Public school cuts key issue in NT election

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16 August 2016

Schools funding is likely to be an issue in the upcoming NT election, to be held on August 26th, with new evidence showing the Northern Territory Government has cut funding to public schools and failed to pass on its Gonski funding in 2014.

The NT Government has cut per student funding by an average of 6.7% to public schools, with the biggest cuts hitting public schools in remote areas, and has removed 330 full-time teachers from its public schools.

Northern Territory students should have been big 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 are missing out on the benefits Gonski funding is already delivering in other States.

NT schools face a further blow from the Federal Government’s post-Gonski funding policy.

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

This will compound the problems caused by the NT Government abandoning its neediest schools.

New NT Govt must act

Whoever wins Government in the NT needs to shift back to a needs-based funding system, ensure all 2017 Gonski funding goes to schools, and put pressure on Malcolm Turnbull to reverse his cuts and honour the full six years of Gonski.

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

  • 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).

Failure to invest, attack on remote schools

AEU NT President Jarvis 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.

"The Territory has received a lot of money from the Commonwealth, but there were no strings attached to the money with no accountability requirements.

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

“The NT government has admitted that some of the Gonski funding has been used on infrastructure such as building new schools rather than its intended use: new additional programs and staff in schools.

Mr Ryan said the NT Government had neglected remote education.

“A major review of Indigenous education in the NT, completed two years ago by education consultant Bruce Wilson, found that many Indigenous children were worse off than at the time of the last comprehensive study in 1999.

“In the last financial year, the number of Indigenous workers employed by the department was cut by about 15 per cent. Some of these staff may have been re-employed as School Council employees, but it’s a disturbing trend.