Growing educational inequality in Australian Schools is not about money, the education minister says
Mar 25, 2016 | News | by The Learning Press staff
A new report recommending needs-based support to close the gap between Australia’s advantaged and disadvantaged schoolchildren does not back the case for Gonski funding, the education minister has suggested.
The Grattan Institute’s analysis of latest NAPLAN data shows learning gaps between Australian students of different backgrounds are “alarmingly wide” and grow wider as students move through school.
It states: “Policymakers need to do three things: put learning gaps at the heart of school policy; give schools better support to target teaching at each child’s needs; and work harder to improve the progress of disadvantaged students so that every child in every Australian school can achieve their potential”.
But despite the call to arms for needs-based support in classrooms, education minster Simon Birmingham has described the report as a “wake-up call for those policy-makers who are fixated on how much Australia spends on education”.
In a further sign of his unwillingness to back the Gonski funding model, he said the report did not call for more spending, but for better information so properly-trained teachers could better diagnose and tackle student learning issues.
The minster has yet to reveal the Government’s policy on school funding from next year and is under intense public pressure to fund the final two years of the expensive Gonski plan, which allocates funding on a needs basis.
With a general election looming, the opposition’s promise to fully fund Gonski is positioning schools’ funding as a major policy issue - with voters in marginal seats showing strong support for Gonski.
"This report validates our focus on teacher quality and demonstrates that we need to ensure all teachers are skilled in ensuring every student in a class is progressing, with a years’ worth of learning equating to a years’ worth of progression, to the best of their abilities," Minister Birmingham said.
“The Turnbull Government is delivering needs-based funding. Real improvements will only come about by real action, not by just throwing money at the situation and continuing the status quo as Labor is proposing to do.
“The Grattan Institute’s report highlights the need to focus education reform conversations on how to lift standards, not a simplistic debate about how much we spend.
“This report and our slipping OECD rankings have come about despite funding growth in education of more than 100 per cent in real terms between 1987/88 and 2011/12.”
Senator Birmingham’s figures include the massive boost to school building programs that was part of the Rudd Government’s response to the global financial crisis.
According to World Bank figures, Australia’s spend on education as a proportion of GDP - around 5% - remained constant over that time and education spending as a percentage of total government expenditure actually decreased slightly.
The new Grattan Institute Widening Gaps report finds that the difference between students whose parents have low education and those with highly-educated parents grows from ten months in Year Three to around two-and-a-half years by Year Nine.
Even if they were doing as well in Year Three, disadvantaged students make one to two years less progress by Year Nine than students whose parents have more education.
“The really worrying thing is that the learning gaps grow much larger after Year Three, so in fact disadvantaged students are falling further behind with each year of school,” said the Grattan Institute’s Peter Goss.
“Bright kids in disadvantaged schools lose most, making two-and-a-half years less progress than students with similar capabilities in more advantaged schools.”
Senator Birmingham has welcomed the analysis, saying it will help shape policy to improve student outcomes.
He says Government strategies to improve student results include new literacy and numeracy tests for trainee teachers, better parent engagement in education, greater school autonomy and a strengthened ‘back to basics’ national curriculum with a strong STEM focus.
For the latest Australian education stories delivered free to your newsfeed - like us on facebook: