Old funding model widens performance gap

More equitable funding arrangements and differential resourcing could address the impact of disadvantage on the performance of Australia’s schools, a recent report identifies.

Educational opportunity in Australia 2015: Who succeeds and who misses out, prepared for the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University states: “Only 68.3 per cent of children born to parents in the bottom fifth of family SES are school-ready, compared with 84.8 per cent of children in the top fifth. The disparity is similar in the middle years. Strikingly, only three in five from the bottom fifth (bottom two deciles of SES) complete a Year 12 certificate or equivalent by age 19, compared to more than four in five from the top fifth.”

Federation President Maurie Mulheron said: “The research confirms a fundamental finding of the Gonski Review panel, that the old funding model created a widening gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged.”

The report states: “The challenge of helping young people who are falling behind to catch up and take advantage of opportunities over later stages is no easy task, because those missing out are far more likely to have disadvantaged backgrounds… Being behind at any point need not be a life sentence, even for the disadvantaged, though even here the chances of recovery and of gaining ground are still in favour of students from more advantaged backgrounds. The most advantaged learners are not only less likely to fall below expected standards in the first place but more likely to catch up again if they do.”

Authors suggest current levels of funding “may contribute to continuing levels of education inequality in Australia” and noted that over time total funding of school education “has been directed disproportionately to non-government schools”.

The report states differential resourcing provides “schools serving larger numbers of disadvantaged students with the resources to address the more intensive educational needs of their students”.

Equity is the answer

Funding to improve students’ educational outcomes must not be directed to quick-fixes, Chair of Teacher Education and Director of Learning and Teaching at University of Melbourne Professor Professor Dinham says.

“We really have to question, from a basis of evidence, some of the things that people want to sell us, and in some cases we are adopting practices that have not only not worked elsewhere, but have been disproved elsewhere, but we still get in line to do this,” he told the World Teachers' Day luncheon in Sydney recently.

“We need to be a critical consumer of research; really critical, informed, so we don’t just grab whatever comes along.

“The quick-fixes that are adopted come from the economists, people selling things, the business sector, who’ve got very, very simplistic ideas.”

“We…are going headlong down the path of deregulation, and I think that if we think that’s going to deliver the improvements we are looking for, we are sadly mistaken,” he also said.

Professor Dinham proposes a focus on equity, targeted funding and investment in teachers’ professional learning and investing in good leadership.

Professor Dinham said: “Inequality makes it worse for everybody.”

“We are becoming a less equitable society and that’s playing out in all sorts of ways,” he said.

Counselling resources welcome but less alarm needed

The creation of up to five specialist school support teams that can be deployed to schools to work with them to develop strategies based on their specific needs has been welcomed by Federation President Maurie Mulheron.

The teams will include counsellors and student support workers, and will link in with the efforts of community leaders, to ensure schools have any ongoing support they require.

But, the Premier chose to announce the teams in the context of the Government’s response to countering violent extremism.

“I hope that this distraction doesn’t take resources away from a range of other urgent and pressing issues in our schools, such as youth suicide,” Mr Mulheron said.

A Government fact sheet, titled “Countering Violent Extremism”, says additional training and support will be provided for the school counsellor workforce “to ensure that they have the skills necessary to identify and help vulnerable young people access support programs”.

Mr Mulheron said he hoped the training would address a range of mental health issues, in line with the Department of Education’s Wellbeing Framework for Schools.

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