Life-changing funding deal signed


22 April 2024

The federal government will spend an extra $737 million on Northern Territory public schools, doubling its contribution to 40 per cent of the benchmark Schooling Resource Standard (SRS). The NT government will fund the remaining 60 per cent under the National Schools Reform Agreement.

The deal between the Commonwealth and the NT government came hot on the heels of an agreement signed between the federal and WA governments to achieve fully funded public schools by 2026.

AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe welcomed both agreements saying they effectively reversed Coalition government policy, which left school systems in the dark, starved of resources.

“The NT agreement is particularly significant because of the shameful state of schooling in an area with the country’s most complex challenges. This agreement is life-changing for NT public schools,” she says.

However, Haythorpe cautioned that the federal government must ensure the funding agreements were not artificially inflated by four per cent through the inclusion of costs not directly related to students’ education such as capital depreciation, transport and regulatory costs.

“That four per cent of the SRS was worth $230 million for WA in 2023 and that money still needs to be delivered to WA public schools before schools are truly funded at 100 per cent of the SRS,” she says.

The pressure is now on for the remaining five states to complete negotiations for their funding arrangements with the Commonwealth.

“We need the Albanese government to work on a joint solution with the states to ensure full funding for public schools so that teachers have the resources to do their jobs and students reap the benefits,” says Haythorpe.

Federal education minister Jason Clare told delegates at the AEU Federal Conference in February that he would work with every state and territory to make sure that all public schools reached 100 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard.

The SRS is an estimate of the minimum funding a school needs to meet its students' educational needs. Based on recommendations made by the 2011 Gonski review of school funding, the SRS amount includes a base amount and up to six needs-based loadings.

Only 1.3 per cent of public schools receive the SRS amount they are entitled to, compared with 98 per cent of private schools.

A review of school funding by the Productivity Commission found that funding for private schools has increased by almost twice as much as public schools. In the nine years prior to 2021-22, private school funding rose by 37 per cent, compared with an increase of 20.2 per cent for public schools.

The expert panel, appointed by minister Clare to inform a better and fairer education system, called for urgent action to achieve equity in school funding.

In its final report, Improving outcomes for all, the panel says the evidence shows that Australia’s schools perform well by world standards.

“However, the panel found that the uneven playing field and funding shortfalls the Gonski reviews sought to correct persist, and need to be addressed,” the report says.

“The call-to-action around reaching full funding for government schools – across all jurisdictions – is all the more urgent because of the full funding arrangements that already exist in the non-government sector,” it says.

The panel’s school visits were an “eye-opener”, revealing the effects of the lack of funding, says Finnish education expert and University of Melbourne professor Pasi Sahlberg, a member of the panel.

“It's very obvious when there's a shortage of specialists in the schools where they're needed the most to work with students with additional needs,” he says.

Workload was another sign of funding shortfalls. “Teachers’ workloads are unbearable and preventing them from focussing on things that would make a difference when it comes to supporting their students,” says Sahlberg.

The workload issues and lack of resources were particularly noticeable in remote and rural areas, he says. Clare says Australia has the best education system in the world “just not for everyone”.

“The horrible truth is how much your parents earn matters. So does where you live. So does the colour of your skin.

“If you're a child from a poor family, the fact is, you're less likely to go to a childcare, you're more likely to fall behind in primary school, you're more likely to not finish high school and you're less likely to go on to TAFE or university. The same is true if you grow up in the bush or if you’re Indigenous,” he told the conference.

The expert panel reported that Australian schools have some of the highest levels of social segregation among OECD countries, and it’s a trend that’s worsening.

Haythorpe says that students from advantaged backgrounds are increasingly clustered together in over-resourced private schools while students from disadvantaged backgrounds are increasingly clustered together in under-resourced public schools.

“The compounding effects of disadvantage are exacerbated by acute teacher shortages, under-funding, and declining student and teacher wellbeing,” she says.

The ACTU has called on prime minister Albanese to commit to full funding for all Australian public schools, saying the move would be a nation-building investment that would improve children’s education and deliver long-term social and economic benefits that outweighed the cost.

Sahlberg says that funding public schools at their correct levels would provide the opportunity for innovation, making schools more “interesting, curious, engaging and inclusive places” for students.

For Jason Clare, fortnightly meetings with state education ministers continue as details of the bilateral agreements are discussed.

“This is a big year,” he says. “This is a year where we can really make our education system better and fairer, for every child.”

This article was originally published in the Australian Educator, Autumn 2024