Funding, Enrolments and Staffing in NSW Public Schools

The following is a summary of a submission to the Independent Inquiry on the Teaching Profession in NSW Public Schools. The full submission can be downloaded below.

The NSW public education system has undergone a huge expansion in bureaucracy since 2003. There was a massive increase in administrative staff in schools and in central and regional offices that is many times greater than the increase in students. Yet, there was only a very small increase in inflation-adjusted funding per student despite a large increase in disadvantaged students. Expanding the bureaucracy was prioritised over funding classroom learning and support. As one former principal told Save Our Schools, it reflects an “increase in roles orchestrating compliance not teaching, learning and curriculum”.

Government funding of NSW public schools increased by only $983 per student, adjusted for inflation, over 15 years between 2002-03 and 2017-18, an increase of 0.5% per year. The average increase was $66 per year. This small increase was due to increased Commonwealth funding as NSW Government funding was cut over the period. Commonwealth funding increased by $1,470 per student which was partially offset by a cut in NSW Government funding of $487 per student.

The small increase in real funding supported changes in the composition of enrolments and staffing. There also appears to have been a significant re-distribution of funds within the system to employ the larger proportion of administrative staff in schools and in central and regional offices.

There were large increases in enrolments of students who attract higher than average funding per student – Indigenous, disability and low SES students. The increases were much larger than for all students and likely accounted for much of the small increase in real funding. Some savings may have resulted from a reduction in enrolments of remote area students.

The number of primary school teachers increased by 14.5% between 2003 and 2019 while the number of secondary school teachers fell by 8.4%. The student-teacher ratio in primary schools fell slightly while it increased significantly in secondary schools. However, the extent of the changes requires further investigation because the way a teacher is defined in the NSW payroll system changed in 2018.

There were much larger increases in non-teaching staff in schools than in students in both primary and secondary public schools. Non-teaching staff in schools consist of specialist support, administrative and building/maintenance staff. Total non-teaching staff in primary schools increased by 66.3% and by 27.3% in secondary schools.

Specialist support staff in primary schools increased by 36.5% but were cut by 5.5% in secondary schools. There were large variations in the number of specialist support staff in schools over the period and the reasons for this and its impact on classroom teaching and learning require further investigation. However, specialist support staff continue to account for only a very small proportion of all school staff – 7% in primary schools and 10% in secondary schools.

Administrative staff account 86% of non-teaching staff in primary schools and 83% in secondary schools. They increased by 75% in primary schools since 2003, 7 times the number of students, and by 35.6% in secondary schools, over 20 times the number of students. As a result, they now account for a much larger proportion of school staff in 2019 than in 2003. One reason for the increase was to reduce the burden of administrative tasks on principals.

There was also a large increase in out-of-school staff between 2003 and 2019 of 65.7%. Out-of-school staff consist of staff in central and regional offices. The large majority out-of-school staff are classified as administrative and clerical staff and they increased by 30.7% between 2015 and 2019, 7 times the increase in students over the same period. Executive staff in central and regional offices increased by over 300% from 73 in 2015 to 314 in 2019.

The increase in administrative staff and non-school executive staff likely involved a re-distribution of funding resulting from reduced funding elsewhere in the system. For example, there was a significant change in the age profile of the teaching force with a large reduction in the proportion of teachers aged 50 and above and this may have resulted in lower costs per student. Similarly, changes in the proportion of teachers subject to permanent and short-term contracts may have led to savings in salaries and on-costs. Any increase in classroom teaching hours may have reduced the need to employ more teachers while increasing the load on existing teachers. However, more detailed data and analysis is required to determine the extent and sources of the redistribution of funding within the system and how it impacted on the teaching profession.

Despite the increase in administrative staff in schools, there is widespread concern about the administrative load being carried by teachers in complying with regulatory requirements and which involve excessive out-of-hours work. One teacher has said: “NSW arguably inflicts the most convoluted suite of bureaucratic measures on its teachers.” This administrative load on teachers is widely cited as a reason for experienced teachers leaving the workforce.

Although specific data is not available for NSW public schools, figures released last year by the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2018 show that teacher workload in Australia increased significantly since 2013 and the increase was one of the largest in the OECD. Working hours for Australian lower secondary teachers increased by two hours per week since 2013 and was the equal 3rd largest increase in the OECD. It also showed that Australian teachers spend significantly more time on non-teaching tasks, especially management and administrative tasks, than nearly every other OECD country. Australian teachers spend nearly 60% more time on management and administrative tasks than the average for the OECD.

The shift to more administrative staff in schools and out-of-schools seems to be a serious misallocation of resources when the priority should be to employ resources that have a direct impact in improving student outcomes generally and increasing equity in outcomes. Much of the funding used to employ the large increases in administrative staff may have been better used to employ more teachers and specialist support staff and invest in measures to attract and re-train teachers in subject areas suffering shortages to improve student outcomes.

The priority given to increasing non-teaching staff also means that teacher shortages in particular subjects and the extent of out-of-field teaching remain largely unaddressed despite the fact that they are significant factors influencing student outcomes. Furthermore, the attractiveness of the teaching profession is reduced when the funding to employ more non-teaching staff is sourced from employment of less experienced teachers with lower salaries, greater use of short-term contracts for teachers and increased face-to-face teaching hours. This is especially the case in secondary schools which have suffered an increase in the student-teacher ratio, shortages in specialist teachers for a number of subject areas and cuts in specialist support staff over much of the period since 2003.

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