Reducing huge inequality in education between rich and poor is the most urgent education issue facing the next NSW government. Large proportions of low socio-economic status (SES), Indigenous and remote area students are not achieving national education standards and they are far behind high SES students.
For example, 40% of low SES Year 9 students, 50% of Indigenous students and 62% of remote area students do not achieve the writing standard. The percentages below the reading and numeracy standards are much less, but still unacceptable.
Low SES Year 9 students are over four years behind their high SES peers in reading, writing and numeracy, while Indigenous and remote area students are five to six years behind. This is simply scandalous.
Eighty per cent or more of disadvantaged students attend government schools. However, total federal and state funding of NSW government schools fell in real terms by 0.9% per student between 2008-09 and 2012-13 while private school funding increased by 12.5%. The disparity was due to the failure of the current and previous NSW governments to increase government school funding.
This has to change if we are to reduce inequity and improve the life chances of disadvantaged children. It would also increase workforce skills and economic growth in NSW.
To its eternal credit, the NSW Government defied the Abbott Government to take the lead in adopting the Gonski funding plan by implementing needs-based funding and increasing government school funding into the future. However, more can be done to accelerate closing the achievement gaps.
Political parties in NSW should commit to increasing funding loadings for disadvantaged students in both government and private schools. This could be financed by reducing funding for private schools that enrol few disadvantaged students but enjoy up to double the resources of disadvantaged government schools.