A new report published today by the advocacy group Save Our Schools says that government schools are badly under-resourced in comparison to private schools to deal with education disadvantage. It calls for an investment of $6 – $9 billion a year in government schools to reduce large achievement gaps between rich and poor.
“The report shows that private schools are much better resourced than government schools for the level of education disadvantage they face”, said its author and National Convenor of SOS, Trevor Cobbold.
“As well, government funding increases for private schools have far exceeded those for government schools over the last decade. Governments have given greater priority to supporting privilege in education than to overcoming education disadvantage.”
The report, Closing the Gap, says that average total expenditure by government schools in 2007-08 was $10,723 per student compared to $15,147 by Independent schools and $10,399 by Catholic schools. Federal and state government funding for Independent schools increased by 112% between 1998-99 and 2007-08 and by 84% for Catholic schools compared to 67% for government schools.
Mr. Cobbold said this is a more accurate comparison of total expenditure by different school sectors because it corrects for some major incompatibilities in the way the official estimates are compiled. “This is the first time this has been done,” he said.
“The report shows that government schools are severely under-resourced for the task they face. They enrol the vast majority of educationally disadvantaged students – about 80% or more of low income, Indigenous, remote area, and disability students attend government schools. Low income and remote area students are, on average, 2-2½ years behind high income students in learning. Indigenous students are 3½ years behind.
“Despite this, expenditure by government schools is only 70% of that of Independent schools and similar to Catholic schools.
“Many of the most selective private schools in Australia have total expenditure of $20,000 – $30,000 per student, which is 2 to 3 times more than government schools. Yet, they receive $2,000-$4,000 per student in Federal Government funding. This is 4 to 8 times more than the additional funding of $500 per disadvantaged student under the Smarter Schools National Partnership program.
“Government funding for many of these wealthy schools has increased by over 200% since 2001. For example, it increased by 236% for King’s School in Sydney and by 268% for Geelong Grammar, the most expensive private school in Australia.”
Mr. Cobbold said that federal and state government funding policies are compounding privilege in education.
“Governments are effectively placing more value on enriching the lives of those from privileged backgrounds than those who are not as well favoured in society. Government schools are being denied the funding they need to provide an adequate education to all their students.
“This is indefensible in a society that calls itself a democracy.
“Governments are simply not doing enough to close the achievement gaps. Government schools will receive an additional $266 million a year through the Smarter Schools National Partnership programs. This is a far cry from what is needed.
“The report estimates, on the basis of academic research studies, that about $6 – $9 billion more a year for government schools is needed to close the gap between low income students and the average for all students. Even more is needed to close the gap between low and high income students.”
Mr. Cobbold said that the report will be submitted to the current review of school funding being conducted by the Gonski committee.