Are Finland’s Vaunted Schools Slipping?

Leading Finnish education expert, Pasi Sahlberg, comments on Finland’s slip down the rankings on international test results from the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA).

The irony of Finland’s successful school system is that the Finns never aimed to be better than anyone else — except, it is often humorously claimed, Sweden. Since the announcement of the first results of the Organization for Economic and Cooperation and Development’s Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, in 2001, Finland has been the center of educational attention. Finland’s PISA scores topped the charts, and the Finnish approach to educational policy has stood in direct opposition to the path embraced by the United States, England, and much of the rest of the world. Continue reading “Are Finland’s Vaunted Schools Slipping?”

The New School Funding Plan

Friday July 19, 2013

The new National Plan for School Improvement (NPSI) consists of a new funding model for government and private schools, increased funding over six years and a range of new education policies. The new funding model is based on the framework recommended by the Gonski report, but there are some significant differences.

The new funding model
As recommended by the Gonski report, the new funding model consists of a base resource standard and additional funding (called funding loadings) for disadvantaged students, school location and school size. Separate base resource standards are set for primary and secondary schools and are specified as per student amounts. The disadvantage funding loadings and the location loading are specified as various percentages of the relevant base resource standard while the size loadings are specific dollar amounts.

A Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) per student will be estimated for each school combining the base resource standard and the disadvantage, location and size funding loadings. The SRS will differ between schools according to their enrolments of various categories of disadvantage students, location and size.

The base standard is based on the estimated cost of educating a child at high performing schools, known as ‘reference schools’. It is the minimum level of funding (from government and private sources) that should be available to every school.

Reference schools are determined by their NAPLAN performance. They are schools where 80 per cent of students are achieving above the national minimum standard at each year level in reading and numeracy over the three years 2008 to 2010. The reference schools consist of about 1600 government and private schools across the country according to a brief prepared by the Federal Parliamentary Library.

The base resource standard for primary schools in 2014 will be $9,271 per student and for secondary schools $12,193 per student. These amounts will apply to government schools. The level of government funding for private schools will vary according to parental capacity to contribute school resources as under the current SES funding model. All schools will be funded to at least 95 per cent of their base SRS by 2019.

Schools will also be eligible for a range of disadvantage loadings based on a percentage of the base amount per student:
• Low socio-economic status (SES): a) Sliding scale from 15 to 50 per cent for the 1st SES quartile; b) Sliding scale from 7.5 to 37.5 per cent for the 2nd SES quartile;
• Indigenous students: sliding scale from 20 to 120 per cent;
• English as a second language: 10 per cent;
• Students with a disability: current funding will be maintained in 2014 and a new loading introduced from 2015;
• Location: a) Inner Regional schools will receive up to 10 per cent of the loading amount (the total of the base amount plus any school size loading). b) Outer Regional schools will receive between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of the loading amount. c) Remote schools will receive between 30 per cent and 70 cent of the loading amount. d) Very Remote schools will receive between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of the loading amount.

In addition, primary schools of between 15 and 200 students will attract a loading of $150,000, reducing to zero for schools with 300 student enrolments. Secondary schools of 100 to 500 students will attract $240,000, reducing to zero for schools with 700 students. These amounts are added to the base amount.

The base resource standard will be indexed at 3.6 per cent a year. This implies that the disadvantage loadings (as a percentage of the resource standard) will also be indexed at 3.6 per cent a year.

Not all schools will be immediately funded according to this model. Whether a particular school attracts funding under the model will depend on comparing their old (current) funding per student with the SRS (base + loadings) estimate. Commonwealth Government funding for schools whose funding under the old scheme is less than their SRS per student amount for 2014 will be increased by at least 4.7 per cent a year until they reach their SRS.

Schools whose old per student amount for 2013, increased by 3 per cent, is more than their estimated SRS for 2014 will continue to receive the old per student amount, plus indexation of 3 per cent per annum until their new per student amount catches up.

Under agreements between the Federal and participating state/territory governments, state/territory education authorities will have flexibility to distribute funds according to their own needs-based funding systems, but every system will have to be approved by the Federal Government to ensure it is consistent with the SRS. The different approaches will be evaluated for their consistency in addressing student need. School systems will have to publish how they have calculated their funding allocations and what every school actually gets each year. The distribution to each school will be published on the My School website.

Government funding for private schools will depend on their assessed capacity to contribute. They will receive a proportion of their base SRS according to their assessed socio-economic status (SES) score. Their SES score is determined in the same way as under the current SES funding model introduced by the Howard Government, that is, according to the SES of the ABS statistical area in which students are resident.

Government funding for private schools with an SES score of 93 or less will be 90 per cent of the total per student funding and for schools with an SES score of 125 or more it will be 20 per cent. Government funding for schools with an SES score of between 93 and 125 will range along a sliding scale of between 90 and 20 per cent. In contrast with the current funding model there are separate funding scales for primary and secondary schools. Primary schools have higher government funding rates (as a percentage of their base SRS) than secondary schools [see Chart 1 below].

The SRS for each Catholic school will be aggregated and distributed to Catholic systemic school systems which will administer the distribution of funds to individual schools. Independent schools will be funded directly based on the SRS estimates and their assessed capacity to contribute. The Catholic systems will have flexibility to implement their own needs-based funding systems. As in the case of government school systems, needs-based distribution in Catholic systems will have to be approved by the Federal Government to ensure it is consistent with the SRS. The distribution to each school will be published on the My School website.

Funding increases
The original plan proposed a $14.5 billion increase in school funding over the six years from 2013-14 to 2018-19. It was expected that the Federal Government will contribute $9.4 billion of this increase and state/territory governments will contribute the remaining $5.1 billion. The total funding amount has been increased as a result of agreements with the ACT, NSW, SA and Tasmanian governments and could be increased further if the other states and the Northern Territory sign on. On the basis of what has been agreed so far and what is on offer to WA, the estimated increase now stands at $15.2 billion.

On the basis of the original proposal, government schools would receive 83 per cent of the total increase. Government schools would receive $12.1 billion compared to $1.4 billion for Catholic schools and $1 billion for Independent schools.

The total increases over the six years range from $4-5 billion for NSW, Victoria and Queensland to $380 million for Tasmania and less for the Northern Territory and the ACT. Based on 2012 enrolments, NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania would get increases of $4,000-5,000 per student over the six years and the Northern Territory an increase of about $7,500 per student [Chart 2]. Western Australia and South Australia would get increases of about $2,500 per student and the ACT an increase of $605.

The large part of the funding increase will go to schools that are currently funded at less than the national base standard. According to information released by the Federal Government, 82.7 per cent of the increase will go to these schools and 17.3 per cent will be allocated to the various funding loadings. Low SES students will receive 7.4 per cent of the increase, students with disabilities 5.4 per cent, students in regional and remote locations 2.1 per cent and Indigenous students 0.9 per cent.

The Federal Government has announced the details of its funding contribution to the new funding arrangements. The 2013-14 Budget papers show that the large part of its contribution to the increase in school funding is postponed until the last two years of the transition period. The Federal Government component for the next four years is estimated at $2.8 billion, or 29 per cent of the original proposed Federal contribution, leaving $6.6 billion to be provided in the two years 2017-18 and 2018-19.

The large part of the Federal contribution to the NPSI increase is to be financed by the termination of existing programs. Five national partnership programs are to be terminated over the next four years and their funding re-directed to the NPSI. The partnership programs are the Low Socio-economic Status Communities, Literacy and Numeracy, Empowering Local Schools, Rewards for Great Teachers and Rewards for School Improvement. According to the 2013-14 Budget Paper No. 2, the total funding to be re-directed from these programs over the forward estimates to 2016-17 is $2.1 billion.

Thus, very little new funding will be allocated to the NPSI over the next four years. The new funding beyond what was already committed over the forward estimates period is $0.7 billion [Table 1]. There is a net increase of $333 million in 2013-14, declines in expenditure in 2014-15 and 2015-16 totalling $265 million and a net increase in 2016-17 of $630 million.

School improvement
The new funding model will be accompanied by a range of education policies designed to improve student results. These policies focus on five main areas:
• Quality teaching;
• Quality learning;
• Empowered school leadership;
• Meeting student need; and
• Transparency and accountability.

It is a condition of Federal funding that state/territory governments implement the agreed national education policies. They incorporate a large number of measures.

The Quality Teaching measures include:
• Higher entry standards for teaching and better training for teaching students;
• Teachers will need to be in the top 30 per cent for literacy and numeracy before they can graduate;
• Annual performance reviews for every teacher;
• Access to ongoing training for all teachers throughout their career.

The Quality Learning measures include:
• Implementation of the Australian Curriculum in all subjects by 2016 for Foundation to Year 10 and by 2018 for Years 11-12;
• An early years reading blitz to focus on improving literacy skills in Foundation to Year 3;
• Access for every student to learning an Asian language by 2025;
• Inclusion of science in the NAPLAN tests.

Under the Empowered School Leadership plan:
• Principals will have more power to make decisions for their schools including choosing staff and managing the budget;
• Principals will receive extra training in leadership skills and ongoing professional development.

The Meeting Student Need measures include:
• A school funding system based on the needs of every individual student;
• Additional funding for schools and students that need more support – low SES students, Indigenous students, students with disability, students with limited English skills, small schools, and rural and remote schools;
• The extra funding will be able to spent on things like specialised equipment and teachers, and programs like breakfast clubs and literacy programs;
• Every school will have a Safe School Plan to prevent bullying;
• Schools will be encouraged to engage parents and the broader school community to improve student outcomes.

Trevor Cobbold

Charts and Table on National Plan for School Improvement.pdf

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The Gillard School Funding Plan is a Watershed But is Not the Full Gonski

Tuesday June 11, 2013

This is a speech to a Gonski Information Forum in Perth by Trevor Cobbold on 6 June.

The new school funding plan passed by the House of Representatives last week is a potential watershed for school funding in Australia. It breaks new ground in the history of school funding with its focus on increasing equity in education. Its adoption of Gonski’s equity goals and principles sets the foundation for the future.

The plan provides the biggest increase in funding in living memory, certainly in the last 40 years. It proposes a $14.5 billion increase in school funding over the six years from 2013-14 to 2018-19. It is expected that the Federal Government will contribute $9.8 billion of this increase and state/territory governments will contribute the remaining $4.7 billion.

Every state will benefit, although some more than others. NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania would get increases of $4000-5000 per student over the six years and the Northern Territory an increase of about $7,500 per student. Western Australia, however, will get very little – only about $800 per student over the six years.

The small increase for Western Australia is difficult to understand and I am at a loss to explain it without further details of the model. The ACT will get $1,610 per student even though its average expenditure per student in government schools is slightly higher than in WA and it has a much lower proportion of low income and Indigenous students and has no remote area students. On this basis, the Barnett Government has a good case for a better deal and it is hard to understand why it is not willing to negotiate on behalf of its disadvantaged students. The ACT Government negotiated and got more funding. By refusing to negotiate, the Barnett Government has abandoned the state’s low income, Indigenous and remote area students.

The new funding model will provide a huge benefit to government schools Australia wide. Of the total $14.5 billion, $12.1 billion will go to government schools compared to $1.4 billion to Catholic schools and $1 billion to government schools. If fully delivered and effectively distributed and used, it could make a major contribution to reducing the huge gap in school achievement between rich and poor throughout the country, which at age 15 amounts to two to three years of learning.

Low achievement is strongly associated with low socio-economic status (SES) students and Indigenous students. About 75 per cent of low income students and 85 per cent of Indigenous students are enrolled in government schools. Government schools therefore have far more to do with their resources than private schools. Yet, government schools have much fewer resources than Independent schools and similar resources to Catholic schools.

The school sector with the greatest resources has the lowest proportion of disadvantaged students. Total funding per student in Independent schools is 40 per cent higher than government schools – $16,309 per Independent student compared to $11,645 per government school student. However, Independent schools enrol only 10 per cent of low income students and 5 per cent of Indigenous students. These figures show how skewed and inequitable the current funding system is. It is this inequity that the Gonski model seeks to redress. This is the fundamental importance of the Gonski model.

In adopting the Gonski model, the Gillard plan represents a marked change of direction in school funding in Australia. Instead of a primary focus on funding for school choice as in the Howard Government’s SES funding model, the new model gives priority to reducing the effects of disadvantage on education outcomes. The focus of the new model is equity. It guarantees a minimum resource standard for every school in the country and provides additional funding loadings for various forms of disadvantaged students: low SES, Indigenous, remote area, language background other than English and students with disabilities.

The Gonski model has put the supporters of privilege in education on the defensive. Only the most extreme advocates of privilege can deny that improving equity in education outcomes is the central priority and, when they do, they are seen for what they are – a rich elite removed from the realities of the daily lives of our most disadvantaged families and students and lacking in any sense of common decency and humanity.

Another watershed in the new model is that it breaks the link between government funding for private schools and average government school costs. This is a highly significant change. The link is a major source of inequity in school funding. Every time state governments increase funding for disadvantaged students in government schools, a portion of it flows through to private schools including the most privileged and richest private schools.

The link to government school costs has allowed private schools to double dip on government funding. Not only do private schools get direct grants from the Federal and state/territory governments but they get indirect funding increases via increased funding to government schools. Private schools with none or very few disadvantaged students receive windfall gains from any increases in funding for disadvantaged students in government schools. Under the new model, the Geelong Grammars and Sydney Grammars of the world will no longer be able to double dip on the taxpayer on the backs of disadvantaged students.

The funding increase is not the full Gonski
However, although the Prime Minister’s plan adopts the Gonski framework, it is not the “full Gonski”.

At this stage, we only have details of the Federal Government funding program. The Budget Papers show that most of its $9.8 billion increase is back-loaded on to the last two years of the six-year transition period and is beyond the traditional four-year forward estimates of government budgets. Only $2.8 billion will be provided from 2013-14 to 2016-17, leaving $7 billion to be provided in the last two years of the transition period.

There will be at least two Federal elections before the bulk of the Gonski funding can be delivered. Consequently, there can be no guarantee that the full $7 billion for the final two years of the transition period will ever be delivered, especially under an Abbott-led government.

Moreover, the large part of the $2.8 billion increase to 2016-17 is to be financed by the termination of existing programs. Five national partnership programs are to be terminated over the next four years and their funding re-directed to the Government’s National Program for School Improvement (NPSI). The funding allowed for in the forward estimates for these programs over 2013-14 to 2016-17 was $2.3 billion.

Thus, very little new funding will be allocated to the Gillard plan over the next four years – only a mere $0.5 billion.

Moreover, it is unlikely that the full Gonksi increase will be delivered at the end of the transition period. The Gonski recommendation was for an additional $6.5 billion a year in 2013-14 dollars. Allowing for indexation, the actual final transition year funding increase in 2018-19 should be about $8 billion in 2018-19 prices. This does not seem to be in the ball-park of the Government’s planning.

The low SES funding is too little to be effective
A second major concern about the Gillard plan is that the additional funding to be allocated to disadvantaged students is relatively small and, in the case of low SES students, is to be spread over a much large number of students than proposed by the Gonski report. The increase for low SES students is likely to be too little to make any significant difference to student outcomes or to reducing the gap between rich and poor, although all schools will welcome the extra funding.

According to information released by the Federal Government, 83 per cent of the total increase in funding will go to schools whose funding is below the national resource standard and 17 per cent will be allocated to the various disadvantage funding loadings. Low SES students will receive 7.4 per cent of the increase, students with disabilities 5.4 per cent, students in regional and remote locations 2.1 per cent and Indigenous students 0.9 per cent. This means that disadvantaged students will get about $2.5 billion of the total increase over the next six years with about $1 billion of this going to low SES students. This is much less than the $3 billion provided by Low SES Communities national partnership over seven years.

Of course, many disadvantaged schools may gain additional funding because they are currently below the national resource standard. However, it is not possible to determine how much they will get at this stage as many medium to high SES government schools are also funded at less than the national resource standard.

There are two significant differences between the Gonski and Gillard models as regards funding for low SES students. First, the Gillard model provides slightly more generous funding loadings. Its range of loadings begins at 15 per cent of the resource standard compared to 10 per cent in the Gonski model.

Second, while the Gonski report recommended a funding loading for every student in the lowest 25 per cent of SES backgrounds, the Gillard plan spreads the funding much more broadly. It provides a loading for every student in the bottom 50 per cent, with students in the lowest quartile receiving bigger loadings. It means that more than 95 per cent of schools will receive low SES funding.

The Government’s case for funding loadings for the second lowest SES quartile is that a significant group of these students achieve much lower outcomes than students with above average SES background. This is true. The 2009 PISA results show that while 24 per cent of 15 year-old students in the lowest SES quartile were below the international reading benchmark, 15 per cent of students in the second lowest SES quartile were also below the benchmark. In mathematics, 28 per cent of students in the lowest quartile and 17 per cent of students in the second lowest quartile were below the benchmark. In science, the respective figures were 23 and 13 per cent. Thus, there is a strong case for additional funding for students in the second lowest quartile as well.

The issue is whether the low SES funding loadings are large enough to make a significant difference to the results of these students. The evidence suggests not.

Overseas research studies show that the additional expenditure required for low income students to achieve at adequate standards is up to double or more the cost of educating an average student. This implies loadings of 1.0 or more.

Under the Gillard model, the maximum funding loading for low SES students is 0.5 and this applies only to schools that have over 75 per cent of their enrolments from the lowest SES quartile. Low SES secondary school students in these most highly disadvantaged schools will only receive an extra $6,096 compared to $12,193 if the loading was set at 1.0.

Even this maximum loading will apply to only a tiny proportion of all low SES students. According to the My School website only 331 schools (265 government, 29 Catholic and 37 Independent) would have qualified for this loading in 2012. The total enrolment in these schools was just under 30,000, of which about 25,000 can be assumed to be in the lowest SES quartile. In 2012, there were approximately 600,000 students in the lowest SES quartile. Therefore, only about four per cent would qualify for the maximum low SES loading in the Gillard model, a loading which itself is well below the loadings suggested by research studies.

More special deals for private schools
A third issue with the Gillard plan is that it will be even more riven by special deals than Howard’s SES model. Just as the integrity of the SES model was undermined by special deals with Catholic and Independent school organisations, new special deals are being negotiated that will undermine the integrity and coherence of the Gonski model.

The Prime Minister has already broken with the principles of the Gonski model by promising Cardinal Pell that Catholic schools will retain their current share of federal funding. This introduces a new link between government school funding and Catholic school funding. Federal funding for government schools will apparently not be permitted to outstrip funding for Catholic schools, even though government schools enrol much higher proportions of disadvantaged students than Catholic schools – Catholic schools only enrol 16 per cent of low income students and 9 per cent of Indigenous students compared to the government school proportions of 75 and 85 per cent.

The special deal will allow Catholic schools to double dip on Federal funding. In addition to their direct funding under the new model, they will receive additional funding to compensate them for any loss of enrolment share to government schools or other private schools. For example, if the number of disadvantaged students in government schools increases this would draw increased Federal funding for those schools and decrease the share of Catholic school funding in total Federal funding. Instead, Catholic schools will receive additional funding to maintain their current share, even though their enrolments of disadvantaged students are unchanged, increase by less than in government schools or decline. Similarly, an increase in enrolments in other private schools will draw an increased percentage of Federal funding, for which Catholic schools will be compensated.

This new special deal adds to one that was incorporated into the Gonski model at the behest of the Federal Government. The focus on improving equity in education in the Gonksi model was diluted by a new “no losers” guarantee for medium to high SES private schools. This is the Government’s promise that no school will lose a dollar of funding under the new model. This means that medium and high SES schools that have large privately sourced funding will continue to receive government funding and maintain a large resource advantage over lower SES government and private schools.

Gillard’s new “no losers” guarantee also protects the special deals done by the Howard Government to maintain “over-funding” of some 40 per cent of private schools. These are the so-called “funding maintained” (FM) schools that were allowed to keep funding they would have otherwise lost if the SES model had been strictly applied. The over-funding amounted to $615 million in 2010 according to the Gonski report. All of this funding goes to well-off private schools – none of it goes to low SES private schools. These schools get to keep their over-funding under the Gillard plan, although it will be indexed at slightly less than for other schools.

The new “no losers” guarantee and the new link between Catholic school funding and total Federal funding means that the exceptions, incoherence and inequities in the Howard Government’s funding model criticised by the Gonski report will also be a feature of the Gillard model. And, we have yet to see what special deal Gillard gives Independent schools.

Extending the market in education
A further problem is that the accompanying plan for school improvement will extend market-based features of education. In particular, national testing and reporting on science will be introduced, state education authorities are encouraged to adopt performance pay, and increased school autonomy is a condition of the future funding.

The extension of national testing to science and more reporting of school results on My School and in league tables in newspapers will harm education further. I don’t need to spell out to you the effects in terms of narrowing the curriculum and teaching.

There is little evidence that performance pay or greater school autonomy increase student achievement. At best, the evidence is mixed, but generally the weight of evidence from research studies is that they have little effect on student results. School autonomy also tends to reduce collaboration between schools and increase social segregation and inequity in education.

Gonski offers more than the Coalition
Unfortunately, the Gillard Government has made an unholy mess of Gonski. Not only has it delayed implementation for far too long and made it hostage to the election campaign, but it has not adopted the full Gonski. The funding increase committed over the next four years is only a small percentage of the full Gonski and it is largely financed by re-cycled funds; its funding for disadvantaged students is far too low and is too widely dispersed to make any significant difference; and the integrity and coherence of the framework has been destroyed by more special deals with private schools.

As if this is not enough, the small funding increase is being used as a vehicle to extend the market in education through more testing and reporting of school results, performance bonuses for principals and teachers, and more autonomy for principals.

However, having the principles of the Gonski model enshrined in legislation would be a major step forward and the more states that sign up the greater its significance. It would be a major achievement. It would provide the foundation for school funding in the future and offer the hope and opportunity for a “full Gonski”. It would indeed be a watershed in the history of school funding in Australia.

Having the Gonski principles enshrined in legislation will also make it harder for a Coalition government to revert to the unfair and incoherent SES model. This is why it is so important to continue the pressure on governments to sign up. This is why Abbott and Pyne are leaving no stone unturned to stop Coalition governments signing up and why they are so angry with Barry O’Farrell and Adrian Piccoli in NSW.

The other Liberal state premiers are playing cheap politics – turning their backs on increased funding for disadvantaged schools and students for party political gain. Some 36 per cent of all Victorian and Queensland students are from low income families, but the Napthine and Newman governments are prepared to put their education and future at risk by refusing to sign up to the new model. It is unconscionable.

We cannot expect anything from a Coalition government. The Coalition has refused to commit to the Gonski model. It voted against the Education Bill in the House of Representatives. Tony Abbott says that the current system “is not broken” and not in need of fundamental change. The Coalition has no commitment to reducing disadvantage in education. According to Tony Abbott it is private schools that are the victims of an “injustice” because they get less public funding than government schools. The Coalition is ruthless in its protection of privilege in education. As Abbott has said, supporting the funding of Independent and Catholic schools is “in our DNA”.

Whatever happens at the next election, Gonski has given us something to fight for in the longer term. The Gonski model is the foundation on which to build the future. It is vital to meeting the biggest challenge facing Australian education – reducing the large achievement gap between rich and poor. This has to remain our fundamental priority in education policy.

In conclusion, I would like to pay tribute to the campaign that the Australian Education Union has run in support of Gonski. It has been a tremendous effort in a most extenuating and difficult political climate. On behalf of SOS and, I am sure, other supporters of public education everywhere, I would particularly like to congratulate the efforts of Angelo and his colleagues and express our heartfelt gratitude for your commitment and tenacity in fighting for a better deal for government schools and disadvantaged students.

Thank you.

The Gillard Funding Plan is a Watershed but is Not the Full Gonski.pdf

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School Autonomy Fails to Increase Student Achievement and Undermines Collaboration between Schools

This is a slightly abridged version of a submission by Save Our Schools to the Senate Education Committee Inquiry on Teaching and Learning. References are available in the submission.

Save Our Schools believes that the claims made about positive effects of greater school autonomy on student achievement are greatly exaggerated and ignore the weight of evidence from research studies that it has little to no effect on student results and can lead to greater inequality and social segregation. Continue reading “School Autonomy Fails to Increase Student Achievement and Undermines Collaboration between Schools”

Parent Engagement Improves Student Achievement

A  new report shows that parent engagement in learning improves student achievement, attitudes to school and wellbeing. It says that resourcing and developing parent engagement initiatives is essential to education reform and the future of Australia. Continue reading “Parent Engagement Improves Student Achievement”

The Federal Govt. Should End the Secrecy on its School Funding Model

Monday December 3, 2012

The Federal Government should end the secrecy on its preferred school funding model and release the details for public comment. There is a very real danger that the needs of government schools and disadvantaged students are being discounted in secret negotiations with state governments and private schools. Ending the secrecy would allow government school organisations to participate in the discussions.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on Friday provides the opportunity to end the secrecy. Further delay is inexcusable and unacceptable. It is now a full year since David Gonski handed his report to the PM. It then took her until August to agree to the broad recommendations about a new funding model. Last week, the Prime Minister presented draft legislation to the national parliament which amounted only to a policy statement.

The public has not been given any details on the amount of funding and how it will be allocated. All this is being negotiated behind closed doors with state and territory governments and Catholic and Independent schools. Government school organisations are excluded from the formal negotiations.

No one can seriously believe that the five Liberal state/territory governments are going to give priority to government schools and disadvantaged students. As Tony Abbott has said, supporting the funding of Independent and Catholic schools is “in our DNA”.

It is outrageous that government school organisations are not included in the negotiations. Government schools are entitled to have as much, if not more, say in the formulation of the new funding model as private schools. They enrol the vast majority of disadvantaged students for whom the Gonski recommendation for additional funding is intended.

The Government should immediately release its proposed model and engage with government school organisations over the details just as it is with private school groups.

Unless details of the new model are released this week there will be little opportunity for any genuine public scrutiny, debate and input on the model. The Government says that the details will not be released to the public until March or April next year. This is much too late. If left to then, the new funding arrangements will be a fait accompli to be rushed through the parliament before the Federal election.

There are many outstanding issues still to be considered thoroughly by government school organisations and the public.

One is the funding loadings to be applied to low socio-economic status (SES), Indigenous, remote area, disability and non-English speaking students. The funding loadings have received little public discussion, but they are critical to the model and will determine the total funding to be allocated to these students.

There is strong evidence to suggest that the Gonski report got it wrong on the funding loadings to be applied to low SES students. It proposed loadings ranging from an extra 10% of the school resource standard for each low SES student in schools with under 10% of students in the lowest SES quarter to 50% for each low SES student in schools with more than 75% of students in the lowest SES quarter. Thus, at best a low SES student in a very high SES school would be allocated and extra $5,000 if the national resource standard is determined at $10,000 per student.

This appears much too low to ensure that low SES students achieve a benchmark standard, which is only the minimum equity goal. Research studies show that educationally disadvantaged students should receive large additional funding to meet education standards. For example, several education cost studies show that the additional expenditure required for low income students is double or more the cost of educating an average student. This would require an additional $10,000 per student if the national resources standard is $10,000 per student.

If the loadings for low SES students are too low, then the total funding to be allocated to all disadvantaged students to achieve national minimum standards will also be too low. Thus, the extra $6.5 billion being discussed for disadvantaged students is unlikely to be enough.

Similarly, there should be more debate about the loadings for disability students. The Gonski report did not provide an indicative estimate of these loadings and the Government has failed to release any estimates for comment and discussion. This is a critical issue for government schools. They enrol nearly 80% of all disability students.

Another major issue that has not been discussed openly is how the Federal Government plans to ensure that all private schools are funded on a consistent basis without reducing the funding of “funding maintained” (FM) schools. FM schools are funded at higher rates than other schools on the same SES score.

The Government has committed to increasing funding for all private schools in real terms and that all students, regardless of school, will be funded on a consistent basis. This means that all schools on the same SES score will be funded at the same rate. It was a key recommendation of the Gonski report to counter the incoherence of the current SES funding model whereby schools on the same SES score may be funded at very different rates. It also means that FM schools will have their funding increased, not reduced.

These commitments imply that private schools currently funded at their SES score rate will have their funding increased to match that of FM schools. It will require a completely new set of funding rates that incorporates the highest FM rates at each SES score.

This would mean a massive funding boost for many elite private schools. For example, the Minister for Education’s old school, Barker College, could receive a huge increase of the order of $8 million a year, based on 2009 figures. Barker College is funded at the rate applying to its SES score of 127 which was $1,467 per primary student and $1,864 per secondary student in 2009. However, there are schools on the same SES score as Barker College but which are funded at much higher rates because they are FM schools. For example, the funding rates for St. Aloysius’ College at Milson’s Point were $2,682 per primary student and $3,801 per secondary student. The highest FM rates for schools on an SES score of 127 in 2009 were $4,710 and $5,984 for primary and secondary students respectively.

The Government’s commitments mean that Barker College and other schools funded at their SES rate will receive windfall increases in Federal Government funding. Many other elite schools would receive very large increases of over $4 million a year, based on 2009 figures.

In NSW, they include SCEGGS Redlands ($5.5 million), Abbotsleigh ($5.4 million), Newington College ($5.3 million), Cranbrook ($5 million) and The King’s School ($4.7 million). In Victoria, they include Caulfield Grammar ($9.6 million), Wesley College ($9.4 million), Carey Grammar ($7.9 million), Methodist Ladies College ($7.8 million), Scotch College ($7.1 million) and Melbourne Grammar ($6.8 million). In Queensland, they include Anglican Church Grammar ($5.4 million) and Brisbane Boys College ($5.7 million).

Similarly, Canberra Boys Grammar would gain $5.6 million and Canberra Girls Grammar $5.3 million. In Adelaide, the Pembroke School would get an increase of $5 million and Scotch College in Perth would gain $4.8 million.

Save Our Schools has estimated that the total windfall gain to private schools from the Government’s commitments at about $1.9 billion, but it could be more or less depending on the rate schedule adopted. This would put a huge hole in the Gonski funding bucket. The entire proposed 30% Federal Government contribution envisaged by the Gonski report would go to medium to high SES private schools and leave increased funding for disadvantaged students to the vagaries of negotiation with state and territory governments.

Such a windfall gain for well-off private schools would be an outrage and a calamity. It would be far better used to meet the educational needs of low income, Indigenous, disability and remote area students in government and private schools. It is these students who the Gonski report says should be given priority for future funding increases, not students from higher SES families.

The Government should come clean on the funding implications of its commitments to private schools. It should clarify whether it intends to deliver huge funding increases to higher SES private schools. Government secrecy is stopping public scrutiny.

While the Government’s commitment to implementing the Gonski funding model is a far reaching and welcome initiative, it has delayed releasing the details of its preferred funding model for far too long. It should immediately release them to allow public scrutiny and comment, especially by government school organisations which have been excluded from the process thus far.

Trevor Cobbold

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Study Reveals the Damage to Education by NAPLAN and My School

Together with many teachers, academics and others around Australia, we can only feel vindicated by a new study by researchers at the University of Melbourne that shows the disastrous consequences of reporting school results on national literacy and numeracy tests. Incredibly, 75% of teachers say that they now teach to the test because of the focus on the NAPLAN tests and 70% say that less time is now spent on other subjects in schools. Continue reading “Study Reveals the Damage to Education by NAPLAN and My School”

East Asian Education Problems Ignored

Thursday November 29, 2012

In a recent article in The Australian (November 23), Ben Jensen of the Grattan Institute in Melbourne has stressed the undoubted successes of East Asian education, but has ignored all its problems.

The price paid by children in East Asia for this educational success is that they do far more homework than Australian children – for example, Chinese children start serious homework in the first year of primary school, for as much as 2 hours per day, increasing to reach as much as 6-8 hours per day in the final years of high school.

East Asian children also engage in coaching classes from the primary school level on. PISA data show that around 20% of Korean children aged 15 spend over 4 hours per week on coaching in the areas of language, mathematics and other subjects. The comparable figures for Australia are less than 5%.

Therefore, it is simply not clear that what East Asian schools do accounts for the undoubted high achievements. Rather, the extra load carried by children out of school may be a major contributor.

These trends are criticised by many East Asian voices (not just critics in Australia), who argue that the obsession with educational success effectively robs children of their childhood.

In addition to all of this, there are strong arguments to suggest that the rapid emergence of an epidemic of short-sightedness in East Asia has been caused by this educational pressure. This not a minor matter, since in countries such as China, South Korea and Singapore, recent data suggest that over 80% of children need glasses by the time they finish school, and around 20% have such severe myopia that they are at much increased risk of the emergence of sight-threatening pathologies later in life.

In contrast, Australia achieves top 10 PISA performance levels, without imposing such high loads on students, and without an epidemic of myopia. We may have things to learn from East Asia, but East Asia has arguably at least as much to learn from the successes of Australian schools.

Ian Morgan

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Many Schools Have High Withdrawal Rates from NAPLAN

Monday November 26, 2012

While there have been large increases since 2008 in the percentage of students withdrawn from the NAPLAN tests, the average withdrawn remains low in all states and for Australia. However, these low averages disguise some very high withdrawal rates in many schools.

The average withdrawal rates across Australia in 2011 and 2012 were one to two per cent for the different Year levels tested. In contrast, 276 schools had withdrawal rates of 10% or more in 2011 according to the My School website (see table below). Seventy-eight schools had over 25% withdrawn and 32 schools had withdrawal rates of between 75 and 100%, most of the latter being Rudolf Steiner schools.

Victoria had the most schools with high withdrawal rates – 106 schools had withdrawal rates of 10% or more and 11 schools had between 75 and 100% of students withdrawn. Fifty-three schools in Queensland and 51 in South Australia had withdrawal rates of 10% or more.

Victorian schools accounted for 38% of all schools in Australia with high withdrawal rates, yet it accounts for only 24% of the total number of schools in Australia. In contrast, NSW has 33% of all schools in Australia yet has only 14% of schools with high withdrawal rates.

Schools with high withdrawal rates include both government and private schools. In 2011, 183 government schools and 93 private schools had high withdrawal rates. Private schools accounted for a slightly higher proportion than their share of total schools in Australia. They had 33% of schools with high withdrawal rates compared to 29% of the total of all schools.

Private schools accounted for the large proportion of schools with very high withdrawal rates. Seventy-three per cent of all schools that had 25% or more of their students withdrawn from NAPLAN were private schools.

Trevor Cobbold

Number of Schools and Withdrawal Rates from NAPLAN.pdf

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O’Farrell Refuses to Budge on School Funding Cuts

Saturday November 24, 2012

The NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, has refused to give any ground on his plan to slash $1.7 billion from the education budget over the next four years. He has rebuffed a call by a coalition of government and private school organisations for the cuts to be reversed. The coalition put the Premier on notice that he faces a major political backlash up to the next NSW election.

An unprecedented coalition of education groups representing parents, teachers and principals from all school systems in NSW met with the Premier and the Education Minister Mr Adrian Piccoli last Thursday. They warned that the cuts would seriously affect the education of all children in the state.

The representatives, who collectively form the NSW Education Alliance, left the meeting astounded that the Premier would continue trying to justify the biggest cuts to education in a generation when faced by the combined opposition of virtually every person involved in the NSW education system.

“We refuse to accept these cuts and today we told the Premier that we won’t back down. School communities across NSW will fight this decision until it is over-turned,” said Lila Mularczyk, the President of the NSW Secondary Principals Council.

“A budget is always about choices and priorities. It was absolutely astonishing that the Premier of NSW is willingly putting NSW education in jeopardy.”

Mr Stephen Grieve, the President of the NSW Parents Council, which represents parents of children at independent schools, warned the cuts would put the Government’s future at risk, despite its large majority.

“The Greiner Government had a significant majority but, after Dr Terry Metherell tried to behave in a similar fashion, they were reduced to a minority government,’’ Mr Grieve said.

“This coalition of very large groups, both professional associations and parents groups, from all sectors is simply unprecedented. It shows the resolute and implacable opposition to these cuts.”

“The cuts are outrageous and it is clear the Government has completely misunderstood the significance of education to the community. This is going to be a very rough period for the Government.”’

Dr John Collier, the chair of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia in NSW, said it was absurd that as the Federal Government was planning to give money with one hand through the Gonski process while the State Government was busy taking with the other.

“We can’t achieve the Government’s goal of improving educational performance when it is cutting funds for schools. It’s just not acceptable,” Dr Collier said.

“We’ve got everybody here in absolute agreement. We are determined to stand with our colleagues against any cuts to education.”

Independent schools will have to make cuts inside the school gate, Dr Collier said. “There is no bureaucracy where cuts can be made so this has to affect frontline services.”

Ms Danielle Cronin, the Executive Director of the Council of Catholic School Parents in NSW, said any reduction in funding will affect the quality of the Catholic schools and how many parents could afford to choose them.

“I think it is a tragedy that education across the board would have the guts ripped out of it by a Government which has said that education is a State priority,” Ms Cronin said.

“We measure the quality of our community by the quality of the education we provide our young people and that will be grossly undermined in NSW.”

A week earlier, the Alliance sent an open letter to the Premier vehemently opposing the funding cuts. The letter said that there is a vast gap between the Government’s rhetoric on school funding and its practice.

“It initially stood out in its forthright support for implementation of the Gonski recommendations. It has now demonstrated that this support will not be backed up by the funding needed. It has been determined to pass more responsibility and the associated workload to schools – it has now demonstrated that this will not be properly funded.”

“The recent announcement of a State Budget surplus undermines any credibility of the need for cuts to the education portfolio. This short-sighted approach also places at risk the access by NSW students and schools to the critically-needed Commonwealth funding recommended by the Gonski report.”

Since the open letter was distributed a number of other professional associations and unions have made contact with the group to participate in a campaign to reverse the NSW Government funding cuts to education.

They are being supported by many parents across the state. Warren Ross, a Katoomba government school parent, angrily wrote to his local MP:

“I have just come back from Sydney to protest against your cuts to public education where I met many people who will be affected by your actions. Before you were elected you didn’t tell us of these plans. Why not?….You are supposed to fight for your community not cower behind party dissembling… You either find money within your budget or join us in calling for a better deal from the Federal Government but this game of hiding behind each other must stop.”

Bungendore government school parent, Sharon Baxter-Judge, told a community public education forum in Queanbeyan earlier in the month that:

“I could not believe it when the O’Farrell Government announced a $1.7billion cut to education. This was after my local MP’s office told me a few months prior that they would be no funding cuts to education. Cuts to education are not necessary. They should never have been considered.”

The NSW Teachers’ Federation has vowed to fight the cuts. President, Maurie Mulheron, told the Queanbeyan meeting that “the huge cuts heralded one of the most dangerous times in the history of public education…the changes will be dramatic and far-reaching”.

As Lila Mularczyk of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council says:

“It is beyond comprehension that our state government that has carriage and responsibility for ensuring quality education for all students would prioritise subsidising casinos at the expense of our students’ future.”

It looks like the battle will continue into the next school year and on to the next NSW state election.

Trevor Cobbold

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