Expert Panel on School Reform Must Support Closing the Gap Between Rich and Poor

Save Our Schools (SOS) today called on the Expert Panel reviewing the National Schools Reform Agreement (NSRA) to address the shocking gaps in school outcomes between rich and poor. Trevor Cobbold, National Convenor of SOS, said that there are massive achievement gaps between highly advantaged and highly disadvantaged students that must be closed.

“Closing the achievement gaps is the fundamental challenge facing Australian education. The Expert Panel must ensure that its policy recommendations for the next NSRA are focussed on closing the gaps. It must set clear targets to achieve greater equity in school outcomes.

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Our Better Angels: Should We Include or Segregate Students?

A disputed recommendation from the Disability Commission’s Report is whether or not segregated education should be phased out from 2025. Those Commissioners advocating such a change are on the side of our better angels. It is proper to have an inclusive society and we should condemn any section of our community that segregates sections of the population. Any form of segregation evokes the injustice experienced when societies were divided by the colour of one’s skin. This segregation is motivated by a child’s ability, on the face of it equally offensive. So, why is there some support for segregation in education and why is this only a problem for students with disabilities?

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The Next Schools Agreement Must Embrace Key Principles for School Funding

Save Our Schools (SOS) has called on the Expert Panel reviewing the National Schools Reform Agreement to recommend some key principles to guide the future funding of schools. These principles should include fully funding public schools by 2028, no special deals for private schools, a greater role for the Commonwealths in funding public schools and an end to the defrauding of public schools by state governments.  SOS has also recommended the Panel adopt a target of halving class sizes in disadvantaged schools.

These recommendations are outlined in the SOS submission to the Expert Panel. It says that the Panel must consider the funding principles to guide the next NSRA. There is no justification for the claim that school funding is outside the terms of reference of the Panel. Future funding principles are well within its terms of reference because the terms require the Panel to consider how funding can better linked to student outcomes. In part, the terms of reference ask the Panel to ensure public funding delvers on national agreements. This necessitates some basic principles to guide future funding. Developing such principles would not transgress the Minister’s edict that the Panel should not review how the SRS is calculated.

The key principles recommended by SOS are:

  1. Funding for public and private schools should be based strictly on a needs-basis in order to deliver increased outcomes for students in the priority equity cohorts;
  2. The Commonwealth Government should play a greater role in funding for increased equity in education;
  3. The Commonwealth-State funding agreements must ensure that both parties live up to their commitments and responsibilities to deliver equity in education;
  4. Public schools should be fully funded at 100% of their SRS within the life of the next NSRA;
  5. The integrity of the SRS must be maintained and not diluted;
  6. There must be increased reporting on target outcomes and the use of taxpayer funding.

The submission also calls for the next NSRA to support halving class sizes in disadvantaged schools.

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The Fallacy of the Genetic Determination of Inherent Cognitive Abilities

Inequity in education is the key challenge facing Australian education policy. One of the fundamental premises of the approach by Save Our Schools is that the mean and range of intrinsic abilities, however they are defined and measured, should be the same across different social groups, whether defined in terms of social class, ethnicity, or any other broad characteristic. As the Gonski Report stated as justification for its definition of social equity in education:

Central to the panel’s definition of equity is the belief that the underlying talents and abilities of students that enable them to succeed in schooling are not distributed differently among children from different socioeconomic status, ethnic or language backgrounds, or according to where they live or go to school. (1)

This has been a controversial area over many years, with a consistent pattern of assertions that genetics determines class and ethnic/racial differences, through differences in intrinsic cognitive ability, and that, as a result, interventions cannot change differences in educational outcomes by social group. (2) These claims have consistently been contested, often hotly given their social importance, on both direct scientific and practical grounds (3-5). In addition, there has always been evidence that there are major environmental impacts on IQ (6) and that social change and intervention programs can change outcomes, (7) particularly for equity target groups.

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Achieving Equity in Education is Contingent on Clearly Defining It

The following is an importannt paper by Professor Pasi Sahlberg of the Melbourne Graduate School of Educatian, University of Melbourne. It was originally published in the JJournal & Proceedings of the Royal Society of NSW. It is re-published here with permission of the Society.

When I arrived in Australia four years ago from Finland, I was inspired by this question: How can we make Australian school education more equitable? At the time of my arrival The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and several domestic reviews and research had pointed out the poor state of equity of Australian education. It was not that policies and strategies would have been blind to see these inequalities that had jeopardised learning and opportunities for better lives of millions young Australians. It was more about lack of clarity of what equity in education means, why it matters for the nation, and who should be held accountable for improving equity.

 One of the first question I had in mind was this: What do Australian adults think about educational equity? Do they think our school education is fair for all students? Is school education inclusive in a sense that it would offer opportunities to succeed to all kinds of learners? What does equity in education mean? Do they care about this issue at all?

Academics normally think about systematic ways to answers basic questions like those above. So did we. A national survey (Gonski Institute, 2020) that included more than two thousand adults in NSW explored their beliefs and attitudes about educational equity. The results were unexpected, at least to me. By using a scale from 1 to 10, the importance of achieving educational equity in Australia was rated 9, on average. These same people rated the NSW school systems a 6.3 on a 10-point scale evaluating their performance on educational equity. Nine of ten respondents thought equity should be either a single or dual priority in Australian education. They expected equity and excellence from school policymakers.

My takeaway was that NSW parents that constituted most of our survey respondents want more equitable education in Australia. Many of them see it as a moral imperative, some even as a human rights issue. The survey also showed that people have a wide range of beliefs regarding what equity is all about. Often educational equity was seen as a synonym of equality of educational opportunity. Sometimes if meant fairness in education outcomes. People clearly have wide range of meanings to explain what equity in education is about.

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Labor Betrays Public Schools & Disadvantaged Students

The public education advocacy group, Save Our Schools, today slammed the decision of the Labor Government to delay the introduction of the next National Schools Reform Agreement (NSRA) until 2025. SOS National Convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said that it is an act of betrayal of under-funded public schools and disadvantaged students.

“This is Labor perfidy at its worst. Labor is denying full funding of public schools indefinitely.

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Education Ministers Must Commit to Fully Funding Public Schools

Save Our Schools calls on the Education Ministers’ meeting on Wednesday to commit to fully funding public schools by 2027. SOS National Convener, Trevor Cobbold, said that Ministers must end their silence on when public schools will be fully funded: “The inaction by governments must end”.

“Public schools are massively under-funded. At present, they are only funded at 87.1% of their Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) on average across Australia and they will be under-funded indefinitely under the current arrangements. There is no plan in place to get them to 100%. As a result, public schools are missing out on about $6 billion in funding each year.

“By contrast, private schools are funded at 104.3% on average and will be over-funded for the rest of the decade.

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A Guide to Research on Vouchers

School vouchers have devastating effects on student outcomes. Full stop. .

Large-scale independent studies in D.C.,IndianaLouisiana, and Ohio show that for kids who left public schools, harmful voucher impacts actually meet or exceed what the pandemic did to test scores. That’s also a similar impact in Louisiana to what Hurricane Katrina did to student achievement back in 2005.

Think about that next time you hear a politician or activist claim we need taxpayer support for private schools to offset what the pandemic did to student learning. Here, their cure would in test score terms be quite literally worse than the disease.

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Our Public Schools in Crisis

Public schools in Victoria as we have known them for so long no longer exist. I never thought I would see the day when that fundamental and unique pillar of strength of the public education system, systemic collegiality and team work would be dismantled. It devastates me to see the growing evidence, almost daily, of a dog-eat-dog culture springing up across the public system.

It isn’t new news to anyone that we are experiencing a teacher shortage of disturbing levels, levels I’ve not witnessed in my fifty plus years in Victorian public schools. What is new, are the desperate measures to which principals are turning to attract and retain staff. wage and work conditions inducements, are being dangled in front of teachers, either to lure them out of their existing positions or have them change their minds after accepting an appointment at another school, days and even hours after doing so.

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Media Release: Victoria is a Failed Eductaion State

The public education group, Save Our Schools, today called on candidates in the state election to commit to fully funding public schools. National Convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said “far from being the education state, Victoria is a failed education state”.

“It was a premature step by the Andrews Government to change Victorian car number plates to read ‘The Education State’. The latest NAPLAN school results show this to be a mistake; the number plates should say: ‘A Failed Education State.’

“Victoria is a failed education state because it has failed disadvantaged students and public schools. Funding failures are a key contributor to the education failure.

“Successive Commonwealth and Victorian governments have failed to fully fund public schools with the result that they are vastly under-funded to meet the learning needs of disadvantaged students, over 80% of whom attend public schools.

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