The Save Our Schools submission to the School Funding Review calls for an increase in funding for government schools of $6-9 billion a year to start reducing the large achievement gaps between rich and poor in Australia. It recommends that the current funding model for private schools be terminated and replaced by a new funding model which integrates government funding of government and private schools. It suggests that a federal schools commission be established to co-ordinate school funding.
The new integrated school funding model for government and private schools would consist of a community standard of resources for all schools, a baseline funding component and equity funding components.
Increasing equity in education is the main policy priority
The submission says that achieving equity in education outcomes is the major challenge facing Australian education and that all governments should give priority to reducing the achievement gaps between rich and poor. It recommends that achieving equity in education should consist of dual goals.
First, all students should be expected and supported to achieve an adequate education to enable them to fully participate in adult society. This is called the adequacy objective. It means that all students should complete Year 12 or its equivalent.
At present, high proportions of students from low socio-economic status (SES) families, Indigenous students and remote area students are not making expected progress in school and are do not complete Year 12.
In 2009, 22-28% of low SES 15 year-old students did not achieve international proficiency standards in reading, mathematics and science in 2009. Thirty-five to 40% of Indigenous students and 24-33% of remote area students did not achieve the standards.
In 2008, 42% of low SES and 49% of remote area students failed to complete Year 12. Some 55% of Indigenous students enrolled in Years 7/8 fail to progress through to Year 12
Second, students from different social groups, including high SES, low SES, Indigenous and remote area students should achieve similar average outcomes. This is called the social equity objective.
The distribution of education outcomes between different social groups has a key bearing on access to occupations and positions of power in society. Even if all young people achieve the threshold, large inequalities in outcomes above the threshold can still occur between social groups and differentially affect the life chances of individuals according to their membership of social groups.
At present, there are massive differences between the results of high SES students and low SES, Indigenous and remote area students. On average, 15 year-old low SES students are two to three years behind high SES students in reading, mathematics and science. The gaps have increased slightly since 2006. Low SES students enrolled in schools with a high proportion of students from low SES families are nearly four years behind students from high income families in high SES schools.
Fifteen year-old Indigenous students are three to four years behind high SES students and remote area students are two to three years behind.
A massive boost in funding for government schools is needed to improve equity in education
The large proportion of low SES, Indigenous and remote area students attend government schools. Nearly 80% of low SES, 86% of Indigenous students and 84% of remote area students are enrolled in government schools across Australia.
As a result, government schools face a much bigger challenge than private schools in dealing with education disadvantage. They have more to do with their resources. Yet, government schools have much fewer resources than Independent schools and similar resources to Catholic schools.
Average total expenditure in government schools in Australia in 2007-08 (the latest year for which comparative figures are available) was $10,723 per student compared to $15,147 in Independent schools and $10,399 in Catholic schools. The average expenditure in all private schools was $12,303 per student.
Yet, government funding increases have favoured private schools over the past decade. Funding for government schools increased by 67% between 1998-99 and 2007-08 compared to 84% for Catholic schools and 112% for Independent schools. Large funding increases have gone to schools serving the wealthiest families in Australia. Thus, government funding increases have favoured supporting privilege over reducing disadvantage.
The SOS submission recommends that governments should formulate a five-year funding program to reduce the large achievement gaps between high SES students and low SES, Indigenous and remote areas students. The program should include a multi-billion dollar increase in funding for government schools over the five-year period.
The submission estimates that an additional $6-9 billion a year is needed to ensure an adequate education for all low SES, Indigenous and remote area students. Even larger increases are needed to eliminate the achievement gap between these students and high SES students.
Government funding for private schools should be overhauled
The submission recommends that the SES funding model for private schools should be terminated. It says that the model is inequitable, wasteful, capricious and incoherent.
The SES model has diverted millions and millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to the wealthiest families and schools in Australia while those most in need are denied adequate funding. These funds could be better and more equitably used by being diverted to private and government schools that serve low income, Indigenous and other students in need.
Only about half of all private schools are funded according to their measured SES. The rest are over-funded and this costs the taxpayer over $700 million a year. Most of this over-funding goes to higher SES schools. No low SES private school is over-funded. The total over-funding has amounted to around $6 billion for 2001-2012.
The scheme delivers significantly different levels of funding to private schools with the same or a similar SES index score. A funding link to government school costs means that increased funding for disadvantaged students, Indigenous students and students with disabilities in government schools automatically flows on in part to private schools even if they have none or few of these students and increases inequity in funding between government and private schools.
The scheme is based on a flawed methodology for measuring socio-economic status. It has failed to stem private school fee increases, especially amongst the high fee schools, as promised when it was introduced.
A new funding model
The submission recommends that the SES funding model be replaced by a new integrated funding model for government and private schools which also integrates funding by federal and state/territory governments. It suggests the establishment of a federal schools commission to co-ordinate government funding for schools.
A new integrated school funding model for government and private schools should have four main features: a community standard of resources, a baseline funding component, an individual equity funding component; and a social equity funding component.
1. A community standard of resources for all schools
The community standard or resources for schools should be established which provides the base resources for achieving an adequate education across a comprehensive curriculum. For immediate practical purposes, it should be set as the resources currently available to high SES government schools where a very high proportion of students achieve an adequate education. An expert task force should be established to develop a community resource standard for Australian schools for the longer term.
The community standard would vary slightly between schools according to school sector (primary or secondary), Year levels, school size and location.
2. A baseline funding component
The baseline funding component should ensure that all schools meet the community standard of resourcing.
The baseline component for all government schools should be fixed at the community standard.
The baseline component for private schools should vary between schools to take account of the resources provided from private sources of funding and a discount factor which varies according to the extent to which private schools meet the same social and democratic obligations of government schools.
The baseline funding component for private schools should bring schools below the community standard of resources up to the government school community standard after taking into account fees and other sources of private income. The full difference between private sourced funding and the government school community standard would be provided to private schools that adopt inclusive, non-selective enrolment practices and provide access to a comprehensive curriculum.
Schools that adopt selective or discriminatory enrolment policies or provide less than a comprehensive curriculum would receive less than 100 per cent of their eligible baseline component. For example, schools which select students on the basis of ability, income, religious or other background characteristics would not be entitled to the full baseline funding component. Neither would schools which fail to provide a comprehensive curriculum which includes teaching of aspects of science such as evolution, sex education and vocational education.
Private schools should therefore be classified into funding categories according to the extent to which they enrol students on a socially inclusive, non-discriminatory basis and the extent to which they provide a comprehensive curriculum. The resulting classification would specify the maximum percentage of baseline government funding which schools in each category would receive.
Private schools whose private-sourced income exceeds the government school community standard should not be entitled to the baseline funding component.
3. Individual equity funding component
All government and private schools would be eligible for equity funding. Equity funding should consist of two components – an individual equity funding adjustment and a social equity funding adjustment.
The individual equity funding component should be directed at ensuring that all students not achieving expected progress are able to complete Year 12 or its equivalent. It would be available to all schools in which over five per cent of students are not achieving adequate outcomes as they proceed through school. The baseline funding component should be sufficiently flexible to allow schools to provide additional support for very low proportions of students not making expected progress.
This component consists of two adjustments: an individual student component and a school composition component based on differing proportions of disadvantaged students.
Different needs adjustments will be required for students with different background characteristics as their average results differ. This will require different per student funding weightings for different backgrounds. The per student funding weightings should have regard to research findings about the resources necessary to ensure that students from these targeted equity groups achieve an adequate education. The effective weightings applied in Australia seem to be about 1.2 or 1.3 at most, while many research studies show that weightings of 2.0 or over are necessary to provide an adequate education to low SES and minority students.
A school composition component should allow for high proportions of students who are not making expected progress. Studies show that a student attending a school where the average SES of the student body is low is likely to have lower outcomes than a student from a similar background attending a school where the average SES of the student body is high. Therefore, the funding weighting should be higher for schools with higher proportions of low SES and other students whose backgrounds are associated with lower achievement.
4. Social equity funding component
Achieving an adequate education for all students is the first stage in improving equity in education. The second stage is to deliver similar average outcomes for students from different social groups, for example, that low SES students achieve similar results to high SES students. Schools with high proportions of low SES, Indigenous and remote area students should be provided with additional funding to increase social equity in education outcomes.
Trevor CobboldSOS Submission to School Funding Review