Audit Commission Ignores the High Concentration of Disadvantage in Government Schools

The National Commission of Audit report has recommended not proceeding with the planned Gonski funding increases for 2018 and 2019. Instead, it recommended that school funding be indexed beyond 2017 by a weighted average of the Consumer Price Index and the education and training wage price index. At best, this will mean no real increases in funding, only increases in line with rising costs. At worst, it may lead to a cut real funding depending on the actual indexation arrived at.

The recommendation will deny schools the funding they need to reduce disadvantage in education, which was the whole focus of the Gonski report. Implementation of the Gonski funding increase would have seen Federal funding for schools increase by 6.5 per cent in real terms (that is, adjusted for inflation) per year. The large bulk of these increases would have gone to government schools.

The Audit Commission has completely ignored the extent of disadvantage in education in Australia and its social and economic costs. The Commission’s recommendation against increasing real funding would impact most heavily on government schools because they bear the large burden of disadvantage in education. It means that government schools will be denied the resources that the Gonski report said they need for Australia to improve average school results and reduce the large gap between rich and poor.

Analysis of the new data on the My School website demonstrates the need for the Federal and state governments to continue with the planned funding increases for government schools. Disadvantaged schools have much lower average literacy and numeracy results than advantaged schools. There is a much greater concentration of disadvantage in government schools than in private schools and a much greater concentration of advantage in private schools.

In 2013, there were 1570 schools in Australia with 50 per cent or more students from the lowest socio-economic status (SES) quartile. Of these, 94 per cent were government schools, three per cent were Catholic schools and two per cent Independent schools [Figure 1]. Only 301 schools (three per cent of all schools) had 75 per cent or more students in the lowest SES quartile – 87 per cent were government schools, six per cent were Catholic schools and seven per cent were Independent schools.

There were 3816 schools with 30 per cent or more of their students in the lowest SES quartile. Of these, 91 per cent were government schools, six per cent were Catholic schools and three per cent were Independent schools.

One quarter of all government schools had 50 per cent or more students in the lowest SES quartile compared to only three per cent of Catholic schools and four per cent of Independent schools [Figure 2]. Fifty-six per cent of all government schools had 30 per cent or more students in the lowest SES quartile compared to 14 per cent of Catholic schools and 12 per cent of Independent schools. Only small proportions of schools in each sector had 75 per cent or more students in the lowest quartile.

In contrast, only nine per cent of government schools had 50 per cent or more students from the highest SES quartile compared to 13 per cent of Catholic schools and 32 per cent of Independent schools [Figure 3]. Ten per cent of Independent schools had 75 per cent or more students in the highest quartile compared to one per cent of government schools and Catholic schools. Almost 60 per cent of Independent schools and nearly 40 per cent of Catholic schools had 30 per cent or more students from the highest quartile compared to 18 per cent of government schools.

Low SES schools account for a much larger proportion of all government schools than in either the Catholic or Independent school sectors. Very low and low SES schools comprise 31 per cent of all government schools but only six per cent of Catholic schools and Independent schools [Figure 4]. In contrast, only 19 per cent of government schools are high or very high SES schools compared to 41 per cent of Catholic schools and 62 per cent of Independent schools. Virtually all Independent schools are medium and high SES schools.

Government schools account for the very large proportion of all low SES schools. In 2013, 86 per cent of all very low SES schools and 95 per cent of low SES schools were government schools.

Numerous research studies show that high concentration of low SES students in schools has a compounding effect on student results. There is a “double jeopardy” effect in that they tend to be disadvantaged because of their family circumstances, but when they are also segregated into low SES schools they are likely to fare even worse. Studies presented to the Gonski review of school funding and studies from Murdoch University show strong evidence of such effects in Australian schools.

With disadvantaged students lagging two to three years behind their advantaged peers in literacy, numeracy and science, government schools face greater challenges than private schools to meet national education goals. However, government schools are much less well-resourced than private schools to meet those challenges. The latest figures from the My School website show that the total income of government schools at $12,368 per student was only slightly more than in Catholic schools at $11,709 per student and way below that of Independent schools at $15,997 per student.

Moreover, government funding increases over the last decade or more have favoured private schools. Government funding increases for the richest schools in Australia have far outstripped increases for government schools.

For example, figures from Senate Estimates show that Federal Government funding per student in 32 high SES NSW private schools increased by an average of 103 per cent between 2001 and 2012. This compares to the total increase in government school funding of 71 per cent. In Victoria, Federal Government funding per student increased by 214 per cent in 28 high SES Victorian private schools. This compares to a total increase of 61 per cent for government schools.

The Gonski report found that government schools in Australia are under-resourced for the challenges they face. An OECD report on the 2013 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) shows that the gaps in human and material resources between disadvantaged and advantaged secondary schools in Australia are among the largest of all the countries participating in PISA, and certainly among the higher performing countries. Only one country – Taiwan – out of 65 nations participating in PISA has a greater gap between advantaged and disadvantaged schools in teacher shortages than Australia. Only ten countries have greater inequity than Australia in the allocation of educational resources.

The report concluded that: “High-performing countries tend to allocate resources more equitably across socio-economically advantaged and disadvantaged schools” [17]. Australia is clearly failing in this. School funding increases have not been directed to where they are most needed. As a result, the achievement gaps between rich and poor have increased or remained unchanged as seen in the PISA and NAPLAN test results.

It is imperative that Federal and state governments reject the recommendation of the Audit Commission and implement the full Gonski funding plan in forthcoming budgets. Funding for government schools must be increased if we are to make increase the proportion of low SES students achieving national standards rates, increase retention rates to Year 12 and reduce the gaps between rich and poor. The onus is on the Federal Government to set a national example by sticking to the Gonski funding plan for the full six years in next week’s Budget.

Charts on the Concentration of Disadvantage in Australian Schools

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