government funding for public schools increased in , Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania but by far less than for Catholic and Independent schools. For example, funding for public schools increased by $3 per student compared to $427 in Catholic schools and $363 for Independent schools.

Funding for public schools was cut in Western Australia (-$76 per student), South Australia (-$151), the (-$606) and the Northern Territory (-$431) but increased for Catholic and Independent schools in Western Australia ($251 & $336 respectively), South Australia ($344 & $408) and the Northern Territory ($1,516 & $1,641) and for Catholic schools in the ($879).

The larger increases for Catholic and Independent schools were due to higher increases by the Commonwealth and significant cuts to public school funding all states except Victoria and Tasmania.

Commonwealth funding increases for Catholic and Independent schools were generally much larger than for public schools – in nearly all cases they were double or more those for public schools. In Western Australia, the increase for Catholic and Independent schools was 9-10 times that for public schools and the increase for Catholic schools in the was over 10 times that for public schools.

Six state governments cut funding of public schools during the Gonski funding period. Large cuts to public schools occurred in Queensland (-$273 per student), South Australian (-$296), ($-660) and Northern Territory ($-1,391).

Several states also cut funding to Catholic and Independent schools, but generally by small amounts, while others increased funding. The cuts were generally much smaller than for public schools in the same jurisdiction.

Conclusions
Government funding increases since 2009 have strongly favoured private schools. Since the introduction of the Gonski model in 2014, government funding increases for public schools have continued to lag far behind those for Catholic and Independent schools.

State governments have spectacularly failed in their responsibility to adequately support public schools. Every state has cut real funding for public schools since 2009. Even during the Gonski plan years, six of the eight state governments continued to cut real funding for public schools.

The Turnbull Government has abandoned the concept of a national school funding model and reverted to separate funding roles for the Commonwealth and the states. Its new funding arrangements guarantee future funding increases for private schools but not for public schools because this is left to state governments which are responsible for about 80% of the funding of public schools.

Public schools are likely to remain significantly under-funded under the new Commonwealth arrangements unless state governments provide a major funding boost for public schools. Private schools will be over-funded unless state governments cut their funding.

The immediate priority is to ensure a funding boost for public schools by the states. The longer-term goal remains to implement a nationally integrated funding model directed at reducing disadvantage in education and which ends special deals and over-funding of private schools.

Trevor Cobbold

The State of School Funding in Australia.pdf

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Another Failure of Govt Oversight of Private Schools

Thursday May 10, 2018

A report published last week by the Auditor-General found that the Department of Education has failed to ensure that the Catholic and Seventh-Day Adventist school systems are accountable for the way the spend Government funding. It said that the Department does not know how these systems distribute taxpayer funding to their member schools. The report also said that the Department has failed to adequately verify enrolments for funding purposes and monitor the governance of private schools.

In , private schools are funded as either a system or a non-system school. According to the report, the only two systems for funding purposes are the Catholic and the Seventh Day Adventist systems. The Department provides per capita funding though the system authorities which can re-allocate and distribute funds to their member schools according to their own methodology. For non-system schools, the Department provides per capita funding directly to the school.

The report identified a major failing in the Department’s oversight of how the Catholic and Seventh-Day Adventist systems re-allocate their funding. It said that it is important for the Department to know how funding is reallocated to ensure adequate accountability of the use of public funds. Remarkably, however, it found that the Department does not know how these systems distribute funds to their member schools as it does not require the systems to report on how much funding each school receives.

The Auditor-General recommended that the Department should strengthen its oversight of the use of funds and how systems reallocate funding in order to increase accountability for public funding. It said that system authorities should be required to re-allocate funds across their system on a needs basis and verify this in reports to the Department.

The report also found that the Department does not know how much recurrent government funding is retained by systems for administrative costs. System authorities are not required to report to the Department how much of their grant was retained for administrative or centralised expenses.

This is a major issue. A recent report by the Australian National Audit Office found that that many private school systems do not report on their administrative costs and centralised expenditure. In 2015, only nine out of 25 systems reported these costs. It also found that there are very large variations between systems that do report on this expenditure and some are diverting considerable funding to their own administration. The proportion devoted to central administration ranged between 0.1% and 18.9% of total recurrent funding, with a value between $100,000 and $30.7 million.

The report also criticised the Department for failing to directly validate the enrolments of private schools. This is important to avoid the possibility of fraud by over-statement of enrolments to generate higher funding from the Government. For example, a report by the Queensland Auditor-General in 2015 found that some private schools were overstating their enrolments to get more state funding. It estimated the over-counting of students at 14% and the over-funding conservatively at $1.5 million.

The Auditor’s report found that the Department relies on schools and system authorities to engage a registered auditor to certify the accuracy of information on their enrolments and usage of grants. However, it does not have a process to verify the independence of the auditor. The Auditor-General recommended greater scrutiny of the registration and independence of the auditors to increase confidence in the accuracy of this information. The report also recommended that the Department should conduct investigations to verify enrolment and expenditure of funds.

Another area of concern was the lack of oversight by the Education Standards Authority () of the compliance of private schools with registration requirements. In 2017, 70% of schools that were re-registered were not assessed against the proper governance requirement of the Education Act. Since 2015, the Authority has placed seventeen private schools under monitoring arrangements due to areas for improvement or concerns about compliance with these requirements.

The Department allows school systems such as the Catholic system to self-regulate. Systems monitor their schools’ compliance with the registration requirements and inspectors monitor system authority processes over a 5-year cycle. The report recommended that should increase random inspections of schools to ensure that system authorities are adequately monitoring compliance with all registration requirements, including proper governance.

The new report is latest in a long list of audit reports highlighting poor government oversight of how private school systems distribute their government funding. For example, the recent National Audit Office report slammed the Commonwealth Department of Education for failing to ensure its funding of private school systems is distributed according to need and for not knowing how private school systems distribute their funding. There had been no change from the 2009 Audit Office report that found that the Department did not have information on the funding formulae that private school systems used to distribute funds to their affiliated schools.

This failure of public accountability for the use of taxpayer funds was noted by the 2011 Gonski report . It expressed concern about the lack of transparency of funding allocations in private school systems. It noted that there was limited information available about the methods private school systems use to distribute government funding to their affiliated schools. More recently, a report by the Victorian Auditor-General in 2016 found that the Victorian Department of Education and Training was not aware of the methodology used by the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria to distribute state recurrent grants to member schools.

The fact is that private schools and systems in Australia are largely self-regulated. The history of government funding of private schools is a history government and bureaucratic failure to ensure public transparency and accountability on how private school organisations spend taxpayer money. Some private school organisations have long arrogantly refused to meet legislative and regulatory requirements relating to accountability for the use of taxpayer funds.

The sad thing is that this is likely to continue given the standard set by the Commonwealth. Gonski 2.0 continues the same administrative and regulatory arrangements that have failed in the past. It has made it clear that there will be no change to the autonomy of private school systems in distributing funding to their schools and the transparency arrangements remain unchanged despite the recent report.

It remains to be seen whether the Government will do any better. The Department’s response to the Auditor-General’s report promises change but subject to consultation with private school organisations. In effect, this provides them with a veto over closer regulation by the Government.

The Government should enact additional enforcement procedures to ensure private schools distribute funding according to need. They should go beyond just reporting to the Department. All private school systems should be compelled to publish their funding models on their websites, how much each school receives and how much is retained for central administration expenses.

Trevor Cobbold

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Who is for teaching?

Thursday February 15, 2018

Some things never change – the report in The Age (10/2), ‘Tradies to be taught to teach’, sadly illustrates the profound lack of understanding of the complexity of the skill of teaching children in our schools. Like an albatross around our necks, the words of George Bernard Shaw unfairly continue to haunt the teaching profession, many decades after they were used by Shaw to disparage teachers – “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

What conclusion can be drawn from the Turnbull government’s announcement that a national review of teacher registration, will examine ways in which the process for becoming a teacher around Australia will be streamlined in order to make it easier for people in the trades and other professions to switch careers? It begs the question of why aren’t teachers being encouraged to rapidly retrain as tradies, nurses or for other professions, to fill skill shortages in rural Australia?

The federal Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham is correct when he says that, “people such as tradies who have done the hard yakka on the construction site could bring new skills and a different perspective that could be invaluable for student learning.” As a policy, however, for building substantial capacity in our teaching ranks across the country, it is seriously flawed. Has Minister Birmingham forgotten that we are experiencing a disturbing shortage of highly skilled tradies in a number of areas? Which tradies are Minister Birmingham hoping to entice to the teaching profession – those highly skilled, and often difficult to access due to the high demand for their services, or those further down the skill register and looking for more employment? One way or another we all lose out.

More broadly, this approach, unoriginal as it is flawed, neglects to tackle the fundamental reason for which it has been promoted. That is, why can’t we firstly attract to, and then retain enough high calibre teachers in the profession? It’s a long stretch to argue that it is because we have made it too difficult for people in other professions and trades to transition into teaching.

It is a theme too common – to seek solutions to teacher shortages and questions of skill levels by dressing up time worn strategies of luring other workers to the teaching profession as something more than quick-fix answers. The much-vaunted Teach for Australia program has hardly set the world on fire with many the graduates leaving within a short period of time. The program aims to address teacher shortages in disadvantaged schools by having high achieving graduates from fields other than teaching parachuted into these schools on a fast-tracked introduction to teaching and learning approaches, child development and practical pre-service training. What other profession would consider such a high-risk strategy?

We should know better. After all, in our sport-focused nation, aren’t we all only too familiar with examples of champion players rushed into coaching positions, more on the fact that they were outstanding at playing the game, but proved to be failures when it came to be the ‘teacher’ as the coach? Thankfully, wise heads leading our national game Aussie Rules, have now implemented rigorous pre-coaching training programs for would be senior coaches. Many of the skills that constitute quality teaching have found their place in coaching manuals and those skills deserve respect.

In my many years in the teaching profession, I have witnessed many changes. Not all of those changes have made our profession more attractive to would be teachers, and that is sad. Teaching encompasses so much more these days than just a decade or two ago. Technology has revolutionized the classroom; accountability has reached staggering levels and schools are expected to address students’ family issues much more than in years gone by, with too often, too little enough external support. Then there is the no small issue of student learning outcomes and the ever-mounting pressure on schools to deliver better NAPLAN results in literacy and numeracy whilst addressing everything else in the curriculum too.

Dealing more effectively with these issues requires more sophisticated strategies than simply encouraging people to make a career change by swapping their current occupations for a teaching career. It is telling to note that the federal government has a tin ear when it comes to listening to the opinions of those in the teaching profession across Australia. One can only hope that tradies out there are not guided by the words of George Bernard Shaw on this initiative.

Henry Grossek
Principal
Berwick Lodge Primary School

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ACT Private Schools Have the Mother of All Special Deals

Tuesday January 30, 2018

This is a summary of a new Education Policy Brief published by Save Our Schools. The full version can be viewed below.

The Turnbull Government promised to eliminate all special deals for private schools under its Gonski 2.0 funding plan. However, new data released through Senate Estimates reveal that the $58 million adjustment fund for ACT private schools announced last year is the mother of all special deals. It will increase the already massive overfunding of several highly advantaged private schools in Canberra and delay, or postpone indefinitely, reductions in over-funding.

As the Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham, acknowledged last year, ACT Catholic and Independent schools are massively over-funded compared to their Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) entitlement. Catholic systemic schools and Independent schools are currently funded by the Commonwealth and ACT governments at 139% and 138% respectively of their SRS.

In 2018 Catholic systemic schools will be over-funded by $38.6 million, including $36.2 million by the Commonwealth. Independent schools will be over-funded by $31.3 million, including $20.5 million by the Commonwealth. Just eight schools – Brindabella Christian, Burgmann, Canberrra Girls’ Grammar, Canberra Grammar, Daramalan, Marist, Orana and Radford – will be over-funded by $30.6 million, including $20.8 million by the Commonwealth. Total over-funding amounts to $69.9 million, including $56.7 million by the Commonwealth.

Commonwealth over-funding was to be reduced progressively to zero by 2027 as part of Gonski 2.0 whereby the Commonwealth would provide 80% of the SRS of schools, leaving 20% to state and territory governments. The Minister for Education said the existing unique special deal for ACT private schools was unjustified and would be removed.

However, the Government back-flipped on its commitment and introduced a new special deal worth $58 million, ostensibly to ease their adjustment to lower levels of funding over the next ten years. The special deal provides an additional $36.1 million for Catholic schools to 2027 and $21.7 million for Independent schools to 2021.

The new special deal will increase Commonwealth over-funding for ACT private schools to $72.7 million in 2018, with $44 million for Catholic schools and $28.7 million for Independent schools. It extends the massive Catholic over-funding for the next ten years by a sleight of hand. Instead of their funding being reduced by an average of $3.6 million a year, it will be maintained by so-called adjustment assistance averaging $3.6 million a year. Their cumulative Commonwealth over-funding to 2027 will amount to $362 million.

Over-funding of several highly advantaged Independent schools will increase in 2018: by 124% for Canberra Grammar, 53% for Radford and 24-29% for Daramalan, Marist and Burgmann. Astonishingly, nine schools whose funding was already projected to increase under the original plan will get adjustment assistance; that is, they will receive additional funding to adjust to higher levels of funding. It is truly an amazing deal.

The Government justifies the adjustment assistance to help “vulnerable” schools, such as those with a high proportion of students with disabilities or other disadvantaged students, to adjust to funding reductions. Why schools such as Canberra Grammar and Radford can be considered as vulnerable with 85 and 83% of their students in the top socio-educational advantage quartile and none in the bottom quartile is mystifying.

The vast majority of ACT private schools have high or very high proportions of students from the most advantaged families and very few disadvantaged students. They cannot be considered as vulnerable under the Government’s own criteria. The ten-year period to remove over-funding is generous enough without extra adjustment funding.

The new special deal for ACT private schools is a stunning reversal of the Government’s commitment to end all special deals for private schools and specifically for ACT private schools. It also contradicts the Minister’s statement that adjustment assistance would apply only to a handful of schools. Instead, it applies to all Independent schools and the Catholic system, even those that were already due to receive funding increases in the future.

The special deal can only be seen as a political fix for the Turnbull Government in the face of a concerted campaign by private school organisations to retain their privileged over-funding, the threat of a Government backbench revolt and political opportunism by the Labor Party in supporting continued over-funding of Catholic schools.

Labor MP Gai Brodtmann called the proposed cuts to Catholic schools “outrageous”. What is outrageous is that hundreds of millions of dollars will be wasted on over-funding private schools in Canberra over the next ten years.

Labor cannot claim to support equity in schooling while simultaneously supporting over-funding of private schools that primarily serve the wealthiest families in the ACT. It should unconditionally support the principle of eliminating all over-funding of private schools.

While the Commonwealth Government is the major source of over-funding of ACT private schools, the ACT Government also provides significant over-funding to both Catholic and Independent schools. There is no case for this. The ACT Government should progressively reduce its over-funding of private schools over the next five years.

Trevor Cobbold

ACT Private Schools Get the Mother of all Special Deals.pdf

ACT Private Schools Get the Mother of all Special Deals

 

New Study Undermines Case for a Year 1 Phonics Test

Wednesday December 6, 2017

A new study comprehensively refutes the claim that phonetics is little used in teaching reading in Australian schools. It shows that the large majority of teachers in Australian primary schools use a combination of methods in teaching reading, including phonetics.

The study is included in the recently published Longitudinal Study of Australian Children Annual statistical report for 2016. The findings undermine the case for a Year 1 phonics test as recommended by a Federal Government advisory panel. The proposal will be considered by the national education ministers’ council meeting tomorrow.

The study shows that the large majority of teachers in Years 1-2 and 3-4 use both “reading and comprehending whole texts” and “phonetics and decoding”. In Years 1-2, 73% of teachers place equal emphasis on both methods and only 13% place greater emphasis on whole texts and 14% put greater emphasis on phonetics. In Years 3-4, where students are more mature readers, 62% of teachers put equal emphasis on both approaches, and there is greater emphasis on whole texts with 34% of teachers adopting this approach.

There is little difference between school sectors in the use of whole text and phonetics in teaching reading. In Years 1-2, 74% of teachers in public and Catholic schools give equal emphasis to “reading and comprehending whole texts” and “phonetics and decoding” compared to 67% of teachers in Independent schools. Nearly one-quarter of teachers in Independent schools give greater emphasis to phonetics compared to 13% of public and Catholic school teachers.

The differences between school sectors are even smaller in Years 3-4 where 63% of public school teachers, 64% of Catholic school teachers and 58% of Independent school teachers giving equal emphasis to whole text and phonetics. One-third of teachers in all sectors give greater emphasis to whole text in Years 3-4 and very few give emphasis to phonetics.

The study shows some differences between advantaged and disadvantaged schools in the teaching of reading. Teachers at the most advantaged schools were more likely to favour “reading and comprehending whole texts” when teaching Years 3–4 students than teachers at less advantaged schools. Thirty-nine percent of teachers working in the most advantaged schools reported placing greater emphasis on this approach to reading in Years 3–4, compared with 29% of teachers in the least advantaged schools

Teachers’ approach to teaching reading also significantly differed in accordance with the amount of experience teaching at their current year level, but only in Years 1–2. Teachers with higher levels of experience teaching were more inclined to place equal emphasis on “phonetics and decoding” and “reading and comprehending the whole text” when teaching students to read than teachers who had been teaching Years 1–2 students for less than three years. Two -thirds of teachers with less than three years of experience favoured an equal emphasis compared to 75% of teachers with 3–7 years’ experience and 77% with more than 7 years’ experience. More experienced teachers were also less likely to favour a greater emphasis on reading and comprehending whole texts with this age group.

There was some variation in teachers’ approach to teaching reading based on the proportion of students with a disability in their class, but only with younger students. In Years 1–2, teachers of classes with at least one student with a disability were somewhat more likely to favour an increased emphasis on “phonetics and decoding” when teaching their students to read, although the majority of teachers still favoured a more balanced approach to teaching reading. For instance, 16% of teachers in classes with more than 10% of students diagnosed with a disability and 15% of those with at least one student with a disability reported favouring phonetics and decoding, compared with only 11% of teachers with no students with diagnosed disabilities in their class.

The study also shows that the large majority of teachers in primary schools also adopt a combination of methods in teaching maths. This finding also undermines the case for a Year 1 test of numeracy to be considered by national education ministers.

Most teachers favour a balanced approach to teaching mathematics in Years 1-2 and 2-3, and spent time discussing and solving mathematical problems as well as teaching students mathematical rules, facts and procedures. Fifty-five per cent of teachers in Years 1-2 and 63% in Years 3-4 favoured a balanced approach. The proportion of teachers who favoured “talking about and solving mathematical problems” was greater in Years 1–2 (36%) than Years 3–4 (27%). Only one in ten teachers in grades 1-2 and 3-4 reported a preference for “learning rules, facts and procedures”.

There was more uniformity in teachers’ approaches to teaching maths than there was with teaching reading, with few school, teacher and class characteristics making a difference to their approach to teaching.

A majority of teachers in each school sector reported taking a balanced approach to teaching maths in Years 1-2 – 54% in public schools, 58% in Catholic schools and 54% in Independent schools. However, teachers in Independent schools were more inclined than public and Catholic school teachers to favour an emphasis on “learning rules, facts and procedures” – Independent school teachers 14%, public 9%, Catholic 7%. Conversely, they were less likely than other teachers to favour an emphasis on “talking about and solving mathematical problems” – 37% of public school teachers favoured this approach compared with 35% of Catholic school teachers and 32% of teachers at independent schools.

Teachers working in advantaged and disadvantaged schools did not significantly differ in their approaches to teaching maths in Years 3–4. Similarly, no significant differences in the teaching of maths were reported by teachers with different levels of experience. Also, teachers did not differ in their approach to teaching maths depending upon the number of children with disabilities they had in their class.

More testing is not the answer to improving literacy and numeracy. We have had extensive national testing for the past 25 years under NAPLAN and its state predecessors. It has not led to significant improvements in student achievement, mainly because resources have not been directed to those most in need. National education ministers should look to overhaul the new Gonski 2.0 funding model which will leave public schools, which enrol over 80% of disadvantaged students, under-resourced and the vast majority of private schools over-resourced.

Trevor Cobbold

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The Barnett Govt Has Taken the Axe to WA Public Schools

Saturday March 4, 2017

The claims by the Western Australian Government that it has massively increased school funding in recent years are highly misleading. The fact is that the Barnett Government has taken to the axe to funding of public schools while boosting its funding of private schools. It has abandoned disadvantaged students, the vast majority of whom attend public schools.

Its claims of increased funding for public schools ignore the growth in student enrolments and rising costs. The official figures for public schools also include large increases in book entry items (user cost of capital, depreciation) and other items (payroll tax, school transport) that do not deliver any funding for use in the classroom. These items accounted for 34% of state government funding for public schools in 2014-15 and their increase between 2009-10 and 2014-15 accounted for nearly half (47%) of the nominal increase in state funding. These items are not included in figures for government funding of private schools.

After adjusting for rising costs and excluding book entry and other non-classroom items, total government (Commonwealth and state) funding of public schools in Western Australia was cut massively between 2009-10 and 2013-14 by $1,341 per student while government funding for private schools was increased by $1,288 per student [see Chart 1 below]. That is, private school funding was increased by nearly as much as funding for public schools was cut. The percentage cut to public schools was 8.9% while the increase for private schools was 12.1% [Chart 2].

The cut in public school funding was due to a huge cut in Western Australian Government funding of $1,554 per student (-11.6%) which completely swamped the small increase in Commonwealth Government of $213 per student (12.1%). While cutting real funding to public schools, the state government increased funding for private schools by $386 per student (13.2%). The Commonwealth Government also increased funding for private schools by $902 per student (14.2%).

The cuts to public school funding continued in the last financial year for which official figures are available. Total government funding for public schools was cut by $311 per student (-2.2%) in 2014-15 over the previous year while funding for private schools increased by $311 per student (3.0%). Commonwealth Government funding for public schools was cut by $18 per student (-0.9%) and Western Australian Government funding was cut by $293 per student (-2.4%). Commonwealth Government funding for private schools increased by $300 per student (4.3%) and state government funding increased by $11 per student (0.3%).

The latest results from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that average reading, mathematics and science scores across all Western Australian schools have slumped since 2009. The reading score fell by 15 points on the PISA scale, which is equivalent to about half a year of learning; mathematics fell by 25 points and science by 18 points.

In addition, the proportion of students below international standards has increased. In 2015, 17% of WA students did not achieve the minimum standard in reading – up from 13% in 2009; 18% did not achieve the mathematics standard – up from 13% in 2009; and 15% did not achieve the science standard – up from 11% in 2009.

The latest NAPLAN results show large gaps in achievement between disadvantaged and advantaged students. In 2016, low socio-economic status (SES) Year 9 students were about four years of learning behind their high SES peers in reading, writing and numeracy. Indigenous Year 9 students were four to five years behind high SES students.

Some 15% of low SES Year 9 students are below the national minimum reading standard compared to less than 1% of high SES students; 30% are below the minimum writing standard compared to 5% of high SES students; and 9% are below the numeracy standard compared to virtually no high SES students. The picture is very much worse for Indigenous students: 29% are below the reading standard; 50% are below the writing standard, and 21% are below the numeracy standard.

The vast majority of low SES and Indigenous students are enrolled in public schools – about 80% of low SES students and nearly 85% of Indigenous students. Yet, funding for public schools has been drastically cut while funding for private schools increased.

The Barnett Government has no commitment to reducing disadvantage in education by targeting funding increases where they are most needed and would do the most good. It has abandoned disadvantaged students in public schools in favour of more support for private schools. Its priority has been to increase privilege in education at the expense of disadvantaged students.

The Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, has criticised state governments for not maintaining their investment in school education over recent years while the Commonwealth increased its funding effort. But, one of the first steps taken by the Abbott Government was to scrap the obligations on the states to increase their funding in line with Commonwealth increases under the Gonski funding plan. The then education minister, Christopher Pyne, derided the conditions attached to Commonwealth funding under the plan as ‘command and control’ measures and said that “it would be up to the states to decide whether they spend their money or not because they are sovereign Governments and should be treated like adults”.

Birmingham now says that the Federal Government will require states and territories to at least maintain the real level of their per student funding effort. The next Western Australian Government should agree to this, commit to reversing past cuts to public school funding and target increases at disadvantaged students and schools.

Trevor Cobbold

Charts & Table on School Funding in Western Australia 2009-10 to 2014-15.pdf

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