This is a summary of a new Education Policy Brief published by Save Our Schools.
The Prime Minister and the Education Minister claim that the National Partnerships on Literacy and Numeracy and Low SES Schools have increased results for students in partnership schools since 2008. They claim that schools participating in these programs have reduced the proportion of students below the national benchmarks by more than other schools and increased their average NAPLAN results by more than other schools.
Unfortunately, the Government’s claims are highly questionable. The evidence released by the Government to support its claims is weak, selective, inconsistent, and is contradicted by other NAPLAN data.
There is evidence that the proportion of students below the national minimum standards in reading and numeracy in Years 3 and 5 has been reduced in the Literacy and Numeracy partnership schools by more than in all schools. However, the evidence is a best-case picture as the differences will be smaller when the margins of error on school test results, which are not reported in the NAPLAN data and the Government’s analysis, are taken into account.
This evidence is further weakened by a comparison of changes in average test scores. There is little difference between increases in the average scores of the Literacy and Numeracy partnership schools and all schools between 2008 and 2012. There is unlikely to be any statistically significant difference in the results when the margins of error are considered.
The evidence advanced to support the strong claims for progress under the Low SES Schools partnership is very weak. There is no evidence that these schools have reduced the proportion of students below the national benchmarks by more than other schools or increased their average NAPLAN results by more than other schools.
The Government has based its claims for progress on selective data – for reading and numeracy in Years 3 and 5. It did not provide results for Years 7 and 9. This data is necessary to test the Government’s claims. There are also inconsistencies between the data published for Literacy and Numeracy partnership and for the Low SES Schools partnership.
Significantly, the Government’s claims are contradicted by other NAPLAN data that shows little or no overall improvement amongst low SES students and a widening of the gap between high and low SES students [see charts]. This was also the finding of a recent report by the National Audit Office on the Literacy and Numeracy partnership.
The major reason for the apparent lack of success of these programs is that despite what seem to be large amounts of money allocated to them, it amounts to very little per school and per student. It is enough to buy in some extra resources and it has made a difference to some schools and disadvantaged students. However, it is far from adequate to make a sustained improvement in the achievement of all disadvantaged schools and students.
In the case of the Low SES Schools partnership, the total funding only delivers about $252,000 per school per year and about $924 per student per year, or a loading of 0.09 per disadvantaged student if the national resource standard is $10,000 per student. In the case of the Literacy and Numeracy partnership, the respective figures are about $136,000 per school per year and $360 per student per year, a loading of 0.04 per student.
These loadings are very small compared to those suggested by research studies as needed to bring disadvantaged students up to performance standards. These studies show that loadings of up to 1.0 or more are needed.
This is much larger than even the low SES loadings suggested in the Gonski report which range from 0.1 to 0.5. The maximum Gonski loading would mean an extra $5,000 per student with a national resource standard of $10,000 per student. This should be the minimum loading for disadvantaged students in the new funding model to be announced by the Federal Government. The total cost of $4.4 billion is well within the proposed Gonski funding pool.
Adequate funding loadings for disadvantaged students must be a fundamental feature of any new funding model. The loadings will be a test of the Federal Government’s resolve to address disadvantage in education as it under pressure from private school organisations to keep the loadings small.
Private school organisations claim that the base payments under the Gonksi model are too low and that too much money will be funnelled into government schools through the loadings. These claims must be rejected. Private school organisations want the loadings to be small to ensure more funding for private schools at the expense of government schools that enrol about 80% of disadvantaged students.
The size of the funding loadings for disadvantaged students in the Government’s new funding model will be a signal of where the Government is going on school funding. Is it going to bow once more to the self-interested demands of private schools or is it genuine in wanting to improve the results of our most disadvantaged students, the large majority of whom are in government schools?