Review of Funding for Schooling released

The Review of Funding for Schooling, released this week, found that Australian schools are failing to get the best results for their students. It made several recommendations to reform school funding priorities at a total cost of $5 billion. The review notes that all Australian students should receive the best possible education and that location, socioeconomic status and the school a child attends should play no part in the quality of education they receive.

Key findings

  • More Australian schools should perform above the national minimum standard in NAPLAN testing. Currently, only 16 per cent of schools exceed the standard.
  • The Australian education system performs well against international benchmarks but the achievement of Australian students has declined over the last decade. Australia should not fall behind other countries and should be known for its education standards.
  • The gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students is much larger than in other countries and should not be allowed to grow any further.
  • Bringing Australia's schools up to standard will cost the Federal and state governments approximately $5 billion.

Why is Australian school funding in need of reform?

The majority of government schools are funded by the state, while non-government schools are generally funded by the Federal Government.
The review argues that this is problematic and recognises that not all states and territories can adequately fund their school systems, in many cases struggling to provide the resources required. Notably, two-thirds of disadvantaged students (including those of language backgrounds other than English, Indigenous students, rural and remote students and those with disabilities) attend government schools, which the review suggests are under-funded.

Another funding area to be reviewed is infrastructure. Many schools, particularly those in the government sector, lack sufficient funding to improve resources and facilities available to students.

The review also highlights the gap between Australia's highest and lowest performing students a gap which is far greater than in many other countries, and the differences between how schools are organised, including the variances between student demographics, and the individual challenges faced by school sectors and the state.

Further, while Australia's schooling system performs well against international benchmarks, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), student performance has declined over the last decade. Previously outperformed by few countries in the areas of reading, mathematics and science, 2009 saw six countries overtake Australia in reading and scienctific literacy, and 12 countries jump ahead in mathematics.

The report has also set a benchmark for National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) testing, proposing that more Australian schools should perform above the minimum national standard. Currently, only 16 per cent (1408 schools) meet this goal.

When considered in 2009, the total cost of reform to the funding system was predicted to be $5 billion an increase of approximately 15 per cent to all governments' current school funding arrangements, with the Federal Government bearing 30 per cent of this cost.

Proposals for a new funding approach

Above all, the review panel has called for a fairer funding model, recognising that school funding should increase across all sectors, with the largest increase to target government schools. With the majority of disadvantaged students attending government schools, this has been highlighted as a funding priority.

The report suggests that the new model should:

  • establish continued funding for all school sectors
  • distribute funding on a per student basis
  • provide additional loading for educational needs, such as disability, language proficiency, and school and class size
  • consider the resources used by schools already achieving optimal educational outcomes.

Most importantly, funding would recognise that schools with similar student populations regardless of their sector require equal resources.

The panel also suggests that funding should be indexed regularly, and reviewed every four years, to ensure that outcomes are being met.

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