The Next National Schools Agreement Must Clearly Define Equity Goal

The Expert Panel reviewing the National Schools Reform Agreement (NSRA) has failed to adequately define   equity goals for the next Agreement. Its Consultation Paper released last month Panel adopted a flawed definition proposed by the Productivity Commission in its report on the Agreement. The Panel must revise its definition of equity in its final report to the Government in October. Failure to do so will mean continued failure to address the massive achievement gaps between rich and poor.

The current NSRA conspicuously fails to provide a clearly defined equity goal. It has perpetrated different meanings and interpretations of what constitutes equity in education This in turn leads to policy confusion and even contradictory approaches to improving equity. As a result many students continue to be denied an adequate education and achievement gaps between privileged and less privileged students continue. it also allows governments to avoid accountability for these failures and to misdirect funding increases to school sectors least in need.

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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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Private Schools Had the Biggest Funding Increases and the Biggest Falls in School Results

Some of the commentary on the Productivity Commission report on the National Schools Reform Agreement drew a simplistic and highly misleading link between increased school funding and results. It ignored the key facts that Catholic and Independent schools had the largest funding increases since 2009 and the largest declines in international test results. The figures suggest that private schools are much less efficient that public schools, especially given that public schools enrol the vast majority of disadvantaged students.

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Government Funding Failures Have Stoked Shocking Inequity in NSW School Outcomes

The following is a summary of an Education Research Paper on NSW school outcomes and funding. It can be downloaded below.

The latest NAPLAN results show shocking inequalities in school outcomes between highly advantaged and disadvantaged students in NSW. Very high proportions of low socio-economic status (SES), Indigenous and remote area students do not achieve national literacy and numeracy standards compared to very small proportions of high SES students. By Year 9, low SES, Indigenous and remote area students are several years of learning behind their high SES peers. There has been very little progress in reducing the learning gaps between rich and poor over the last decade or so.

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Shocking Inequalities in School Results

The following is a summary of a new research paper by Save Our Schools analysing the latest NAPLAN results. The paper can be downloaded below.

The latest NAPLAN reslts shows shocking inequalities in school outcomes between highly advantaged and disadvantaged students in Australia. Very high proportions of low socio-economic status (SES), Indigenous and remote area students do not achieve national literacy and numeracy standards compared to very small proportions of high SES students. By Year 9, low SES, Indigenous and remote area students are several years of learning behind their high SES peers. There has been very little progress in reducing the learning gaps between rich and poor over the last decade or so.

The paper shows that 29% of low SES Year 9 students were below the national reading standard in 2022, 38% were below the writing standard and 16% were below the numeracy standard. One-third of Indigenous students were below the reading standard, 44% were below the writing standard and 19% were below the numeracy standard. Nearly one-quarter of remote area students were below the reading standard, 35% were below the writing standard and 13% were below the numeracy standard. By contrast, 3% of Year 9 high SES students did not achieve the reading standard, 7% did not achieve the writing standard and 2% did not achieve the numeracy standard.

These are shocking inequities. For example, it is totally unacceptable that the percentage of low SES Year 9 students not achieving the national reading standard is 9 times that of high SES students and the proportion of Indigenous students not achieving the standard is 11 times that of high SES students. Remote area 8 times.

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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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Victoria is a Failed Education State

The following is a summary of a research paper on school outcomes and funding in Victooria.. The paper can be downloaded below.

Victoria is not the education state it claims. It is a failed education state because it has largely failed to improve results for disadvantaged students, the vast majority of whom attend public schools. Funding failures are a major factor behind the education failure.

There have been a few successes, most notably in some Indigenous outcomes, but they are few and far between. The Victorian election is an opportunity to fix the failures. The funding of public schools is a key test for candidates and parties.

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If Australia wants to improve school outcomes, we need to define what ‘equity’ really means

Last week, the Productivity Commission released a major report on how to improve Australia’s school and university sectors. “Education is ripe for disruption”, deputy chair Alex Robson said.

The commission suggests longer schooldays, online classes taught by qualified teachers, and streaming students into ability groups to improve Australia’s educational performance.

But while these ideas may work well for some students, they won’t necessarily work for all.

If Australia is serious about improving its education system, we need to look at improving the whole system, for all students. This means we need a clear definition of what equity means for schools.

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Equity in Education Must be Clearly Defined, Measured and Reported

Equity in education has long been a key national goal for schooling. Most recently, it is one of the key goals in the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Declaration of national goals. However, it has never been clearly defined. This deficiency has resulted in a variety of interpretations, inadequate target, limited reporting and lack of accountability for improving equity. Equity in education should be well-defined in order to effectively guide education policy and funding, measure equity and monitor progress in improving equity.

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Fully Fund Public Schools to Increase Productivity

Prime Minister Albanese says that increasing productivity is a priority for the Labor Government. A key component of increasing productivity is improving workforce knowledge and skills. However, major barriers to improving Australia’s workforce knowledge and skills include the large proportion of disadvantaged students who do not achieve an adequate level of education and the large achievement gaps between rich and poor. Over 80 per cent of disadvantaged students attend public schools and they are massively under-funded. Fully funding public schools will be fundamental to achieving Labor’s goal of increased productivity and economic prosperity because money matters in education.

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