New NT Government must back Gonski

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29 August 2016

The NT's Giles Government, which slashed funding to public schools, in particular those in remote areas, has been resoundingly defeated in last Saturday's election and will be replaced by a Labor Government led by Michael Gunner.

Education was one of the key issues in the election due to the Giles Government's staff cuts to public schools and failure to pass on Gonski funding to schools in 2014.

The AEU has now called on the new government to implement needs-based Gonski funding in schools and take the fight to the Federal Government, which plans to cut funding to NT public schools after 2017.

The Federal Budget Papers clearly show that federal funding for public schools in the NT will drop from $167.3 million in 2016/17 to $138.4 million in 2018/19.

AEU NT President Jarvis Ryan said he welcomed the policy commitment from Labor to restore recurrent funding to employ an additional 160 teachers from the beginning of the coming school year. He said the AEU would work with the new government to help determine how the funds for these teachers should be allocated.

But he said the AEU disagreed with Labor’s stated intention to retain the Global Funding model for schools, which puts unnecessary pressure on principals, and would continue to argue that, at a minimum, staffing costs are recentralised.

Mr Ryan said that the Giles Government had simply failed to invest in schools, and NT students were not getting the Gonski benefits that were flowing to other States.

“Gonski should have meant an extra $272.5 million in federal funding going to NT schools, but not only did the Giles Government pocket a big chunk of the windfall, it reduced its own contribution to public schools.

“The result of the Giles Government's funding priorities was that public schools saw their budgets slashed, while funding soared for private schools.

After four years of the CLP Government, our schools are dramatically underfunded and have missed out on huge quantities of additional Gonski resources.”

Giles Govt’s cuts revealed

An analysis of My School data, conducted for the AEU, shows the size of the brutal cuts to public schools in the NT under the Giles Government

  • There was a 6.4% overall reduction in average per-student recurrent funding from the NT Government across all schools between 2012 and 2014.
  • Public schools were worst hit, losing 6.7%, or an average of $992 per student, while Catholic and Independent schools saw funding increase
  • Schools in very remote areas were worst hit, losing 12.5% of their per-student funding. Schools in remote areas lost 7.5%, while schools in greater Darwin lost 1.5%
  • NT public schools have lost over 330 full-time teaching positions between 2012 and 2015 (13 per cent of the total) leading to higher student/staff ratios across the board.
  • Schools have also lost 116 other full-time staff including teacher aides.

Even when the Federal Government’s contribution is taken into account the situation remains the same – overall funding for schools is down by 2.9%, with public schools losing funding and private schools gaining. Again the hardest hit schools are those in remote areas.

The biggest cuts to teacher numbers are in remote electorates such as Nhulunbuy (76 teaching positions cut), Stuart (33) and Arnhem (31). Regional areas have been hit hard as well, such as Araluen in Alice Springs (25) and Katherine (17).

This is a tragedy for schools in the NT, which should have been the biggest winners from Gonski.

The Territory has high numbers of low-SES students, high numbers of Indigenous students and high numbers of schools in remote areas. In fact, of the 100 most disadvantaged schools in Australia, 54 are in the NT.

But instead of these schools getting the extra resources they need for their students, they have so far missed out on the benefits Gonski funding is already delivering in other States.

The Gunner Government needs to chart a new course and invest in schools so that all students in the NT can get a quality education regardless of which school they attend.