Media Release: Education Disadvantage is the Forgotten Issue in the ACT Election Campaign

The public education group, Save Our Schools, today called on all political parties to address education disadvantage in their education policies. Group convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said that education disadvantage is the forgotten issue in the ACT election campaign despite its importance to the Territory’s social well-being and economic prosperity.

“Education disadvantage has been virtually ignored by the major political parties. It has been ignored by the Labor Government for the last decade or more. The Liberals have no policies for reducing disadvantage in public schools. The Greens have made a minimal attempt to address the issue, but it is far from enough. The major parties need to step up their education policies to address inequity.

“Reducing inequity in education should be high priority. High percentages of disadvantaged students are not achieving national minimum standards in literacy and numeracy by the end of high school. Some 15-25% of Year 9 low income students and 15-40% of Indigenous students are not achieving national standards.

There are very large achievement gaps between disadvantaged and advantaged students. By Year 9, students from low socio-economic status (SES) families are 2-3 years behind their high SES peers. Indigenous students are 3⅟2-4 years behind.

“The relationship between the socio-economic background of students and school outcomes in Canberra is stronger than anywhere else in Australia except the Northern Territory.

“These are appalling statistics. Canberra needs to do better.

“Low education achievement by a significant proportion of young people has far reaching individual, social and economic costs. It stunts individual lives and it brings higher health, social welfare and crime costs. It also stunts economic growth and prosperity. An underperforming education system means an underperforming economy.”

Mr. Cobbold said that a comprehensive education strategy is desperately needed to reduce education disadvantage.

“First, we need to identify where the main problem lies. The large proportion of disadvantaged students in Canberra are in public schools. Nearly 80% of low SES students, 77% of Indigenous students and 73% of disability students are enrolled in public schools.

“Despite this, past funding increases have been largely misdirected. The largest increase in total Australian and ACT government funding per student since 2009 went to the most advantaged school sector with the smallest number of disadvantaged students – Independent schools. The increase was over double that for public schools. The increase for Catholic schools was 60% higher than for public schools.

“Funding increases need to be better targeted at disadvantaged students. A new funding framework for public schools is necessary to provide much larger funding loadings for disadvantaged students than at present.

“But, better targeted funding is not the whole answer. It needs to be used effectively. It should be directed at better teaching and learning opportunities for disadvantaged students; expanded student welfare programs and practical support programs in schools and directly with families to increase parent participation in children’s learning.”

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