Old funding model widens performance gap

Kerri Carr

Helping children to catch up is not easy, report notes

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".

“A substantial body of research…both local and international, demonstrate that children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds tend to achieve less well at school, are less likely to stay on at school or enter further or higher education and are more likely to be unemployed or in low-paid jobs. These students have higher levels of need and require additional support to achieve the outcomes attained by other groups of students. This means that schools with larger numbers of disadvantaged or high-need students must invest more resources than other schools to meet the same standards," the report also says.

The report notes the effects of student disadvantage are quite strong in Australia compared to other countries.