Gonski funding is going where need is greatest

Dinoo Kelleghan

Students use the Learning Centre at Macintyre High

Gonski-funded training jet-propelled students at Macintyre High in Inverell into a learning curve three times higher than a learning intervention could ordinarily be expected to make, principal Lindsay Paul said.

Macintyre lies in a region of high disadvantage. Half the school’s students are in the lowest SES quartile, entering school with poor literacy and numeracy levels.

Gonski needs-based funding is pouring into the area to help these youths break out of the shackles of low literacy and unemployment.

Macintyre High lies in Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce’s federal electorate of New England which, with the neighbouring electorate of Parkes, has half the 20 most disadvantaged local government areas in the state, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The two electorates are loaded with needs-based schools funding — some $50 million in 2014-17, far more than other state electorates — but Mr Joyce and Mark Coulton, the Member for Parkes, are missing in action in the push to keep Gonski funding going to schools in special need. The Turnbull government wants to cut Gonski funding for its final two years.

“Those two seats receive the most Gonski funding of any electorates in Australia. I don’t understand why they are not standing up and leading the case for Gonski needs-based funding like their state Nationals counterparts are doing,” Mr Paul said.

Schools have made representations to the Nationals leader’s office to support the continuation of needs-based schools funding but to no avail.

Immediately after Gladys Berejiklian became NSW Premier in January and said she was “the strongest supporter of Gonski” the state MP for the Northern Tablelands, Adam Marshall, joined Mr Paul in commending her commitment to needs-based funding. They were pictured together in local media under headlines such as “Commitment to Gonski applauded in New England” (Northern Daily Leader, February 24).

Mr Marshall was quoted as saying: “Gonski funding provides more resources, a fairer distribution, higher standards and a better education for every child.”

Of the $505 million received by NSW public schools since 2014 under Gonski, an analysis by the Sydney Morning Herald (“Revealed: the schools, electorates and political party that get the most Gonski money”, January 20) reported:

  • New England received $21 million and Parkes, $29 million in 2014–17
    — the two top beneficiaries
  • federal Nationals in NSW, who hold only 15 per cent of the state’s seats, scooped up a quarter of Gonski funds
  • seven of the top 10 Gonski state electorate beneficiaries are Nationals seats.

School funding need is evident in the New England and Parkes electorates where Brewarrina, Central Darling, Walgett, Coonamble, Tenterfield and Inverell are among the 20 lowest-SES towns in the state (ABS Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas, 2011).

“The SES markers have a high correlation to literacy and numeracy test scores,” Mr Paul said. “So in Year 7 the NAPLAN scores are not as high as we would like them to be. Gonski money has enabled us to put in some valuable work at that point.”

The school invested in the 30-week QuickSmart program developed by the University of New England to help persistently low-achieving students in numeracy and literacy.

The results have been outstanding.

The students’ average score in a maths comprehension test carried out by the university rose by 11 marks to 52 and the scale of improvement in 30 weeks, measured using Professor John Hattie’s The Effect Size formula — which states the average “effect size” of interventions is 0.4 with 0.8 being an exceptional gain — was a whopping 1.269.

Macintyre High students also have benefited from an investment in Macquarie University’s MultiLit program to improve reading ability.

A cross-curriculum Learning Centre has been set up to move students up to the next band across a range of subjects, whether the student is struggling or wants to excel. The Learning Centre, QuickSmart, MultiLit and other programs involve focused, specialised, often one-on-one attention to students and come at a significant cost. Staff must be trained to deliver the programs and extra staff must be employed.

“You need additional funding to do this. Without needs-based funding these improvements are out of our reach,” Mr Paul said.

Due to supplementary learning programs such as these, 70 per cent of students are, consistently and across the range of their backgrounds, now above the national average in NAPLAN tests when measuring learning growth from Years 7 to 9, he said.

Schools in the area have been emboldened to make a three-year commitment to the Collaborative Impact Program to build on evidence-based teaching and learning practice.

“If we didn’t have the Gonski money we wouldn’t have been able to sign up for this,” Mr Paul said.

“In its purest form, Gonski says all schools need a base level of funding and, based on need, schools should receive extra funding to help students who are struggling. I don’t see how anyone could dispute that.

“I see this as a non-partisan issue. The closest modelling of the Gonski plan is being done by the NSW government, which recognises that it has to deliver needs-based funding in education. That’s the model we should be looking at on a national level. The Gonski plan is sector-blind: it really is based on the money going where the need is.”

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