School Funding in a Time of Teacher Shortage

The spectre of teacher shortage will haunt the next meeting of Australia’s education ministers.

Without swift action from Commonwealth and state/territory governments, this growing crisis will exacerbate the difficulties that commonly face disadvantaged schools in finding sufficient teachers for students most at risk of falling behind.

Australia is poorly placed to deal with this crisis. OECD data shows that 34 per cent of students enrolled in a disadvantaged school in Australia lack sufficient teaching staff, compared to 3 per cent in an advantaged school. This not only puts students at risk as individuals.  It also entails risk to the wider society, through planting the seeds of social division.

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Submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry on Philanthropy

Save Our Schools (SOS) welcomes the Commission’s draft recommendation to end the Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status of school building funds. The Draft Report makes a compelling case to end the tax concession for school building funds based on four clear reasons.

  • There is no clear rationale for the concession that was provided when private schools did not receive government funding. Any rationale that existed in the 1950s has been overcome by huge increases in government funding. The concession has outlived its usefulness. Private schools received a huge range of funding programs by the Commonwealth and state/territory governments;
  • The benefits of DGR status accrue to individuals connected with the schools such as students, parents and alumni rather than providing community wide benefits;
  • DGR status is not an effective or efficient way to deliver government capital funding to schools. There is no prioritisation of or systematic assessment of government funding for capital works according to need. Funding capital works through DGR status does not align with current funding principles which purport to be based on need;
  • The DGR status of school building funds depletes the revenue base of the Commonwealth Government unnecessarily.

SOS agrees with the Commission’s finding that the DGR system is not fit for purpose in relation to school building funds.

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Funding Agreements Need to do Better for Public Schools

 Today’s announcement that the Commonwealth and Western Australian Governments will each increase funding for Western Australian public schools by 2.5% of their Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) is a significant step forward. The Commonwealth is to be congratulated for breaking with the arbitrary limit on its funding of public schools set by the Turnbull Government. It is particularly pleasing that disadvantaged schools will be fully funded by 2026.

However, the new agreement has let the WA Government off the hook.  It has cut its funding share for public schools from 84.4% of their SRS in 2018 to 75% in 2024. It has also used accounting tricks to defraud public schools of another 4.4% of their SRS. The accounting tricks are retained in the new agreement and ensure the WA public schools will continue to be under-funded until at least 2029.

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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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