Save Our Schools has submitted a supplementary “uninvited” submission to the Federal Government’s review of the low SES funding loadings. The loadings are a central feature of the Gonski funding plan. The submission calls on the review to reject the proposal by Independent Schools Victoria to remove the additional loadings for schools with greater concentrations of low SES students.
Independent Schools Victoria has long opposed additional funding loadings for low SES students because it claims that the relationship between SES and student achievement is weak. It ignores a massive amount of research evidence showing that family SES has a very significant influence on student achievement at school. The strong relationship is one of the most robust findings in education research.
As one of the Gonski panel members, Ken Boston, stated in a response to Questions on Notice from the recent Senate Select Committee inquiry on school funding: “The jury is in on this issue: the evidence is overwhelming”. It is one of the most robust patterns in educational research.
There is overwhelming evidence to reject the proposal by Independent Schools Victoria that the higher funding loadings for schools with greater concentrations of low SES students be removed. Its claim that there is no evidence base for the loadings is incorrect.
A corpus of research studies from overseas and Australia show that a student attending a school where the average SES of students is low is likely to have lower outcomes than a student from a similar background attending a school where the average SES is high. Average school results decline with greater concentration of low SES students.
New analysis based on the My School data for 2013 shows a clear trend for schools with greater concentrations of students in the lowest SES quartile to have lower average NAPLAN results. For example, the average Year 9 reading score of schools with less than 10 per cent of students in the lowest SES quartile was 144 points higher than schools with more than 70 per cent in that quartile. This gap is equivalent to about seven years of learning (one year of learning at Year 9 is equivalent to approximately 20 points on the NAPLAN scale).
The achievement gap compared to the average score for schools with the smallest proportion of students in lowest SES quartile increases as the level of concentration increases. For example, Year 9 students in schools with 20-29 per cent of students in the lowest SES quartile are, on average, about two years behind students in schools with less than 10 per cent in this quartile. Students in schools with 40 to 49 per cent of students in the lowest quartile are about three years behind and students in schools with 60 to 69 per cent in the lowest quartile are about four years behind.
A similar pattern is apparent for Year 5, although the gaps are smaller. The average Year 5 score of students in schools with more than 70 per cent of students in the lowest SES quartile was 118 points below that of schools with less than 10 per cent in this quartile. This is equivalent to about three years of learning (one year of learning at Year 5 is equivalent to approximately 40 points on the NAPLAN scale). Students in schools with 20 to 29 per cent of students in the lowest SES quartile are about one year behind.
The claim by Independent Schools Victoria that low SES concentration loadings will lead to greater social segregation between schools is mere assertion. There is no evidence from other countries that apply low SES concentration loadings for have experienced a significant switch of enrolments of low SES students from higher SES to lower SES schools. For example, New Zealand introduced a funding system designed to target schools with higher proportions of low SES students in the 1990s. It has not led to a flow of low SES students to low SES schools. In fact, quite the opposite has occurred as schools continue try to attract higher achieving students because of the incentives created by the publication of school results
Social segregation between schools in New Zealand has been increasing, but it is being driven by the publication of school results and league tables. They give schools a greater incentive to recruit high achieving students who are lower cost and boost school rankings and reputations. A recent study found that many affluent schools are manipulating their enrolment zones to limit access by children from disadvantaged backgrounds. It found that schools are doing this in order to protect or enhance their market positions. Thus, despite the concentration loadings for low SES students in New Zealand schools continue to actively recruit higher SES students rather than low SES students.
There is a strong element of hypocrisy in the concern of Independent Schools Victoria about increasing social segregation. It represents the wealthiest schools in the state that have self-segregated by setting high fees and selecting their students.
The reasons advanced by Independent Schools Victoria to remove the concentration loadings are disingenuous. They appear more designed to further undermine the Gonski funding model because the loadings will provide a substantial benefit to government schools as they enrol the vast majority of these students. Independent schools will gain little from these loadings because of their higher SES student composition.
If the proposal to remove the concentration loadings for low SES students were to be adopted it would further undermine the Gonski funding model, reduce opportunities for low SES students and serve to maintain the large achievement gaps between rich and poor.