Huge Funding Bid by ACT Private Schools Should be Rejected

This article is a summary of an Education Policy Brief published by Save Our Schools. It can be downloaded below.

Private schools in Canberra are pressuring for a massive across-the-board 43% increase in funding by the ACT Government. They want Territory funding increased from about 17.5% to 25% of average government school costs.

The Catholic Education Commission, the ACT Association of Independent Schools and the Association of Parents and Friends of ACT Schools have all called for the increase to be applied to all private schools. Undoubtedly, this will be the focus of a private school campaign in the lead up to the ACT election this October.

The proposed increase would amount to about $19 million a year on 2010 funding figures, increasing from $44 million to $63 million. Catholic schools would receive an increase of $13.5 million and Independent schools $5.4 million.

This is an incredible claim which should be rejected on several grounds. It would compound the already privileged funding position of high socio-economic status (SES) private schools in the ACT. It is contrary to the new approach to school funding being developed following the Gonski review of school funding in Australia. It would reduce the funding available to address the major challenge facing ACT education – the large achievement gap between rich and poor students

Much of the increase would go to high SES schools

An across-the-board 43% increase in Territory funding would give high SES private schools even more privileged funding which bears little relation to student need. Nearly three-quarters of the increase – around $14 million – would go to high SES private schools even though they comprise less than two-thirds of ACT private schools.

Several high SES private schools would have their funding increased by around $1 million or more a year. Marist College would gain an additional $1.6 million a year; Daramalan College would get an additional $1.4 million, while St. Clare’s College and St. Edmund’s College would get an extra $1 million a year. Amongst Independent schools, Burgmann Anglican School and Radford College would get increases of nearly $1 million and Trinity Christian an increase of $0.8 million. Canberra Boys Grammar and Canberra Girls Grammar would each get an increase of about $0.6 million.

In addition, 39 of Canberra’s 44 private schools are already over-funded by the Federal Government and receive substantial funding and other support by the ACT Government. The schools received a total of $48.7 million in over-funding in 2011. ACT Catholic schools were over-funded by $38.2 million and Independent schools were over-funded by $10.4 million.

Many schools were over-funded by several million dollars. Amongst Catholic schools, Daramalan was over-funded by $4.6 million, Marist by $4.5 million, St. Clare’s by $3.3 million, St. Mary McKillop by $2.9 million, Merici and St. Francis Xavier by $2.6 million, and St. Edmund’s by $2.5 million. Of the Independent schools, Burgmann Anglican School was over-funded by $3.4 million and Radford College by $2.2 million.

These totals also disguise very high levels of over-funding per student for high SES schools. The highest SES Catholic primary schools received the most over-funding: St. Bede’s ($3352 per student), St. Thomas More’s ($2983), St. Joseph’s ($2624), Holy Trinity ($2741), Sts. Peter and Paul ($2741), Rosary ($2256), St.Jude’s ($2256) and St. Vincent’s ($2256). High SES Catholic schools were also over-funded by large amounts per student: Daramalan ($3116), Marist ($2818), St. Clare’s ($2755) and Merici ($2600). Several high SES Independent schools also received high over-funding per student: Brindabella Christian School ($2780), Burgmann Anglican ($2443) and the Orana School ($2355).

Despite claims by the Catholic Education Commission that it re-distributes block funding according to need, a comparison of the Catholic systemic funding rate and actual funding of schools shows high SES Catholic schools received all, or virtually all, of the systemic rate while nearly all the lowest SES schools received less or similar funding to the systemic rate.

In 2010, only six of the twelve highest SES Catholic primary schools (with SES scores of 118 or above) in Canberra received less Federal funding than the FM rate for systemic Catholic schools. In each case, the difference was less than $500 per student. The difference amounted to less than 10% of nominal over-funding in three of the six schools, 16% of nominal over-funding for two others and 21% for the other school. Funding for the two highest SES schools was three times what they were entitled to according to their SES score and double the entitlement of other high SES schools. Funding for the two high SES secondary schools was actually greater than the FM rate, perhaps due to other Federal funding programs.

There is also little evidence of re-distribution to lower SES Catholic schools. Three of the six lowest SES Catholic primary schools received less Federal funding than the block FM rate while there was little difference in the case of two others. Federal funding exceeded the block FM rate for only one of primary school and secondary school and this may be due partly to funding under other Federal programs.

The claimed increase is contrary to the new direction in school funding set by the Gonski report

The claim for a general across-the-board increase in Territory funding for ACT private schools is contrary to the new approach to school funding recommended by the Gonksi review of school funding. The report recommended a new school funding model which integrates federal and state/territory funding of government and private schools. It also recommended that the Federal and State/Territory governments should increase school funding by $5 billion a year to reduce the effects of disadvantage on school outcomes.

The report has received widespread support from private school organisations. Consultations and development work are proceeding on implementing its recommendations and involve governments and stakeholders, including private school organisations.

Granting a 43% increase in Territory funding of private schools is entirely premature while development work and negotiations are proceeding on implementation of the Gonski report. It would amount to outright rejection of the report.

In the event of no general Federal/State agreement on the Gonski recommendations, the ACT Government should negotiate a bilateral deal with the Federal Government. This would be preferable to continuing with a flawed and inequitable private school funding model and acceding to an increase in Territory funding of private schools regardless of student disadvantage and learning need.

Funding increases should be directed at reducing disadvantage

A large indiscriminate increase in Territory funding for high SES private schools would mean that less funding is available to address the major challenge facing ACT education – the large achievement gap between rich and poor students. The priority should be to improve the results of low achieving students, in both government and private schools, and reduce the achievement gap, not to increase funding for schools least in need.

Despite having high average results, the ACT has a significant proportion of students achieving below international and national standards and a large achievement gap between rich and poor.

In 2009, 13% of ACT 15 year-old students did not achieve the international reading proficiency benchmark of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), 14% did not achieve the mathematics benchmark and 11% did not achieve the science benchmark. The latest PISA results also show that the ACT has the largest achievement gap between high and low SES students in Australia. On average, low SES students are about three to four years in learning behind high SES students.

Low SES students are doing worse than those in most other states. Their average results are about six months or more of schooling behind low SES students in all other states except Tasmania and the Northern Territory. The latest PISA report effectively condemns the ACT Government’s record in meeting the needs of low SES students. It says:

….low socioeconomic students in the Australian Capital Territory are not particularly well served by their education system, with average scores for these students only just above those for Tasmania and the Northern Territory, and between 19 and 24 score points lower than students of the same socioeconomic level in the other five states. [p. 281]

The latest NAPLAN results also show large achievement gaps between children of highly educated and highly skilled parents and those from lowly educated and low-skilled families. For example, Year 5 and Year 9 students of low educated and low-skilled parents are about three to four years behind students of high educated and highly skilled parents in literacy and numeracy.

The major funding increase for ACT schools to reduce the effects of disadvantage should go to government schools because the large majority of low income and other disadvantaged students attend government schools.

Data compiled from the 2006 Census by the researcher Barbara Preston shows that about three-quarters (74%) of all low income students in the ACT attend government schools compared with 20% attending Catholic schools and only 6% in Independent schools. ABS data shows that 80% of Indigenous students in the ACT were enrolled in government schools in 2011 compared to 17% in Catholic schools and only 3% in Independent schools. Unpublished data provided by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations shows that 80% of disability students in the ACT were enrolled in government schools in 2009 compared to 15% in Catholic schools and 5% in Independent schools.

Low income, Indigenous and disability students also form a much larger proportion of total enrolments in government schools than in Catholic and Independent schools. Data from My School shows that low income students account for 14 per cent of government school enrolments compared to 6 per cent of Catholic school enrolments and only 2 per cent of Independent school enrolments.

Low income students comprise 10% or more of total enrolments in only 5 out of 30 Catholic schools. No Independent school has more than 10% of its students from low income families. In contrast, two-thirds of all government schools (50 out of 78) have more than 10% of their students from low income families. Over one-quarter (21) of all government schools have 20% or more of their students from low income families compared to only one Catholic school and no Independent schools.

Indigenous students comprise 3.2% of enrolments in government schools compared to 1.4% of Catholic school enrolments and 0.5% of Independent school enrolments. Students with disabilities comprise 5.2% of government school enrolments compared to 1.8% of Catholic school enrolments and 1.3% of Independent school enrolments.

The ACT has a shameful record on equity in education. It is shameful for such a well-off community. The forthcoming election provides an opportunity for parties to begin to re-dress this record. They should reject self-serving claims from private school organisations for even more privileged funding for the well-off. Instead, they should support the implementation of the recommendations of the Gonski report to increase funding to reduce the effects of disadvantage in education. They should commit to a comprehensive funding program to improve the results of low achieving students and reduce the gap between rich and poor.

Trevor Cobbold

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